funk

Plunky Branch

plunky_branch

Plunky Branch plays his soprano saxophone near Howard University’s WHUR 96.3 FM in Washington, DC in 2013.

African Rhythms – Oneness of Juju

“Juju” has various meanings in West Africa. It is a style of music, a form of witchcraft, and the ability to affect someone subconsciously through music. When Richmond, Virginia’s J. Plunky Branch traveled to the region with his jazz-funk group Oneness of Juju he discovered that people take the word “juju” very seriously.

20 years before his trip to West Africa the young saxophone player formed a band in New York City called The Soul Syndicate with a few fellow Columbia University students. They recorded one 45—covers of The Temptations’ “Fading Away” and a James Brown song, and pressed only a couple hundred copies.

In 1968 Branch moved to San Francisco.  There he met South African jazz musician Ndikho Xaba and joined his group Ndikho Xaba and the Natives. The group released a self-titled LP on Oakland’s Trilyte label in 1969.  Working with Xaba, Branch realized that music could be political and more than just entertainment.

After Xaba left San Francisco, Branch and two other members of the Natives got a gig in the music ensemble for a stage production by playwright Marvin X entitled, “The Resurrection of the Dead.” When the show ended Branch and the five other musicians in the ensemble formed the group, JuJu.

“Certainly there are people who know more music or who can play saxophone in circles around me,” says Branch. “But I have a lot of perseverance and a lot of study ability. I was able to articulate things from the stage and to other musicians that seemed to be able to rally them.”

In 1973 JuJu recorded their debut LP, “A Message From Mozambique,” which was a reference to African civil wars that were not being covered by the media. They released their follow-up, “Chapter Two: Nia,” in 1974. Both records were issued on Strata-East Records and featured African-style percussion.

By 1975 Branch returned to Richmond. He came across a magazine called “Black Fire,” which incorporated JuJu’s logo on the cover. Curious, Branch reached out to publisher Jimmy Gray and together they formed the Washington, DC-based Black Fire Records. Artists eventually signed to Black Fire Records included Experience Unlimited, Wayne Davis, and Southern Energy Ensemble.

Branch incorporated new members from Richmond into his group and in 1976 released “African Rhythms” as Oneness of Juju on Black Fire Records, which they recorded at Bias Recording Studios in Springfield, Virginia. The lineup at the time of recording was:

Eka-Ete Jackie Lewis: vocals
Plunky Branch: saxaphone, flute, vocals, percussion
Al Hammel Rasul: piano, keyboards, percussion, vocals
Muzi Branch: bass, percussion, vocals
Babatunde Michael Lea: drums, percussion, vocals
Lon Moshe: vibraphone, marimbas
Ronnie Toler: drums
Phillip “Pee Wee” Ford: bass
Reginald Brisbane: Balophone

More R&B influenced than the band’s previous albums, the title track’s bass line was a direct riff on James Brown’s “The Big Payback.” Howard University’s WHUR 96.3 FM became the first radio station to play the LP extensively, bringing a wider audience to Oneness of Juju in the Mid-Atlantic.

Oneness of Juju performed in DC constantly. Other musicians they performed with at the time included Gil Scot-Heron, Hugh Masekela, Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers, The Young Senators, Brute, and Experience Unlimited.

Oneness of Juju released their fourth LP, “Space Jungle Luv,” in 1976, which continued the band’s explorations into R&B and jazz-funk. In 1977 they recorded and shelved a fifth LP, “Bush Brothers & Space Rangers” at Arrest Records in DC, which was finally released in 1996 on P-Vine Records. By 1982’s “Make A Change,” Plunky & Oneness of Juju were fully playing funk, disco, and reggae music. The album’s track “Every Way But Loose charted in Billboard Magazine, bringing them national attention. It was later featured in “Grand Theft Auto Vice City Stories.”

So when Plunky & Oneness of Juju toured West Africa in 1986 they were surprised by the reception to their name. In Ghana, radio DJs would only refer to them as “Oneness of God.” People were also caught off-guard by the band’s sound, which did not resemble West African Juju music. They dropped “Juju” from the name, becoming known simply as Plunky and Oneness.

