Go-Go Godfather Created Distinct DC Soundtrack

Chuck Brown, also known as the Godfather of Go-Go, created a brand of funk music that resonated in Washington, D.C. for decades, and struck a chord with musicians across generations and genres. He died Wednesday at age 75. Host Michel Martin remembers Brown and his music.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today we want to pause to remember the Godfather - the Godfather of Go-Go, that is, Chuck Brown. He died Wednesday in Baltimore at the age of 75. His distinct take on funk music was the soundtrack of Washington, D.C. for decades. It struck a chord with fans of all ages and across genres.

This past August, Chuck Brown joined us in the studio to celebrate his 75th birthday and to talk about his life and work. Here's a little bit of that conversation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARTIN: So, Godfather Brown, if I can call you that.

CHUCK BROWN: Oh, yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I can't call you diva. I have to call you divo.

BROWN: I didn't give myself that name. The fans and the radio stations did.

MARTIN: Well, yeah. But of course.

So, you know, Mr. Brown, I know you - it probably drives you crazy when people ask you this, but for those who don't know what go-go is, how would you describe it?

BROWN: Well, it's another concept of funky music and mixed with Latin and African ingredients and percussion, and the thing about my type of music - of course, I grew up in the church, and my mother didn't allow me to sing anything but gospel at that point in time.

And so as I got a little bit older and I left home, I was on my own, I wasn't interested in the music no more, until I was 24, and that's when I got interested in playing the guitar.

MARTIN: I know you mentioned that you use to only - your mom would only let you sing gospel.

BROWN: Right.

MARTIN: We have our own temple here - our tiny desk concerts.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: You were nice enough to favor us with a tiny desk concert a little bit of time ago. I' just play a little taste just to give people a sense. I know people have heard it, but just to give a little taste of "Run Joe."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUN JOE")

BROWN: (Singing) Run Joe. Run Joe. Run Joe. Run Joe. Run Joe, policeman at de door. Run Joe. Run Joe. Run Joe. Run Joe. The police he won't let me go, yo. Run Joe. Run Joe. Run Joe. Run Joe. Got to run as fast as you can now. Run Joe. Run Joe. Run Joe. Run Joe.

The policemen got me hiding.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BROWN: That tune come out in 1947.

MARTIN: OK.

BROWN: Lewis Jordan. And all these kids were running around the streets singing run Joe, run Joe, so I decided to use it, you know, put it back out my own way, and it worked.

MARTIN: Do you have any wisdom to share with us?

BROWN: Well, I'll tell you, you know, God is good. And since I've been out here, I've learned so much, I mean through experience, things that nobody ever told me I've learned just by, you know, being out here. And pay attention to people that listen, I mean people that listen to other people get wisdom. Pay attention to people that are trying to teach you something. That's what I did. My kids have taught me an awful lot. They're in college and I've learned more from them than I've learned all my lifetime.

MARTIN: All right. When are you going to play for us?

(SOUNDBITE OF STRUMMING ON GUITAR)

BROWN: I love blues. You know, blues and jazz and gospel is really my thing. But first I want to do a little bit of "Go-Go Swing."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GO-GO SWING")

BROWN: (Singing) It don't mean a thing if you ain't got the Go-Go swing. That go, doo-wop, doo-wop, doo-wop, doo-wop, doo-wop, doo-wop.

MARTIN: That was an excerpt of my interview this past August with the late Chuck Brown. He's called the Godfather of Go-Go and he died yesterday in Baltimore. And we want to leave you with his big hit from 1978, "Bustin' Loose."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUSTIN' LOOSE")

BROWN: (Singing) Give me the bridge now. I feel like bustin' loose. Give me the bridge, ya'll. Give me the bridge, now, now. I feel like bustin' loose, bustin' loose now. Bustin' loose in the evening. Bustin' loose can be pleasing. Talkin' about bustin' loose.

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