[Updated] Wednesday, Chuck Brown, the godfather of go-go, passed away. Here’s an interview I conducted with him in 2009 in advance of his appearance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. We started by talking about his most recent album at the time, We’re About the Business.
Why did you decide to record your version of the theme to The Godfather on the album?
Oh I love that movie, came out in ’72 I believe. I loved it, and that melody stayed with me all those years. I had never played it before so I decided to go to the studio and record it and then play it live. I just love the song and everybody calls me the godfather.
So it seemed appropriate.
I did not designate that name for myself. My friends did it and my radio station did, so it’s just such a beautiful thing, you know? I’m getting some props for something finally.
Is there any song that you tried to put the go-go beat to and didn’t like it?
Yes, happened to me many times. When I pick the right tune, its like “Moody’s Mood for Love.” It was a slow song, and I always loved slow songs. I said, “We gotta put this ‘Moody’s Mood’ thing on a go-go beat! Give it a whole new flavor and put it out again. And sure enough, I did that and the people loved it.
My first big album, We the People, that’s when I was trying to get go-go together back in 1972, and then after that I put out a single called “Blow Your Whistle,” and that was for the little kids running around in school. These kids are 40-something years old now, and remember it from when they were in school, only about 10 years old, riding around blowing their whistle. I was trying to relate to that, and they ate that song up. They still do; they ain’t kids no more though.
They liked that and I decided to do another album, and we called it Bustin’ Loose. That song, “Bustin’ Loose”, we had about two years before we went into the studio to record it. That was really the one that established it like it is. Go-Go caught on in ’76, and from there we’ve been trying to create different melodies to this go-go beat and it worked quite well. “Bustin’ Loose” busted everything loose. This is what go-go is about.
After that I came back with a tune called, “We Need Some Money”, and there was a reason for that because I hadn’t got none in a long time. I’ve never been a lyric writer, but I can write hooks, and I can write some funky tracks. “We Need Some Money”—I wrote that song in 15 minutes. It took me two years to write “Bustin’ Loose,” you know the reason for that: inspirational empty pockets.
Back in those days, you had go-go clubs and go-go girls, but they didn’t have go-go music, so I just decided to call this go-go music. I knew it was going to work when most of the bands around were doing top 40, and they jumped on the groove. I thought, “Hey, we got something here.” It’s not just my sound; it’s the sound for the town. And that’s what happened. You’ve got the innovators and the pioneers like Sugar Bear [Gregory Elliot of E.U.]. He opened up for me with Experience Unlimited in Washington, D.C. The Whispers were on that show. The Delphonics were on that show. We opened up for all of them, and that’s when I first met Sugar Bear. He was like 17 years old. I had the honor of producing their first album and their first hit single was “Body Moves.” I was the producer on that, and I used to go to the studio and work with them and teach them when they were trying to put the band together. Trouble Funk came behind them, the Backyard Band. Now you got a lot of new bands coming out with their own sound. My thing is, I want to make sure that I can distinguish the different styles. They all have basically the same styles, but I can distinguish the different sounds in each band.