Members of the band have changed but Branch has recorded and performed consistently over 35 years. In 2001 Strut Records released a two-CD retrospective, “African Rhythms – Oneness of Juju 1970-1982.” In 1999 Branch was named “Musician of The Year” by Richmond Magazine.

Plunky & Oneness released their latest album, Never Too Late, in 2013. They continue to perform regularly in Martini Kitchen & Bubble Bar in Richmond and at K2 Restaurant & Lounge in Woodbridge, Virginia. You can purchase Branch’s music here and here.

soprano_saxophone

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

The Soul Searchers

The Soul Searchers
John Buchanan, Lloyd Pinchback, Bennie Braxton, Lino Druitt, Donald Tillery, and Kenneth Scoggins (l-r) at The Panorama Room.

Blow Your Whistle – The Soul Searchers

Jazz flutist Loyd Pinchback had been to the Chase’s Lounge many times before but he’d never heard a band as tight as this. The Los Latinos, who were performing that evening, featured a guitarist named Chuck Brown. Pinchback was able to secure a spot with the band that night and along with Brown and bassist John Euell, splintered off to form The Soul Searchers. Starting with performances at backyard barbecues, The Soul Searchers’ musicianship quickly led to regular spots at the Ebony Inn, the Red Carpet Lounge, and Model’s Extraordinaire.

 
Inspired by the big sound of Baltimore’s Tommy Vann & The Professionals and And The Echos, The Soul Searchers added new members to their rhythm section. In 1972 they recorded their debut LP “We The People” at Track Studios in Silver Spring, Maryland and released it on Sussex Records.

The lineup was:

Chuck Brown – Guitar, Lead Vocals
Lloyd Pichback – Flute, Saxophone, Vocals
John Euell – Bass, Vocals
John Buchanan – Trombone, Piano
Lino Druitt – Percussion
Hilton Felton – Organ
Kenneth Scoggins – Drums, Percussion
Donald Tillery – Trumpet, Vocals

The album’s title track was inspired by The Chambers Brothers “Love, Peace, and Happiness” and elements of Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” and “On The Corner.” The success of “We The People” let to a spot on the Soul Train Tour alongside acts like Bobby Womack, The Dramatics, and The Moments.

After the release of their debut LP The Soul Searchers were considered to be the top band in DC along with The Young Senators. Playing four times a week to crowds at go-gos–including The Burgundy Room, The Panorama Room, the Masonic Temple, and Northwest Gardens–The Soul Searchers began to extend their songs with instrumental breaks in order to keep people on the dance floor. Their percussion-heavy extension of Grover Washington’s “Mr. Magic” along with Chuck Brown’s call and response with the crowd was a predecessor for what later became known as go-go music. According to Pinchback’s book, “The Soul Searchers: 1968-1978,” some of the other bands performing in the area at the time were Aggression, Black Heat, Scacy & The Sound Service, Lead Head, Brute, Father’s Children, Ashanti, Spectrum Ltd., and New Breed.

In 1973 The Soul Searchers returned to the studio to record “Salt of The Earth,” also on Sussex Records, this time with Bennie Braxton on organ. Recorded at American Star Recording Studio in Falls Church, VA the 1974 LP contained regional hits “Blow Your Whistle,”  “If It Ain’t Funky” and “Ashley’s Roachclip,” one of the most sampled tracks in history. Scoggins’ drum break from “Ashley’s Roachclip” can be heard on Milli Vanilli’s infamous smash hit “Girl You Know It’s True.”

Due to the emergence of DJs, gigs began to slow down for The Soul Searchers shortly after the release of “Salt of The Earth. In 1976 they recorded “Bustin’ Loose ” at Arrest Recording Studios in N.W. DC, which Brown wrote lyrics to in response to his frustration with the group’s stagnation, but the record was never released.

In 1978 Chuck Brown and The Soul Searchers re-recorded “Bustin’ Loose” with nearly all new members with the exception of Brown, Tillery, and Buchanan for the LP of the same name on Source Records. The single reached #34 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979, launching the band to national fame.

Chuck Brown went on to be recognized as the “Godfather of Go-Go,” inspiring such bands as Experience Unlimited (EU), Rare Essence, and Trouble Funk. He sadly passed away in 2012, drawing an overwhelming expression of emotion from all corners of Washington, DC. Pinchback and Buchanan currently perform with the go-go band Proper Utensils. Tillery performs with the band Truth Groove and was recently interviewed for WAMU’s Metro Connection.

