Chuck Brown Band’s rockin’ Go Go sound

KENNEDY CENTER, WASHINGTON — If you’ve never heard Go Go Music (and I’m NOT talking 70’s disco), you’re in for a treat. It’s relentless, driving, fun, and irresistibly participatory.

The Chuck Brown Band gets audiences on their feet from the first song. And, as its name suggests, a Go Go band doesn’t stop until a full set is over (to watch the video, click on the image above or watch it on YouTube here).

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Chuck Brown, founder of Go Go Music, 1936-2012. (Glenwood Jackson Studio photo)

Before the Chuck Brown Band show at the elegant Kennedy Center in Washington recently, band members worried that the setting (chandeliers and gilt galore) might dampen the normal full-on Chuck Brown Band concert audience participation (enthusiastic dancing and call-and-response singing). 

They needn’t have worried.

After the first few bars of music that day, the crowd was out of their seats and streaming toward the edge of the stage where they bounced and sang non-stop for the full sixty-minute show. 

The founder of Go Go music, Chuck Brown (1936-2012), created the genre in the early 1970s in Washington, and now it’s considered DC’s very own music. It’s been played around the world, but it’s not widely known. Outside of DC, that is.

Go Go is being kept alive and spread by his band, led now by Frank  “Scooby” Sirius with Chuck’s son, Wiley, and his daughter, KK, playing key roles.  

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Chuck Brown’s son Wiley (John Wilpers photo)

Over three days in DC, literally every person I asked about Chuck Brown and Go Go music knew it and loved it. Young and old and in between. 

“My dad would use old tunes from Duke Ellington and Louis Jordan and he would do them in such a way that he would make them his own,” his son Wiley told me. “People from all generations would enjoy a song because the older generation would say, ‘Oh, I know that song — it’s Duke Ellington’, and the younger crowd would enjoy it as well because it gets them up and dancing.. 

“Within Go Go, you can find something for everybody,” Wiley said.

The origin of Go Go Music dates back to when Chuck Brown was performing in the early 1970s,” band leader Frank  “Scooby” Sirius told me. “He got tired of stopping between songs, so he said, we’re going to keep the party going and that’s where the name ‘Go Go” came from — we’d go and go and go — and we’d play all night. In between songs, he’d play drums, congas, cowbells, anything that you can get funky to without playing music, and it’d be like a segue between songs, so that’s how it started.

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The lead vocal team of the Chuck Brown Band — left to right: Ms. Kim, Frank “Scooby” Sirius (guitar, vocals), Chuck Brown’s daughter KK, and Marcus Young (keys, vocals).  That said, almost every band member sings! (John Wilpers photo)

“And it’s evolved into what we now know as the city’s (DC’s) sound,” Sirius said. 

OK, but other than not stopping between songs, what is Go Go music?

“I like to call it ‘blues soup’,” Sirius said. “It’s got blues, jazz, rock, hip hop. The Go Go sound is undeniable; it’s very distinct. You can recognize it wherever you are. For us who grew up here, it’s a certain swing. Every drummer can’t get on the set and play Go Go music. It’s hard to put into words, it’s more of a feel thing.”

Here is an excellent history of Go Go music. 

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Sax and trumpet players, Elijah Balbed and 
 Brad Clements. (John Wilpers photo)

Go Go music’s appeal crosses boundaries that restrict other types of music to certain limited demographics. 

“Chuck Brown is one of the only artists I know who had four score, or as the old school would say, four generations,” said the band’s conga player, Maurice “Mighty Moe” Hagans. “He had four generations that followed him. A lot of musicians can’t do that; it’s very hard to do. So I’m honored to be part of the band. We’re trying to keep Chuck’s legacy alive.”  

The people at the concert and in DC not only love the music, but they also love the man who created it. 

“The people in this area love him so much, it’s something to see,” said Wiley. “Even years after he passed away, people are still coming out to enjoy the music. 

“He was a very humble person,” said Wiley. “He wasn’t like the typical celebrities who keep it short and brief. Every person who met my father has their own personal story. He always gave as much time as he could. 

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Maurice “Mighty” Moe” Hagans – Percussion (John Wilpers photo)

“He gave it to every person because there was a time in his life when he was that person who wanted to talk to someone and have someone hear him out,” Wiley said. “He was a great father and a great father figure to others — a lot of people in this area call him pops or dad as a father figure because he left such an impact on so many people.”

And that’s exactly what the Chuck Brown Band is still trying to do: Leave an impact on people through the music of the man they celebrate every time they take the stage. 

ABOUT THE CHUCK BROWN BAND:

Band members:

  • Frank “Scooby” Sirius – Guitar, vocals
  • KK – Vocals
  • Wiley Brown – Vocals
  • Ms. Kim – Vocals
  • “Mighty” Moe Hagans – Percussion
  • Kenny “Kwick” Gross – Drums
  • Doug Crowley – Bass
  • Elijah Balbed – Sax
  • Brad Clements – Trumpet
  • Leon Rawlings – Trombone
  • Marcus Young – Keys, vocals

HOW TO FIND & HEAR THE BAND AND BUY THEIR ALBUMS:

ABOUT THE VENUE

The Kennedy Center: The Kennedy Center is a magnificent performance facility with three main stages and lots of other, smaller performance spaces, including the KC Jazz Club where there is jazz just about every night. One of the best parts of the Center is that there are FREE performances every day! They take place in the massive lobby area facing the Potomac River and are incredibly eclectic. Here’s a schedule: http://www.kennedy-center.org/video/upcoming. Get there early to be sure to get a seat!

It is in a lovely location, right on the Potomac River, with wide-open strolling spaces along the river and a killer-view from the rooftop restaurant.  

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