Welcome to “Chuck Town,” a percussion-heavy province where the “Godfather of Go-Go” himself calls the shots over brass and warbling guitar funk, and his loyal subjects shout from their doorways and windows, begging him to let the house “keep on rockin’, until the cops come knockin’.” And as long as “the beat”—that ineffable yet defining quality of go-go music, the drive that keeps Chuck Baby playing nonstop for hours during live shows—doesn’t stop, “Chuck Town” carries on accordingly.
|When this ballroom’s a-rockin’…: Chuck Brown brings in the noise, brings in the funk for a May 5 record-release party at the Satellite Ballroom.|
Chuck Brown became the musical mafioso of D.C. during the ’70s with a combination of styles and a tendency to double down on drumming and handclaps. In a live setting, funk-meets-jazz-meets-blues as one song tightly winds into the next; these transitions made go-go a genre and made Brown a lasting innovator.
“Still getting hired, still inspired, so I don’t plan on being retired,” Brown says, fusing his heavily rasped words into a beat. And retirement isn’t coming anytime soon: On May 5, Brown returns to the Satellite Ballroom to celebrate the release of We’re About the Business, a new record that Brown says is an “up-DATE!,” punctuating this last syllable.
|We’ve got a sample from Chuck Brown’s CD We’re About the Business. Enjoy track 10 We Come to Party.
Thank you Mr. Brown and Shore Fire Media.
“Chucky Thompson [the album’s producer] happens to be one of my former musicians—I hired him when he was 17, and he told me he was 21,” says Brown, laughing. According to Brown, Thompson split from the band in 1990 to make his way as a producer. “He told me, ‘Chuck, as soon as I get the time, I’m gonna be back at you,’” says Brown. Thompson worked with artists from P. Diddy to Mary J. Blige, but kept his word and returned to “Chuck Town” for the recording of Business.
“We finally got together when he got time and opened his studio,” says Brown. “I said, ‘All right, now he gon’ up-DATE this old man NOW.’ So I tell him what I want, and he updates it.”
And the record is an update for Brown. On previous albums, Brown says that percussion dominated his songs. “We decided on lighter percussion [for Business], no congos on songs like ‘Chucky Baby,’ cleaned it up a bit,” says Brown. And, while Brown’s rhythms loosely link his sound to the hip-hop world, the record also features a direct move into rap in the track “We Come to Party,” another one of Thompson’s updates.
“First he got me talking, now he got me rapping,” says Brown. “That’s enough percussion in that tune.”
But Brown—who thanks fans profusely during our conversation, his gratitude overwhelming without seeming insincere—says he still needs “the original sound,” which seems strange if you consider that go-go is less about original sound and more about the catharsis of nonstop funk.
“We play an hour or two, straight on without a break, with call-and-response and audience participation,” says Brown. “And people like that groove, you know. Always been that way—you have to have the audience in there.”
And while We’re About the Business is still a go-go record (roughly a quarter of the songs feature “intro” or “interlude” in the title, emphasizing Brown’s trademark transitions), the beat is best experienced live. Because, unlike the end of a record, the beat doesn’t stop live, and it certainly never stops in “Chuck Town.”
Chuck Brown performs at the Satellite Ballroom on May 5. A special “We’re About the Business” package offers a ticket and a copy of Brown’s new record for $30.