You can purchase Chuck Brown’s music here.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Erik Johnson

Erik Johnson

The World Today – 95th Congress

On Maine Avenue SW past the hustle and bustle of the Maine Avenue Fish Market, the Channel Inn Hotel’s Engine Room hosts a weekly Open Mic. The evening has attracted such Washington, DC icons as Marion Barry, The Young Senators’ Jimi Dougans, and the late soul singer Terry Huff. Erik Johnson, former drummer for the band 95th Congress, originated Open Mic.

Johnson started playing the drums when he was 11 years old. He met two Federal City College students when he was in junior high school who brought them into their band Flavors of Soul. Producer Van McCoy became interested in Flavors of Soul and changed their name to 95th Congress, adding them to a small selection of groups with political names under his wing. 95th Congress performed in clubs and cabarets around DC alongside groups like The Young Senators, The Soul Searchers, One Hundred Years Time, and Brute and in the Virginia and West Virginia Chitlin’ Circuit. In 1971 95th Congress—Brothers Erik and Rudy Johnson, Ron Galvez, Rocknell Swilling, Gary Corum, Dan Adams, and Victor Green—recorded McCoy’s “Fiddle De De,” and Rudy Johnson’s “The World Today,” at Rodel Studio in Georgetown. Swilling sang lead on “Fiddle De De” and the group and McCoy performed vocals on “The World Today.”

Sussex Records released the recordings to little fanfare and then 95th Congress ran into some bad luck. First they fell out of favor with McCoy after they showed up late to an important gig with Isaac Hayes and then they had all of their equipment stolen. Together the incidents caused the band to break up.

Johnson remained in music after the dissolution of 95th Congress. He played with The Orioles and the Heavy Weather Jazz Orchestra and in the late 1980s started Open Mic at the Channel Inn Hotel with his band Natural Selection. In 2001 Johnson released “Dancin’ Shoes,” his first solo album. Johnson eventually had to depart Natural Selection due to health issues but he still writes music and teaches piano lessons at the Bladensburg Community Center.

“It’s a God given talent,” says Johnson. “And once you get in you never give it up. And that’s my plan, never give it up.”

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul

joe_quarterman

(I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind – Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul

Sometimes you have to fake it to make it. Joe Quarterman told a white lie to his junior high school music instructor at Shaw Junior High School when he said that he could play trumpet, but thankfully he was a fast learner. Quarterman was still at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School when he joined the El Corols Band and Show as a trumpet player and a recent graduate when he toured with The Magnificent Seven. A budding songwriter, Quarterman had a burning desire to record and perform independently from the group. In 1963 Quarterman released his first of several 45s under the management of Baltimore singing duo Gene and Eddie as Sir Joe and The Maidens—“Pen Pal”/”Jivin Gene” on Lenox Records. Quarterman released several other singles as Sir Joe and Sir Joe and The Maidens but nearly called it quits when some Washington Redskins players stole the members of his new band, Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul, for their short-lived singing group. Quarterman found new members for Free Soul through the help of his brother—Gregory Hammonds on bass, Allen Stewart on drums, George “Jackie” Lee on guitar (pictured with Quarterman from left to right), Charles Steptoe on drums, Karissa Freeman on keyboards, and Leon Rogers on saxophone.

Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul recorded their self-titled debut LP on GSF Records, a subsidiary of ABC Paramount Records in 1973. The bandleader presented a sketch of his idea for the album the cover—the group breaking through all the troubles of America—but instead of commissioning a photo shoot the label printed the original sketch on the cover. The album’s single (I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind” reached the Billboard R&B top 100 and the cover ultimately appeared in the book “The Greatest Album Covers Of All Time.” Sir Joe Quaterman & Free Soul later released the singles “Thanks Dad” and “I’m Gonna Get You” on GSF Records and “Get Down Baby,” which also reached the Billboard R&B top 100 and “I’m A Young Man” on Mercury Records, but Quarterman didn’t attain the level of success he was hoping for and attended the University of Maryland to study architecture shortly after.

