The Informer Interview
At the height of the Go-Go scene in the late 1980's bands included Experience Unlimited (E.U.), Rare Essence (R.E.) Chuck Brown and Trouble Funk. Few teens in D.C. could pass up an opportunity to see these homegrown bands -- made up of their neighbors, school friends and even family members—hit the stage. Fully clad in bamboo earrings (a least two pair), Sergio Tacchini sweat suits, AJ coveralls, and with their hair in box Phillies and asymmetric hairstyles, teenagers flocked by the thousands to places like Crystal Skates, The Black Hole, Triples, and Wilmer's Park several times a week to dance and sweat into the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes getting there was a mission – sneaking out, getting to the club, getting in the club and of course, getting home. In 1988 the nation's love of Go-Go caught up with DC's when Spike Lee's film "School Daze" showcased E.U. and their song "Da Butt." The song reached Number 1 on the Billboard R&B charts and remains a show stopper. As the 25th anniversary of "Da Butt" approaches, The Washington Informer sat with E.U.'s leader Gregory "Sugar Bear" Ellis to discuss the anniversary, the Go-Go scene, both past and present, and the future of EU.
Washington Informer: Experience Unlimited (E.U.) is one of the early pioneers of Go-Go music, but your roots are in rock. How has the band's sound changed over the years?
Sugar Bear: Well, I will always keep my rock flavors and incorporate them most of the time, but you know of course, the sound has got to change because the times have changed. You got to stay commercial so to speak, but I still have my rock flavors in the middle of what I do.
Washington Informer: Can you describe the early Go-Go scene for me?
Sugar Bear: The greatest scene on Earth - great musicians, bands playing music, it was a very festive atmosphere - very positive. Back in the day most bands played their own original music but now all the bands are playing cover tunes. It's definitely changed.
Washington Informer: What was the importance of the October 1987 Go-Go Live at the Capital Centre performance?
Sugar Bear: That was the first time we did a live Go-Go concert with all the bands because most concerts that came through the city – Earth, Wind & Fire, Maze, featuring Frankie Beverly or whatever - they would add a Go-Go band to sell tickets. We knew we could sell tickets, so we just decided to do it on a larger scale and it worked. We had over 16,000 people at Go-Go Live and that was a great experience. Chuck Brown, E.U., Rare Essence, Little Benny and the Masters, Hot & Cold Sweat and Junk Yard [Band], were all there. So it definitely worked.
Washington Informer: We are also coming up on the 25th anniversary of the song "Da Butt". What do you remember about the making of this song?
Sugar Bear: I knew it was something different. It had Go-Go elements all in it, but I never thought it was going to be as big as it was. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would get that big.
Washington Informer: How did E.U. connect with Spike Lee?
Sugar Bear: It was pretty much being at the right place at the right time. We were at the 9:30 Club and Spike stopped by while promoting his movie She's Gotta Have It. He approached us right after the show and said he wanted us to perform this song "Da Butt" in his movie. So that's where it came from.
Washington Informer: Besides working with Spike Lee on the School Daze soundtrack, you've worked with Kurtis Blow ("Party Time"), Grace Jones ("Slave to the Rhythm"), and Salt-N-Pepa ("Shake Your Thang"). Do you feel that some artists cashed in on a "hot" sound at the time without giving back to the Go-Go scene?
Sugar Bear: Oh, yeah, definitely. Because "Slave to the Rhythm", all the Go-Go elements with Grace Jones, we never really got credit for our instrumentation. She was the mega star, you know. We knew, but nobody else on our side knew. Salt-N-Pepa gave us credit, and Kid-N-Play gave credit you know. Kurtis Blow mentioned "I'm rocking on the Go-Go scene. It's not much but least he did mention it.
Washington Informer: In your opinion why hasn't Go-Go ever gone national?
Sugar Bear: I took it national. Chuck Brown took it national. "Da Butt" is still being played nationally right now 25 years later. The reason why I think it [Go-Go] has not remained in popular mainstream is because nobody has even come close to duplicating that "Da Butt" or taking it to another level. That's my goal, I guess, to do it again. It's out there to be had.
Washington Informer: We recently lost Chuck Brown, the "Godfather of Go-Go". Can you tell me what Chuck meant to you and Go-Go music?
Sugar Bear: He is the "Godfather," he is the blueprint for Go-Go. He was definitely an important element in my life because he inspired me to transform from my rock style [laughs] to the Go-Go style, you know? That's real. Black people didn't like rock back then, especially when I was coming up. I liked it, [but] it wasn't selling tickets. It wasn't bringing anybody through the door. Once we transferred our style of music to Go-Go, the love was there. And that's when E.U. blew up -- that's when Sugar Bear blew up. Chuck Brown definitely had a great impact on my life.
Washington Informer: You have new release coming out called, "Brick House". How did that come together?
Sugar Bear: Bo Sampson, my manager, thought it'd be a great idea. From his marketing experience and being around various artists he thought that'd be a perfect record for us, so I said let's go. "Brick House" is in memory of Don Cornelius, to keep that legacy going on, you know? In the meantime, we are trying to shop this record and an album is definitely being worked on as we speak. We gotta do it again. Nobody else wants to do it, so we gotta do it ourselves.
Washington Informer: E.U. has been together since 1976; you guys have broken up and reunited several times. What keeps bringing you back to the music? What keeps you going?
Sugar Bear: I never left the music. I love music, I love what I do. I think that [music is] my calling. I bring people together to party, to release that stress. To release those hard times that you may face on jobs or in relationships. Come out and have a party. I think that's my calling.
Washington Informer: Music changes, it evolves. Do you think Bounce Beat is just the natural progression of Go-Go or is it a whole new sound?
Sugar Bear: No, that [Bounce Beat] shows you a lack of musicianship. It's definitely creative [and] if the young generation likes it, then so be it, let them have it; however, the 'old school' rules. That's the name of the game.
EU is managed by Bo Sampson for Bodacious One Entertainment. Bodacious One Presents E.U. (feat. Sugar Bear and Michael Bivins) is available on http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/eufeaturingsugarbear