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

WI: So obviously, Chuck Brown was a big influence for you —

BT: Very big influence.

WI: Chuck's been gone for a year now. What did he mean to you?

BT: Man, Chuck Brown and I wound up being best friends. He was my musical mentor. Chuck Brown was the world to me, man, and I miss him very dearly. I learned so much from Chuck Brown, indirectly and directly. He taught me a lot, we learned a lot from each other. Chuck Brown showed me so many things that I still live by right now to this day musically; you know what I'm saying? It was just things that he infused in me that helps me to stay afloat and survive in this business.

WI: Describe the music scene in D.C. in the '80s.

BT: Well in the '80s there were like four main groups, go-go wise. There was Chuck Brown, Trouble Funk, EU and Rare Essence. We all had our own distinct sound, we all had our own following. There were plenty of places to perform back then, we could perform any time of night, seven days a week and the place would be packed.

We were more original back then. All of the groups were more original back then, even with the little groups that came up behind us was more original. In the '80s, I think that go-go was pretty much at its strongest point, as far as originality.

Styles change and things change, you know? A lot of stuff has changed since then, other styles of go-go, the go-go beat, you know, creating other styles, other ways of playing it. But along with that beat, they never really added the music. People started looking at go-go as a remix type of thing, none of the musicians wanted to be creative enough to do their own thing. They rather take a top 40 [song] and put a go-go beat to it, that's not original.

WI: The lack of creativity seems to be a common complaint among the old school go-go artists when asked about current go-go. Do you think there's been a drop-off in musicianship or just creativity?

BT: Well, we've got some great musicians around here but we don't have a lot of good leaders — most of the musicians are followers. It's just so easy for them to grab something that's already working and then try to rework it. It's just so easy to go to the store, buy a keyboard or a synthesizer with pre-sounds instead of creating your thing. That's why everything sounds basically the same. The thing is, if you listen to the groups right now to this day, even Rare Essence, Chuck Brown, Chuck Brown Band and EU, these groups, they all can play each other's music.

If you notice, nobody tries to play Trouble Funk's music and that's because Trouble Funk's music is in a category of its own. We truly created not just the music but the sounds; we created our own sounds to go with the music. And that's why it's just not easy for everybody to play our music.