Encouraged by a renewed interest in their music decades later, Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul released the album “They Want Funky Music” in 2003 and toured France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. “(I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind” was featured in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and numerous advertisements and Daptone Records’ Charles Bradley covered “No Time For Dreaming,” an outtake from Quarterman’s GSF Records demo, for his 2011 debut album of the same name. Quarterman continues to perform today and will be releasing a new album, “Alive N’ Well,” on January 15. Guitarist Lee performs with Free Soul and also with Jimi Smooth & Hit Time.

Sir Joe Quarterman and Free Soul have also reissued their debut LP with b-sides and rare earlier materiel, which you can purchase here.

JoeQuarterman_SOUL51_JE

Design by Jessica Ellis

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Skull Snaps

skull snaps

It’s A New Day – Skull Snaps

Samm Culley spotted something unusual while watching cars pass under the highway as he often did. It was the tour bus for “Mr. Personality,” singer Lloyd Price.

“One day I’m going to be on that bus,” thought young Culley. It would take a while but eventually his dream would come true.

Culley’s musical career began as a keyboard player for Maryland Eastern Shore act Tiny Tim and the Hits, where he met fellow singers Tom Price and Bill Collier. In 1958 Tiny Tim and The Hits released a 45 on Roulette Records—“Wedding Bells” with the b-side “Doll Baby.”

The trio soon left Tiny Tim to form their own group with singer Irving Waters called The Diplomats. While most young people in Maryland were going out on Saturday nights the quartet practiced singing. The Diplomats—Price, Culley, Waters (pictured left to right), and Collier—performed all over the Eastern Shore and were determined to be the first successful group out of the region. Cully moved to Newark, New Jersey after a brief stint in the army and Price and Waters soon joined him.

The Diplomats recorded their first 45, “Unchained Melody/Card On The Table” on Arock Records in 1963 and performed all over New York City including at The Apollo Theater, but still did not have a big song. That changed in 1964 when they met with Washington, DC producer Van McCoy who turned out their first hit “Here’s A Heart.” The song stayed at #1 in DC for nine weeks and The Diplomats returned to South of the Mason-Dixon line to play at The Howard Theatre. Feeling the strains of the music industry, Price left The Diplomats and Culley and Waters found George Bragg to replace him. Being a drummer, the addition of Bragg helped The Diplomats transition from a singing group to a band. The three performed so well together they never even needed to rehearse. It was during this time that Culley’s childhood dream began to take shape. Lloyd Price came by to see a show and was blown away, predicting that the band would literally make people’s skulls snap.

Now named the Skull Snaps, the trio released their only LP on GSF Records in 1970. The band was unable to continue recording as the Skull Snaps due to legal difficulties for GSF records so they released a 45—“Soul Makossa/On Top Of It”—as All Dyrections. The Skulls Snaps disbanded shortly after; Culley went on to record with an early version of The Fatback Band and eventually produced an album for Lloyd Price.

In 1989 Connecticut rapper Stezo sampled Bragg’s drums from the Skull Snaps’ “It’s A New Day” on “It’s My Turn.” The Skulls Snaps track has since been sampled over 270 times, making it one hip-hop’s most ubiquitous break beats. The group saw their popularity rise again and Culley, Waters, Price, and Bragg reunited to record and tour. Bragg passed away in 2007 but the Skulls Snaps recently recorded a new single with Stezo and were followed by a documentary crew for their soon to be released film, “The Legend of The Skull Snaps.”

skull_snaps_02

You can purchase The Diplomats music here and the Skull Snaps here.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Sugar Bear

Sugar_Bear

Free Yourself – Experience Unlimited

Ballou Senior High School student Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliott wanted to be a boxer. Recognizing that he wasn’t all that good he decided to pursue his back up dream of being a rock star instead. A huge Led Zeppelin fan, 15 year-old Elliot taught himself to play bass and formed the band Experience Unlimited with kids from his Southeast DC neighborhood. The young group struggled to get gigs but things finally started to move when they won “Best Rock Group” at a Duke Ellington School of the Arts talent show. As they played around town Elliott became a fan of many of the older bands he saw on stage, especially The Soul Searchers, The Young Senators, Aggression, Mixed Breed, 100 Years Time, and Father’s Children.

