Chuck Brown just keeps on going
The Godfather of Go-Go, headlining the Roots Festival this weekend, recently released a new three-disc album
Chuck Brown will headline the Roots Fest. (Special to The Baltimore Sun, Colby Ware / June 23, 2011)
"I'm just glad The Good Man let me live this long. I didn't expect that. I expected to make it to 50," he said.
But despite his age, Brown doesn't intend to quit.
The past year, in fact, has seen Brown at his most productive. He released a new three-disc album in September called "We Got This," and on Saturday, he'll be the first headliner at the Roots Fest, which has been organized to call attention to the area in West Baltimore affected by the "Highway to Nowhere" project.
For the first time, the music establishment outside the Washington area, where he made go-go popular, is noticing. Last December, "Love," his duet with fan Jill Scott, was nominated for a Grammy, the first time in his long career that had happened. "I've been recognized for years, but yes, indeed I was surprised," said Brown.
"I don't feel like retiring. I don't get any questions as to why I should retire," he said in his blustery baritone. "Music is just something I still want to do. I still enjoy it. The older I get, the more I want to play."
Brown picked up music when he was around 6 or 7, playing piano at his church and singing gospel songs.
"Run Joe," one of the songs in "We Got This," goes back to his youth. "I used to sing it when I was shining shoes," he remembered. "I knew if one day I was a musician, I would sing it."
But he didn't pursue music professionally until he was 24 and "locked up" at Lorton Reformatory near Washington.
While in jail, he said, he "became the No. 1 guitar player in Lorton" and made a pledge to himself:
"I'm not gonna give it up. I knew what I was gonna do when I got out," he said.
In the 1960s, Brown started to create the blend of funk, soul and popular dance music that came to be called go-go and hit it big with 1972's "We the People."
To understand how far-reaching his legacy is, you don't have to look much further than those contemporary artists, especially rappers, who sample some of his oldest songs. Eve did it in 2007, sampling "Blow Your Whistle" on "Tambourine;" Nelly sampled "Bustin' Loose" on "Hot in Herre."
Brown's collaboration with Jill Scott, the one that garnered them both Grammy nods, happened at Scott's urging.
"She'd been listening to me since she was a kid," he said.
At this point, he understands his place in the canon.
"Rap came out after go-go came out. And disco was happening before I started go-go, and it was really hard at that time. But after I put go-go out, it caught on," he said. "We all started joining in, all the guys in D.C., because it was much easier to play, much closer to the audience, and easier to understand."
Three years ago, he started working on "We Got This," which includes five new collaborations with singers Scott, Ledisi and others, as well as a live DVD and a live album of a show at the 9:30 club.
"It took me a while to get it right," he said. "I like to do live albums. I like to do some studio cuts and mix 'em up with my live stuff."