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Go-Go Legend Big Tony Celebrates 35 Years of Moving the Crowd

John Richards, Special to The Informer | 7/17/2013, 11 p.m.
Known for their "very raw and hardcore" style of go-go, Trouble Funk and their legendary frontman Big Tony is one ...
Big Tony, lead singer for legendary D.C. go-go band Trouble Funk Photo by Mark Mahoney

Known for their "very raw and hardcore" style of go-go, Trouble Funk and their legendary frontman Big Tony is one of the pioneers that helped make the genre the "sound of the city."

Go-go — the District's homegrown brand of driving soul and funk — was created by the late Chuck Brown. Brown and his Soul Searchers, along with Trouble Funk and legendary groups such as Rare Essence and Experience Unlimited aka E.U., helped bring the genre to a national audience.

Trouble Funk has released several studio albums, two live albums and traveled the world representing D.C. Their music has been sampled by several artists including Kurtis Blow, Boogie Down Productions, the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J and Dr. Dre.

The Informer caught up with Big Tony to discuss the early days of Trouble Funk, the late Chuck Brown, the current state of go-go and what's next for the group.

Washington Informer: Who gave you your first bass?

Big Tony: Oh man. Wow. Who gave me my first bass? My mom … my momma gave me my first bass.

WI: Were you self-taught or did you take lessons?

BT: I was self-taught. I play by ear. I realize now it was just a gift that was instilled, you know? It's just a gift from God. I know a lot of musicians that's been to school for this stuff and it don't come as easy to them as it does to me.

WI: Trouble Funk started out as Trouble Band and Show, a top 40 cover band. What got you guys into go-go?

BT: You're right, when I first got in Trouble, it was Trouble Band and Show and we were a top 40, cabaret group and one day we did a cabaret at this place called Club LeBaron in Palmer Park. The cabaret was like from 9 'til about 12 midnight. And then there was another show after the cabaret with Chuck Brown. That was my first go-go experience.

His show was from 12 to 6 in the morning. So, after our show, everybody else left, rolled out, I stayed around just to see what it was all about. Man, it was like, another world, another world I never knew about. I told Reo Edwards, our manager at the time for the band, and I was like, 'Man, we have to get on that' know what I'm saying? We talked to the owner for the club The Bryne and we asked him can we open up for Chuck Brown in exchange for a place to rehearse and get more recognition. I'd say maybe for about a good few weeks the people were just looking at us like we were crazy because we were playing good top 40 music, but we wasn't playing it the way they wanted to hear it. Chuck Brown was playing some of the same music but he was playing it a little different, he was putting that beat in between the music, it was non-stop. He had this really personal thing with the crowd; like he knew everybody personally. It took me a minute to analyze that, at the time I was just a bass player, I didn't even have a microphone. So, one day we came into rehearsal and I told Reo 'I think I know what it takes to make these people dance but I'm gonna need a microphone.' I had studied Chuck Brown and what he did and I did it. So, Reo told the band 'we tried everything else, we gonna try Tony.' The rest was history. Chuck Brown came up in there one day and we had the people dancing and Chuck Brown was like 'I don't want them boys playing with me no more; they're trying to steal my music.' [Laughs].