In 1976 Experience Unlimited—Elliott, Donald Fields, Andre Lucas, Phillip Harris, Clarence Smith, Anthony Easton, Michael Hughes, Greylin T. Hunter, and David Williams along with Melva Adams, Marvin Coward, Wayne Davis, and Bobby Owens recorded “Free Yourself,” an LP of original material on Black Fire Records at Bias Studios in Falls Church, Virginia. Elliott wrote the album’s title track.

Even with an album under their belt and Elliott in a new frontman role, Experience Unlimited struggled to find a fan base as black artists playing rock and roll. They were just too different. A turning point came when they played with Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers at the Panorama Room and the late “Godfather of Go-Go” convinced Elliott to switch to the emerging genre.

Throughout the 20th century until today Experience Unlimited (EU) has been one of DCs most successful go-go bands along with Brown, Trouble Funk, and Rare Essence. EU’s lineup changed over the years, but Elliott remained constant.

“I kept going because I love to play,” says Elliott. “That’s my high, I don’t care if it’s five people or 5,000, I love to play.”  In 1988 EU brought go-go to national attention with the #35 Billboard Hot 100 single “Da Butt,” which was featured in Spike Lee’s 1988 film “School Daze.”

“My mother thought I was making noise and told me to shut that stuff up, but once she finally saw me on TV she was in awe,” says Elliott.

“Da Butt” attracted record companies from Motown to Warner Brothers to Virgin Records, which they eventually signed with, releasing their sixth LP “Livin’ Large” in 1989. EU has shared the stage with Earth Wind & Fire, Whitney Houston, Bob Dylan, James Brown, and New Kids on the Block. The band records and performs constantly but Gregory laments the status of go-go today.

“This is the go-go capital of the world but everything is still neutral. I have to do something to bring it back to national attention.”

You can purchase EU‘s music here and here.

Experience_Unlimited

Design by Ibraheem Youssef

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Irving “Scacy” Haywood

Iriving "Scacy" Haywood

Sunshine Pt. 1 – Scacy and The Sound Service

Irving “Scacy” Haywood was at C G Woodson Junior High School in 1964 when he sang lead vocals on The D.C. Playboys’ “You Were All I Needed” on Arock Records with respected producer Van McCoy and it wasn’t long after that when he helped organize vocal group The Ascots. In the early 1970s Haywood saw new groups cropping up left and right in his hometown so he asked his father for money to post an ad in The Washington Star to start a new group. The elder Haywood didn’t hesitate.

Scacy and The Sound Service performed top 40 material at Byrne Manor and other cabarets around DC along with fellow go-go pioneers The Soul Searchers, The Young Senators, and Black Heat and opened for artists such as Stevie Wonder, Carla and Rufus Thomas, and War. Eager to put out a record Haywood asked his bandmates if anyone had written any songs. New organist Bennie Braxton had an original piece called “Sunshine,” which Scacy and The Sound Service recorded on Scacy Records at Track Recorders in Silver Spring, Maryland in 1972. Outkast sampled the song in 2006.

Shortly after releasing “Sunshine” Haywood received a call from fellow former Ascots singer Archie Powell who asked him to replace a member of his group The Presidents. Haywood toured with them and appeared with them as Anacostia on Soul Train in 1972.

Haywood’s participation in Anacostia was only temporary and afterwards he retired from music, establishing a career at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. In 2011 after a major surgery Haywood was inspired to return to music and won the Prince George’s County and Maryland Senior Idol Competitions by singing Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Little Royal

Little Royal

Razor Blade – Little Royal and The Swingmasters

It’s difficult to imagine that Royal Torrence had no idea what rock and roll was as a young boy in the south. When the singer joined his Uncle Bill Weaver’s Washington, DC gospel group in his twenties he only knew spiritual songs. Torrence became the leader of the group, which transitioned to rock and roll at Weaver’s suggestion, and was therefore known as Little Royal and the Swingmasters.

One evening in 1963, Torrence had a chance encounter with James Brown at The Howard Theatre. The Godfather of Soul told him they looked like brothers and introduced Torrence to promoter James Dudley. Soon Little Royal and the Swingmasters were touring with Smokey Robinson and The Miracles and The Temptations.

