In the late 70s, Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers gained national attention with their hit “Bustin’ Loose” when they graced the stage during the eighth season of Soul Train, hosted by the legendary Don Cornelius. At the time, not many outside of Washington, D.C. had heard about the new form of music called go-go, and Chuck Brown was more than willing to demonstrate. More than thirty years later, the fiery front-man of the band is still going strong. With his resonating gravelly voice, lively string action, and signature hat and sunglasses, Chuck Brown has not waned in his showmanship or his popularity. Seventy-five years old and still calling Washington, D.C. his hometown after creating the city’s signature go-go sound over fifty years ago, Brown is finally getting his just recognition, earning his first Grammy nomination earlier this year for his triple-disc album package We Got This!
SoulTrain.com caught up with Chuck Brown to find out from the musical legend why he decided to collaborate with singer/actress Jill Scott, why he hopes to collaborate with Snoop Dogg, and what keeps him going after all of these years. He has some advice for newcomers to the music scene and, as we celebrate 40 years of Soul Train, he shares his favorite Soul Train memory.
SoulTrain: First all, congratulations on your Grammy nomination! How did it feel to receive national recognition from the Grammy Awards after all these years of performing?
Chuck Brown: It was the greatest feeling I have had in my life. Nothing has made me feel greater than that. It didn’t matter to me if I won or not, just that I was nominated.
SoulTrain.com: Your latest CD/DVD, We Got This!, featured soul stars Ledisi, Jill Scott, and Marcus Miller as guest stars on the project. What inspired you to want to work with these artists, and what were some of the highlights of these collaborations?
Chuck Brown: For the Jill Scott song, I was so honored that this young lady would want to do a track with me. I had wanted to work with her since I heard her “It’s Love” track – that’s when I really locked into her. We spoke after some concerts we did together and then worked on the new song “LOVE.” I think Marcus Miller is one of the greatest bass players in the world. Honored to work with Ledisi. I learned a lot from her just from our time in the studio together. She is a perfectionist. I like the way she is down to earth and positive and she has a tremendous amount of soul. You have to feel her!
SoulTrain.com: You are a super star all over the country, but especially in your hometown of D.C. where the go-go sound was born. What do you think has been the formula to your career’s longevity over fifty years?
Chuck Brown: Well, I think that what is keeping me going is God, and my wife is a nurse; she keeps me healthy and she changed my life. I get encouragement and inspiration from my wife and family. The energy from my fans keeps me doing what I do, too and they always keep me inspired!
SoulTrain.com: Over the years, you’ve seen artists come and go. Which artists would you like to work with as you move forward in your career?
Chuck Brown: I definitely would like to work with Snoop Dogg. We have spoken some recently about this. Stevie Wonder would be a blessing. We spoke a couple months ago. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to do something with him. I’d love to do something with a gospel feel with Kirk Franklin. And Faith Evans–had the pleasure of meeting her in LA while we were doing a song for Brian Culbertson. She has a great vibe and is so soulful.
SoulTrain.com: What advice do you have for those artists following in your footsteps? What would you say to them if given a chance?
Chuck Brown: Stay focused and believe in yourself. I believed in myself and didn’t let anything stop me, regardless of what people said. A quitter is a loser. Trust in yourself, trust in God, believe in yourself. It happened for me.
SoulTrain.com: Your sound is heavily dependent on live instrumentation. In today’s music world of synthesized beats, what role do you see live instrumentation having in the future of music?
Chuck Brown: Live music is always going to be here, regardless of electronics. If you get hits, it doesn’t matter if it is live or not. But live music comes from the heart and soul and natural ability. It will always be around.
SoulTrain: Who are your musical heroes and why?
Chuck Brown: James Brown — his soul and inspirational sound which was all his own, it helped me develop my sound. Johnny Smith was a great inspiration. The great blues artists which have always inspired me–BB King, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Lightning Hopkins, and Howling Wolf. When I was older I saw blues musician Bobby Parker when he was 16, playing at the Howard Theatre. He made me interested in playing the guitar and he made me want to get serious about music.
SoulTrain.com: Soul Train, the television show that Don Cornelius started and which featured soul and funk and their many manifestations, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. What is your favorite Soul Train memory to date?
Chuck Brown: When I was on it! That is my favorite Soul Train memory! It was 1979 when Don Cornelius put us on. I wish I didn’t have braids in my hair! I will never forget that. It was the biggest show we had been on at the time.
SoulTrain.com: Well, thank you kindly for this Q & A. Finally, where can folks learn more about you and your music online?
Chuck Brown: Thank you. My music is on iTunes and all digital outlets, on our website and stores.
Photo Credit: www.johnshorephoto.com
-Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman
Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is a playwright and performer from Washington DC. Visit her website at KhadijahOnline.com