Rest & (MANY) Thanks: Chuck Brown, DC’s Constant & Saint

by dre of onustees.com on 17 May 2012

Easily identifiable as “Chuck…” but it sounded so much better to say “Chuck Brown…”

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012… Washington, DC lost our constant… and gained a saint…

The Constant

From the mid-sixties to the Spring of 2012… there was one thing for certain in the District… you could find a spot to “go see Chuck…” Whether it was with “Los Latinos”, where the foundation of the Go-Go sound was explored, incorporating funk rhythms with Latin percussive grooves… or if it was with The Soul Searchers… a funk dominated band that would later be mined for the backbone of an entirely new sound, Hip Hop… or when they fully established their sound as the leading Go-Go band and became “Chuck Brown & Soul Searchers…”

One thing remained… DC’s own Desmond Hume (for my Lost people) was present and constant… DC’s had Marion Barry… he soared initially… then “the bitch set me up…” Redskins are still claimed… but ever since Snyder took over… things ain’t been the same. The Bullets/Wizards… well, thanks Gilbert. However, nothing has remained unceasing, steadfast and faithful as the pocket groove & familiar saxophone refrain from Chuck Brown and his band…

If you’ve read this blog before… or know me beyond the blog… there are 2 major things I cherish… my relationship with Pops… and great music, typically it’s music from the time before yesterday… as I thought about the passing of the legend… I recalled a conversation I had with my Pops this past Mother’s Day… he asked if I knew Chuck was in the hospital… in a manner that suggested “Chuck” was in our family, which he was to each and every DC native… I told him I was aware but had my doubts he’d recover… We both agreed that suffering from pneumonia at that age… compacted with the fact he was at John Hopkins… the outcome looked grim… at that moment, I informed him I hoped DC would throw a major Go-Go ChuckFest at RFK… bringing out all the local bands and artists nationwide that revered him for a day-long concert… without hesitation my father of 61 years of age replied… “I’d go.” …that’s when I realized Chuck was our constant…

I grew up listening to Miles… P-Funk… Sly… Isaac… wrote pre-school reports on my favorite artist, Dexter Gordon, who, at age 6, I’ve gone to see at Fort Dupont with Pops… and cried when he left the stage and wiped tears away when Pops promised me we’d return to see him the next day… which he did…  Pops & I have taken a number of road trips down 95 South singing to Motown… jamming to Stax… and admiring Carmen McRae… Pops even appreciated some of the artists I would grow up to enjoy… often he’d ask for a mix of Tupac’s best… or recognize the hustle and business acumen of Shawn Carter… and once I saw the glimmer of pride in his eye when I sampled Sam Cooke’s “Twistin’ The Night Away” during my early pursuits of beatmaking apart of School of Beats (click if you dare… song is “The Co-Op… and judge not… lol.) Yet… with all those acts from his youth and mine… very few would provide each the same experiences… I could never have the feeling of witnessing the Mothership drop from above and Starchild step out with his Bop Gun in tow… nor would he understand how Jay-Z could command a crowd by simply standing dead center stage reciting rap lines with minimal movement… but that was just how Hov did it… then again… he’d probably compare it to Miles capturing an audience double the number of Jay-Z’s, while playing trumpet with his back to them… in the end… however, it was never the same person… the same sound… the same experience…

But with Chuck it was different… and by different… the same…

My father has the same feelings and experiences jamming to Chuck & The Soul Searchers as I do… We both know what it feels like to see Chuck walk on stage and greet the audience in that calm-cool-collected DC baritone… We both know what was about to go down when the drummer kicked off at the top… followed by the chords from the brother on the keys… along with the repetitive striking of the cowbell… the Soul Searching pocket groove… then “keep what you got until you get what you need ya’ll…” We both know… that once Chuck received the bridge… it was time to bust loose… We both have tried to keep our bop cool enough to attract the DC honeys while “Chuck & nem” was cranking… We both have failed at that endeavor and jammed to a sweaty outcome…

Decades apart… different eras… varying styles…  altered slang… one thing remained… we both have “gon’ to see Chuck…”

The Saint

I don’t claim to be a religious person… far from it… I try to live life with a pretty damn good moral code set forth by Lord Pops Taylor… I say that to explain that I have a basic (highly assumed) notion of how Sainthood is attained…

I’d imagine that, in their earthly selves, saints had to impact a number of people and provide blessings to those who sought them out… Chuck’s cultural impact on DC is without question… I don’t believe you can be born within the city limits and the neighboring areas and NOT recognize the Legend of Chuck Brown… (It’s Redskins… Mumbo Sauce… Chuck…)

As far as the blessings… For visiting artists… you weren’t REALLY appreciated by DC unless Chuck showed up at your concert… I can’t keep count of how many times Chuck has appeared with his sidekick “Blondie” (his guitar) and graced the crowd… Each and every time the crowd would erupt as if we’d all won the mega-millions (by the way, Chuck’s DC Lottery promo was a JAM!!!) … and I’m talking we all would get 15M each… that type of elation… For the artist, it was always a risky move to bring him out… It was best to do so at the beginning or end of the show… If you brought the Legend out in the middle the set… the remaining time folks would just want to hear that go-go feeling again… but if you let him open the urge would subside and focus returned to the main attraction… the Win/Win would be to bring him on at the end… for two reasons… 1, the entire time we’re all listening to you thinking… “I wonder if they’re going to bring out Chuck…” 2, when you DO bring him out… it’s usually to crank to your best song… which simply puts everyone over the top on 10… and closes the venue with the chants of “Wind Me Up, Chuck!!!” …and he couldn’t help but do so… (For the record… Jill Scott was the best at “bringing out Chuck”…)

Another aspect of Sainthood… assuming here… is revisiting the entire body work… with the passing of the 75 year old of legend… I hope it’s revealed that he was not only the founding father of Go-Go… but an A+ musician… whether it was Funk, R&B or Soul… Chuck could do it… and did it… The Soul Searchers “Blow Your Whistle” embodies the drive and rhythm that rivals sounds of that time… Ohio Players, L.T.D., Kool & The Gang, etc… “We The People” could have easily been placed on a Sly Stone album… and this may be blasphemy but their version of James’ “Think”… is well… pretty damn close to out-doing the Godfather of Soul…

Lasting mark… Saints must leave something behind that will remain for many moons… decades… centuries… yet again, I’m assuming here… Aside from his ability to remake songs from varying genres… Blues… Soul… Jazz… Cartoon Themes… “Run Joe”“Playing Your Game” “It Don’t Mean A Thing”“Woody Woodpecker”… respectively… I think the biggest miracle* of Chuck Brown’s career is being apart of the Soul Searchers and present when the drumbreak on “Ashley’s Roachclip” hit… although it was Kenneth Scoggins on the drums… the mere fact that Chuck was apart of a drumloop that has been used by everyone from LL Cool J… Eric B & Rakim… Dr. Dre… even Duran Duran & Milli Vanilli… only adds to his legend… (there’s also the fact that the Soul Searchers song “1993” was used in some rap interlude… that I’ve been wracking my brain trying to remember… help if you can… it’s around the :50 sec mark… “will the rain and thunder clean* the world for me…”)

…in the end, I know 2 things…

Chuck Brown will forever be in the hearts and spirit of the Nation’s Capital…

…our Constant…

…our Saint.

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