In 1967 Torrence released his first 45—“I Can Tell”/ “You Made Me Love You” on Carnival Records. In 1972 Little Royal and the Swingmasters, which featured horn player Andrew Sims, Marvin Shears on drums, and Burnett Jackson on bass, released their “Jealous” LP on Torrence and producers Huey P. Meaux and Stanley Little’s Tri-Us label. The LP contained the hits “Jealous,” “I’ll Come Crawling,” “Razor Blade,” “Panama Red,” and “Soul Train.”

“Jealous” was produced by Meaux and Little in Houston, Texas and recorded in Norfolk, Virginia and Nashville, Tennessee, and distributed by Starday-King Records, James Brown’s former label. Torrence created a popular dance for the instrumental track “Razor Blade” when he appeared on the Cincinnati, Ohio television program, “Soul Street.” In 1973 Torrence released another 45 on Tri-Us—“Keep Pushing Your Luck”/”(I Want To Be Free) Don’t Want Nobody Standing Over Me.”

Beginning in 1983 Torrence released several crossover beach music singles including “Groovin” and “Down On The Sand” on Firestone and Flame Records respectively, which played from Virginia to Florida.

Little Royal and the Swingmasters rarely play in Washington, DC but still perform on occasion at Westminster DC’s Blue Monday Blues. These days ambiguity surrounds Torrence’s exact location, which is exactly how he likes it.

“Even to today I’m in town and nobody knows I’m in town,” says Torrence. Little Royal & The Swingmasters have been sampled by Masta Ace, Ice-T, J Dilla, and Lord Finesse.

little_royal

You can purchase Little Royal’s music here.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Father’s Children

Father's Children

Everybody’s Got a Problem – Father’s Children

As their van tumbled off the highway, The Dreams were probably regretting that their community college gig went so late. It was only after the van landed right side up and everyone emerged unscathed that they realized they had been saved by an act of God. They converted to Islam and changed the group’s name to Father’s Children.

Father’s Children—Hakim Carpenter, Sadik Long, Malik Khabir, Nizam Smith, and Qaadir Sumler (pictured left to right)—played covers regularly but after hearing their music recorded for the first time with producer Robert Hosea Williams, they decided to aggressively pursue original music. In 1973 the band recorded a stack of material with Williams but the tapes were never released and eventually forgotten about. Father’s Children recorded a 45 with two tracks—“Linda“ and “Intellect” at Arrest Records on K Street NW in 1975, which fizzled. They continued to perform including with artists such as Earth, Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, Buddy Miles, Rare Earth, The Staple Singers, Albert King, Eddie Kendricks, Chaka Khan, Roy Ayers, and Herbie Hancock.

Father’s Children shuffled Smith with Tony Vaughn and recorded a self-titled LP in Los Angeles on Mercury Records in 1978, which sold poorly due to insignificant marketing. The group broke up shortly afterwards only to reemerge decades later with Capenter and Sumler and new members, releasing the album “Sky’s The Limit.”

In 2012 music historian Kevin Coombe discovered Father’s Children’s unreleased tracks in Williams’ garage and the album “Who’s Gonna Save The World” was finally released on Numero Group to critical acclaim. The original members still keep in touch and celebrated the long awaited availability of their intended debut album together.

“We still love each other so it’s all good,” says Sumler. “We spent too much time together, too many close moments—sleeping together, eating together, hanging out—a brotherhood.” Father’s Children released their latest album, “Love & Life Stories,” in 2013.

Father's Children

You can purchase Father’s Children‘s music here and here.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Jimi Dougans

jimi_dougans

Jungle – The Young Senators

Jimi Dougans could not have anticipated the historical imprint he would make when high school classmate Frank Hooker introduced the young singer to his band The Dimensions in 1965. Dougans, Hooker, LeRoy Fleming, Wornell Jones, David Lecraft, Calvin Charity, and James Johnson became The Young Senators, the “Emperors of Go-Go,” and the band for legendary Temptations falsetto Eddie Kendricks. The band went through several lineup changes over time. Members also included Howard Crouch, Wayne Hines, Chip Jones, John Engram, Clyde Stubblefield, Philip Guilbeau, Warren Smith, and Charles Newton.

