MICHEL MARTIN, Host:
Nashville is famous for country, New Orleans for jazz, but if you are from D.C. - not Washington, D.C. - then you know the area's signature musical style is go-go. You've heard it, even if you didn't know what to call it and nobody does it better than the godfather of go-go, Chuck Brown.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUSTIN' LOOSE")
CHUCK BROWN: (Singing) I feel like bustin' loose. Bustin' loose. Give me the beat now.
MARTIN: That was Chuck Brown's hit "Bustin' Loose." His music is frequently sampled by other artists and he's done collaborations with Marcus Miller, Thievery Corporation and Jill Scott.
And now, there is this: He is to be honored by the National Symphony Orchestra in September, when they pay tribute to legends of Washington music. And Brown is celebrating his 75th birthday, so he's getting that party started with us.
The godfather of go-go, Chuck Brown, is here with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Thank you for coming.
BROWN: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
MARTIN: Also with us is Steven Reineke. He is the principal pops conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra and he was kind enough to join us from NPR's bureau in New York.
Welcome to you, Mr. Reineke. Thank you for joining us.
STEVEN REINEKE: Thanks so much, Michel. Great to be here.
MARTIN: So, Godfather Brown, if I can call you that.
BROWN: Oh, yes.
MARTIN: I can't call you diva. I have to call you divo.
I didn't give myself that name. The fans and the radio stations did.
Well, yeah. But of course.
How does it feel to be turning 75? I do want to mention that I think the actual birthday, but...
BROWN: August 22nd.
MARTIN: August 22nd. But, you know, we actually endorse birthday week and birthday month, so the celebrations continue. How does it feel to be turning 75?
BROWN: It's a wonderful feeling, I'll tell you, because I didn't think I was going to make it this far, and it's a wonderful feeling, you know.
MARTIN: How did you react when you heard that the National Symphony Orchestra wanted to pay tribute to you, along with John Philip Sousa and Duke Ellington?
BROWN: I jumped straight up. I jumped straight up and down. It was the most unbelievable feeling, you know, when I heard it, and I really appreciate it. I really do. I never dreamed anything like that.
MARTIN: Steven Reineke, how about you? In fact, I should mention that you're beginning your tenure as NSO's Principle Pops Conductor.
How did this tribute come about?
REINEKE: The concert was well in the works before I got involved in it, so here's what happened, is the management and the artistic staff at the Kennedy Center and the National Symphony came to me and said, we want you to do the Labor Day concert and here is the premise. We're going to feature these three artists. And they told me - Sousa, Ellington and Chuck Brown - and I thought, well, okay, that's - how do you put together a concert featuring all of that?
And the more research I did into all of it, it actually makes great sense. It ties together beautifully, because it's a strictly D.C. event. And going in that chronological order, it shows a wonderful path line and there's a wonderful arc to the concert because we're going to feature Chuck Brown last on the program and it will become quite the party at that point.
MARTIN: So we know that you're already one of us because you said D.C....
REINEKE: That's right.
MARTIN: (Unintelligible) D.C.
REINEKE: That's right.
MARTIN: To those who live here - Washington are those who - what? Pass through.
REINEKE: It's a specifically D.C. concert.
MARTIN: That's what's up. If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.
We're speaking with the godfather of go-go, Chuck Brown, and we are celebrating his 75th birthday.
Also with us, Steven Reineke of the National Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Reineke is beginning his tenure as NSO Principle Pops Conductor with a tribute concert to the legends of Washington music - Sousa, Ellington and Brown.
So, you know, Mr. Brown, I know 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 a 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 just want to play a little clip from - you know, you were here. I know you mentioned that you used to only - you mom would only let you sing gospel.
MARTIN: We have our own temple here, our tiny desk concert, and you were nice enough to favor us with a tiny desk concert, a little bit of time ago. I'll 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 (unintelligible)...
That tune come out in 1947.
BROWN: Louis Jordan, and his concept was a little bit different from mine, you know, and all those kids was running around the streets singing, run Joe, run Joe. And Louis Jordan was out then, so I decided to use it, you know, and put it back out in my own way, and it worked.
MARTIN: Now, speaking of working, Mr. Reineke, how are you going to make all this work? I know a lot of people are used to John Philip Sousa. They're certainly used to hearing the symphony orchestra do John Philip Sousa. Anybody who's ever enjoyed one of the 4th of July concerts, and even Ellington. But how are you going to make all that work?
REINEKE: Well, it's our first foray into doing it. It's an experiment, but you know, we and myself have some experience doing it. I've had the privilege of working with guys like Bootsy Collins before with orchestra, who, by the way, is a great fan of Chuck Brown.
What we've done is commissioned a few new arrangements, a medley that includes some of the great hits of - what do we have in there? We've got "That'll Work," "Harlem Nocturne," "Bustin' Loose," and then we're going to do another selection with Mr. Brown that is "Run Joe," what you just heard.
And you know, it has all these great horn licks in there already and there's added string parts, which are involved. This style of music - I mean, this funk style, you go back and then beyond that you have disco and all of that. There were bigger, larger instruments used in these things a lot of times, and so it fits in this type of music. These new arrangements are just going to fill out and enhance everything that's already there.
MARTIN: All right. Well, it sounds like you're ready.
All right. Mr. Brown, I understand you're going to play a little something for us. You were nice enough to bring a guitar. You're going to play a little something before we go, but before we let you go, just tell us - I know you hit the big 75.
BROWN: I like (unintelligible).
MARTIN: I'm glad you like it. Before you hit the big 75, or now that you've hit the big 75, do you have any wisdom to share with us?
BROWN: Well, I tell you, you know, God is good. I have - all my trust and confidence and true ability comes from God, my family and of course my fans and the bands. So I would, you know, suggest everybody stay focused. Whatever you're doing, do it smart and do it well, and that way everybody can stand tall. So I feel that since I've been out here, I've learned so much through experience, things that nobody had ever told me. I've learned just by, you know, being out here and paying 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 taught me an awful lot. They're in college and I've learned more from them than I've learned all my lifetime. You see, my thing is stay focused and trust in God and be confident in what you're doing.
MARTIN: All right. What are you going to play for us? You were nice enough to play something. What are you going to play?
BROWN: Well, you know...
MARTIN: I'm going to let Mr. Reineke go.
BROWN: I still ain't good as I used to be. I should be.
MARTIN: I'm going to let Mr. Reineke go, so I'm going to thank him. Steven Reineke is the Principle Pops Conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra. He was with us from New York.
And now to take us on home is Chuck Brown, the godfather of go-go.
BROWN: I love blues. You know, blues and jazz and gospel is really my thing, so I'd like to do a little bit of that, but first, I'm going to do a little bit of go-go swing.
(Singing) Don't mean a thing if you ain't got the go-go swing. Doo-wop, doo-wop, doo-wop, doo-wop, doo-wop, doo-wow. It don't mean a thing if you ain't got the go-go swing. We go doo-wop, doo-wop, doo-wop, doo-wow.