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

John Richards, Special to The Informer | 7/17/2013, 11 p.m.
Big Tony, lead singer for legendary D.C. go-go band Trouble Funk Photo by Mark Mahoney

WI: How would you describe the Trouble Funk sound?

BT: The Trouble Funk sound is a very raw and hardcore, raunchy type of sound that's very syncopated with a lot of percussion, with a guy with a very big voice and crystal popping horns.

WI: There's always been the audience in the D.C. area for hip-hop, but for the longest time, go-go was the sound of the city. That's changed over the last 10-15 years. Why?

BT: I think it's because go-go is not as strong as it was back then. Back in the '80s a major act could not come to D.C., you would not have a successful show unless you added one of the top go-go bands.

WI: How did Trouble Funk end up working with Kurtis Blow?

BT: Before we even recorded with Kurtis Blow, he was using "Pump Me Up." That whole track on the "If I Ruled the World," that whole track is "Pump Me Up" in the background. Man, we got so much stuff out there that we didn't get credit for. I mean, so many rap artists has used Trouble Funk's stuff. Trouble Funk is recognized as one of the most sampled groups in hip-hop history.

I guess he wanted to get the real Trouble Funk experience, so we did the song called "I'm Chillin," which is a pretty nice song. Then we went on to do stuff with Luke Skyywalker and 2 Live Crew. There was groups that didn't really actually want to collaborate with us, [but] they still sampled all of our stuff — Will Smith, Teddy Riley, Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys. Man, we've just been sampled by just so many people.

WI: A lot of that stuff was uncredited —

BT: That's another downfall that I think us, go-go, had, there was never really good business representation. We were young man; we didn't really know the business. All we know is that we love what we were doing, it wasn't really for the money and people took advantage of that. I've been doing this for a living for like 30 years, I was forced to learn how to protect myself. I was forced to learn more about how this thing works, to keep from getting f---d over.

WI: Trouble Funk, Essence, Chuck, E.U., all you guys were signed to major labels at some point —

BT: Right.

WI: For whatever reason, it didn't work. Why do you think go-go music did not work on a national level?

BT: Well, that's easy. The record companies, they sign you for what you do, but then once they get you, they wanna change what you do. Record companies think that they can buy it, you can't buy hits with go-go; either it's there or it ain't. Record companies can break a lot of groups up too, that was my experience. You can't buy me, I don't care how much money you got. I'm true to what I do, I believe in what I do, before I sell out I get the hell out. I wasn't trying to play that game with the record companies, they tried to put me in the back man and put somebody else upfront and they realized it didn't work like that. They put a lot of money behind the other guys in the band and they tried to put me in the background. They put a lot of money into this album; they got Bootsy [Collins] to produce it. You know Bootsy don't know nothing about Trouble Funk. With all due respect, I mean I love Bootsy, I love what he do. But Bootsy is Bootsy funk and Trouble is Trouble Funk. The album was like one of the worst albums that we ever recorded. Fortunately, nobody really got a chance to hear that album, which was a good thing.