The Young Senators‘ first big break came at Mr. P’s Lounge in Northwest Washington, DC and their legacy was cemented at the go-go venues they performed in such as Byrne Manor and Knights of Columbus. Under the management and production of Harry Young and Burt Rosenberg, The Young Senators recorded the single “Ringing Bells (Sweet Music)” on Innovation Records in 1969. The Young Senators recorded their follow-up single, “Jungle,” at Track Recorders in Silver Spring, Maryland in 1970.

Written by Guilbeau, “Jungle” had two key elements that identified it as an early go-go record. Bassist Wornell Jones sang lead vocals while the rest of the band responded to each line, making it the first “call and response record,” and Dougans played congas, giving the record an Afro-Cuban flavor.

Dougans met Kendricks, his musical mentor, while the singer was with The Temptations. When Kendricks left The Temptations to go solo Dougans volunteered The Young Senators to be his band despite his own reservations about Kendricks’ departure from the beloved lineup.

Dougans, with The Young Senators and later Golden Touch, toured with Kendricks for eight years. Along with his talent as a conga player, Dougans sings in a falsetto that sounded virtually identical to Kendricks’ vocals, which the two showcased during encores. Kendricks would purposefully drop his microphone during a long note and the lights would go out but his voice would continue to be heard. At that point, the lights would come back on and Dougans would reveal that he was actually the voice behind the note.

The Young Senators became the first outside band to record with a Motown artist when they laid down the tracks for Kendricks’ 1972 sophomore album, “People…Hold On.” Produced by Frank Wilson, the album contained the single “Girl You Need a Change of Mind,” which had a popular percussion break by Dougans. The Young Senators also performed on Kendricks’ 1973 #1 Billboard Hot 100 single, “Keep on Truckin.’”

In 2002 The Young Senators were inducted into the Go-Go Hall of Fame and DC mayor Anthony Williams proclaimed June 11 to be “The Young Senators Day.” After more than 30 years Dougans and former members of The Young Senators, as well as some new ones, are regrouping to perform as The Young Senators Reloaded.

The Young Senators’ music with Eddie Kendricks has been sampled by Lil Wayne, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Diamond D, Fat Joe, Erykah Badu, Killah Priest, and Ghostface Killah and Cappadonna.

Jungle

You can purchase Eddie Kendricks’ “People…Hold On” here.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Black Heat


No Time to Burn – Black Heat

Black Heat started as a backup band for another Washington group, the Day-Tons, with a core lineup comprised of percussionist King Raymond Green, guitarist Bradley Owens, drummer Esco Croner, keyboardist Johnnell Gray (pictured left to right), and bassist John Byrd.

The band separated from the Day-Tons, retitled as Black Heat, and flourished with the replacement of Byrd with Naamon “Chip” Jones on bass and lead vocals. Black Heat recorded their self-titled debut album in 1972 on Atlantic Records with legendary producer Joel Dorn and soon became one of the earliest go-go bands to receive attention outside of DC.

Black Heat added Raymond Thompson (right) on saxophone and Rodney Edwards (second from right) on trumpet and recorded three more albums on Atlantic with Dorn— “No Time to Burn” (1974), “Keep On Runnin’ (1975), and “Fired Up” (1976). They played in Europe, the Philippines, at Carnegie Hall and on the PBS program “Soul!” and also toured with Earth Wind & Fire, the Ohio Players, the Commodores, New Birth, and Funkadelic. The latter group stole Black Heat’s song “Get Off Your Ass And Jam” for their 1975 album “Let’s Take It to the Stage.” Despite Black Heat’s success members of the group stayed humble.

“Everybody’s not cut out to be a musician. It’s either feast or famine,” says Green. “There were a lot of groups that were probably better than us that never had that opportunity. We were fortunate to be at the right place at the right time and be able to maintain a great sound.”

Black Heat broke up shortly after recording “Fired Up” but their impact has endured as samples in songs by N.W.A., Casual, The Notorious B.I.G., the Wu-Tang Clan, Fat Joe, Biz Markie, DJ Shadow, Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth, and on the 2011 international hit by Jessie J featuring B.o.B., “Price Tag.”

