Movin’ and Groovin': Redds & the Boys and Washington D.C.’s insistent go-go beat

By on December 7, 2016

In Night Flight’s “Take Off to New American Music” — which originally aired on May 7, 1986, and is now streaming on our Night Flight Plus channel — announcer Pat Prescott tells us, “Redds & the Boys’ raw rhythm sound is the rage in their native D.C. It’s called go-go music, and it’s spreading across the U.S.A.”

Have a look at their captivating “Movin’ and Groovin'” video, and read more about go-go music below.

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Go-go music — a percussive urban blend of funk, R&B, early hip-hop and drums, especially conga drums — was created in the impoverished nation’s capital, in Washington D.C.’s black inner-city neighborhoods and the surrounding metropolitan area.

This happened sometime in the 1960s although it rose to its zenith of popularity in the late 70s, when most black pop mainstream dance acts were more focused on disco’s slick over-produced string-laden, synthesizer-driven studio-created sounds.

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By the 1980s, go-go music was considered an uniquely regional music style that had not spread to other parts of the country and therefore was proudly a D.C. fixture.

The go-go sound developed organically in D.C., which was nicknamed “Chocolate City,” churning up in the streets and playgrounds, and the club scene, driven along by syncopated percussion instruments — particularly congas and bongos, cowbells, timbales, and roto-toms — the polyrhythmic drum patterns usually up front in the mix over funky jams with prominently heavy bass and bass drum. Lower in the mix were the electric guitars, keyboards and horns.

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The songs usually featured party-time chants and live audience call-and-response vocals accompanying these percussion patterns.

There’s an obvious Afro-Caribbean influence to the music, and at times it may remind the listener of New Orleans-style ”junkanoo” street percussion, and one reason for that may be that D.C., much like New Orleans, has a long history of both brass bands and parades, where drums are heard beating out syncopated beats.

Go-go rhythms may have developed partly from the spontaneous cross-rhythms played on homemade instruments by neighborhood youngsters following in the wake of parading bands, much like the ”second line” street musicians of New Orleans.

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Washington was the first major U.S. city with a predominantly black population, but its citizens felt they didn’t have much of a voice; go-go music not only gave them a voice, and a pulse and a beat, but also a sense of civic pride.

Fans of the music let the insistent beat of go-go music move them into creating manic dance moves to go along with it, like the Happy Feet, Inspector Gadget and the Whop.

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A number of early acts contributed to the creation of the go-go sound, but its chief architect and champion was singer-guitarist Chuck Brown, the leader of Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, who are credited with being the first of the bands to add in some Latin flavor and keep the beat going non-stop for up to several hours at a stretch, with a single tune sometimes lasting more than thirty minutes, a feat which also put a considerable strain on the drummers.

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Chuck Brown

Other early progenitors of the go-go sound include the Young Senators (later known as “The Emperors of Go-Go”), Black Heat, Aggression and many, many others, but the go-go sound was truly popularized by the aforementioned Chuck Brown, a fixture on the Washington and Maryland music scene, who by the mid-1970s had developed a laid-back, rhythm-heavy style of funk with his band, re-christened the Soul Searchers, who who perform one song and then blend into the next without dropping the beat.

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The beat, incidentally, was initially based on Grover Washington Jr.’s song “Mr. Magic,” though Brown has said in interviews that both he and Washington had adapted the beat from a gospel music beat found in black churches.

Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers’ biggest hit was” Bustin Loose,” which the band would sometimes perform for hours without stopping.

In 1984, Island Records president Chris Blackwell heard Chuck Brown’s other big hit song “I Need Some Money” on the radio in New York City, and ended up tracking down Maxx Kidd, an aspiring music figure and record mogul in D.C. who was managing some of the best go-go bands and also releasing their recordings on his own label, T.T.E.D. (which stood for Togetherness, Truth, and Eternal Determination, or possibly Tolerance, Trust and Eternal Dedication/Determination — sources vary).

Kidd invited Blackwell to come to a go-go show in the nation’s capital, one that was to feature some of the top go-go artists D.C. had to offer: Rare Essence, EU, Redds & the Boys and Trouble Funk.

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Blackwell later said about the show,

“What I saw amazed me. There were about seven thousand kids dancing in this auditorium, really going wild; it was quite combustible. I had never heard any of the bands playing who had drawn this huge crowd… It reminded me of Lagos [Nigeria], where groove rules, but there were no songs really, and therefore no radio potential. I thought the best way to break this music would be to make a movie recreating my experience. This had worked for me with the Perry Henzell film The Harder They Come and Jamaican music.”

Blackwell struck a deal to provide international distribution for Kidd’s T.T.E.D.’s roster of go-go artists, and ultimately signed some of the brightest stars of the go-go scene.

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Trouble Funk and E.U. (Experience Unlimited, whose monster hit “Da Butt” is the backdrop for an iconic moment in Spike Lee’s cult classic, School Daze) were both signed to Blackwell’s Island, while Chuck Brown, Mass Extinction, Yuggie, Redds & the Boys (Redds was once a member of Rare Essence) and Hot, Cold, Sweat were signed through a distribution deal between T.T.E.D. and Island’s dance music subsidiary 4th & B’way (sometimes spelled out as Broadway).

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Twelve-inch singles by these bands were often packaged in garish sleeves emblazoned with slang expressions like ”Let’s get small,” ”Do the Whop,” ”Drop the bomb,” and ”Numb to the Max.”

In 1985, Blackwell begun to focus on that movie to be filmed in Washington D.C., and he initially wanted to Redds & the Boys to be featured prominently because they were the first superstar band of go-go and were very charismatic.

The screenplay for Good to Go — written by Blaine Novak — didn’t attempt to break any new ground, story-wise, and mostly told a gritty tale that seemed ripped straight from the D.C. newspaper headlines.

A white nurse is brutally raped and murdered by drugged and crazed young black men, and an alcoholic newspaper reporter named S.D. Blass (played by the very white Art Garfunkel) is convinced by a corrupt police chief named Harrigan that a go-go musician named Chemist was involved in the crime. He’s encouraged to blame the rampant violence on D.C.’s go-go club scene and on black gangs, or “crews.”

Meanwhile a black music mogul (based on Maxx Kidd and played by actor Robert DoQui) is trying to make this music go global and has a large record deal in the works for Redd and the Boys, but he ends up having to fight to set the record straight amid multiple gunfights and packed club concerts.

As it turned out, by the time Good to Go went into production all of the original members of Redds & the Boys had left the group and were replaced by older more experienced local musicians.

At a massive concert staged for the film’s finale (much like the one Blackwell had attended), Garfunkel’s character ends up fighting his way to the stage in order to tell the truth about the murder while he’s cheered on by the crowd.

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Blackwell brought filmmaker Don Letts to D.C. to direct the film (budgeted at $1.5 million), and Letts liked what he saw and heard in the clubs, but there were immediate complications, beginning with clashes with the writer Novak, who reportedly treated Letts horribly on-set and convinced Blackwell and the executive producers of the film that he was too incompetent to direct the film.

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Don Letts and Chris Blackwell

At the time, Letts was about to become a father and he wanted to be present for the birth of his son, so he elected to just work on second unit photography, filming the live performances of Trouble Funk, Chuck Brown and Redds & the Boys. Some reports, however, say he was fired midway through production.

Blaine Novak became the film’s director, and tried to change the direction the film was heading, focusing more on the crime and less on the music.

He later gave an interview to the Washington Post that indicated that he wanted Good To Go to have a “quality message”: “That white people must open their eyes to see the black community needs help and improvement.”

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Blackwell had wanted Good to Go— filled to the brim with a lot of product placement for Pepsi cola — to have a great soundtrack that his Island label could use to promote the film, and post-production on the film was completed in the fall of 1985, but by the time Good to Go was finally released into theaters in the middle of the summer of 1986, the great soundtrack alone wasn’t enough to launch the movie into the mainstream.

It was also savaged by critics who focused more on the crime thriller aspects and less on its go-go music backdrop, and due to poor box office performance, Good to Go was pulled from theaters shortly after its nationwide release on August 1, 1986.

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The film was repackaged under the title Short Fuse and released on VHS, but it was never released on DVD and the videotape is currently out-of-print.

Watch Night Flight’s “Take Off to New American Music” exclusively on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.