You can purchase Black Heat‘s music here.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

The Blackbyrds

Do It, Fluid – The Blackbyrds

When renowned jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd became the jazz studies director at Howard University in Washington, DC, one of his goals was to introduce young musicians to performing and the music business. He created a band featuring students and older seasoned musicians that could tour together, but arguments ensued because of the age gap between members. So Byrd brought together drummer Keith Killgo (pictured left) and bassist Joe Hall (second from right), both from the District; pianist Kevin Toney and saxophonist Allan Barnes (right) from Detroit; and guitarist Barney Perry, who was from Buffalo, NY but went to Howard, and The Blackbyrds were born. Byrd’s protégées had other musical interests in addition to jazz—they also love R&B and rock. The students had no idea where the band was going, they just wanted to play, learn from Byrd, and hear themselves on a record. Soon they were playing shows along the East Coast in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston.

In 1973 The Blackbyrds traveled to Berkeley, California to record their self-titled first LP on Fantasy Records, produced by Byrd and fellow Howard students the Mizell Brothers. The record was a hit and contained the song “Do It, Fluid,” which reached the Billboard Hot 100. The group toured internationally on the weekends, maintaining full semester course schedules at Howard during the week. Their 1974 follow up “Flying Start” featured the hit “Walking in Rhythm,” which reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. Barney Perry left, Orville Saunders (second from left) joined, and in 1975 The Blackbyrds recorded both the albums “City Life,” which produced the hits “Flying High,” “Happy Music,” and “Rock Creek Park;” and the soundtrack for the film “Cornbread, Earl and Me.” Eventually the band’s lack of ownership of royalty rights to their music created too much financial strain and they went on hiatus after the release of their 1980 album, “Better Days.”

The Blackbyrds returned with a single, “Mysterious Vibes,” in 2003 and in 2010 they toured with jazz legend Herbie Hancock. In March 2012, The Blackbyrds released their first new album in more than 30 years, titled “Gotta Fly.” The group now features Killgo, Hall, Saunders, and Barnes, and in tradition with their early mission also features some new younger members including a former student of Killgo, who is a teacher at Anacostia Senior High School.

The Blackbyrds have also been sampled by hip-hop artists such as Big K.R.I.T., De La Soul, Del the Funky Homosapien, Eric B. & Rakim, Gang Starr, the Jungle Brothers, Nas, N.W.A., 2Pac, Ultramagnetic MC’s, and Wiz Khalifa.

“We’re not done yet,” says Killgo. We have some more to say.”

You can purchase The Blackbyrds‘ music here.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

William DeVaughn

Be Thankful For What You Got – William DeVaughn

William DeVaughn learned to play the piano from watching musicians at the East Capitol Recreation Center in Southeast Washington, DC. Influenced by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, DeVaughn started a trio called the Dacrons with Steve Wade and Leon MacManus. Shortly after the group broke up, he answered an ad in Billboard Magazine from a Philadelphia based record label looking for talent. He brought 10 songs with him that he had written including “Be Thankful for What You Got,” which producer Frank Fiorvanti loved and Devaughn recorded for $900 with house band MSFB. With lyrics like “You may not have a car at all, but remember brothers and sisters, you can still stand tall,” the song had a strongly positive message. The song reached #1 on the R&B charts and #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the spring of 1974. DeVaughn took a leave of absence from his government job and toured the country on the strength of the single and album with the same title. Despite his success, DeVaughn stayed humble, continuing to ride public transportation while in Washington.

After DeVaughn returned from touring he worked at Harmony Hut, a record store in Iverson Mall, learning another side of the music industry. He went back to his government job in 1979, but the legacy of “Be Thankful” endured, being covered by acts ranging from Massive Attack to Yo La Tango to Bunny Clarke and sampled more than a dozen times by artists such as Ludacris, Ice Cube, De La Soul, and N.W.A.

DeVaughn says that aside from recording, his main focus today is helping newer artists learn about the business side of the music industry to avoid the many possible pitfalls. He also continues to perform and record positive music and released the album “Time Will Stand Still” on his label Mighty Two Diamond Records in 2008.

“I want the whole family sitting down and listening to (my) music and there’s nothing that’s really negative,” says DeVaughn. “You can learn something that you can apply to your life.”

Be thankful for what you got

You can purchase William DeVaughn‘s music here.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.
 Scroll to top