In early January 2018, Moe Shorter, manager of the Junkyard Band, received a phone call from a longtime friend, Ronald Moten. Junkyard usually participates in the District’s annual Martin Luther King Day Parade, so Moe figured the call had something to do with the upcoming event. But there was more included in that phone call.
Moe learned that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser would be proclaiming January 15, 2018 as “Junkyard Band Day.” Moved and humbled, Moe told me that he couldn’t help but think back to the days when the band first began performing in 1980 – a cadre of children, 8 to 13 years old, playing on plastic buckets, soda cans, hubcaps, pots and pans in lieu of more formal instruments right in their own neighborhood, the government-supported Barry Farms in Southeast, hoping to make their dreams come true.
Moe, then the group’s assistant manager, took over for the original manager, Derrick McCray, when he moved on a few years after Junkyard’s founding. As they honed their skills, secured local notoriety and became a favorite of tourists coming to the Districts with their “street concerts,” it was only a matter of time before Lady Luck would smile on them.
In 1984, they became the first go-go band featured in a local commercial for Cavalier Men’s Store. One year earlier, their well-earned reputation of stellar showmanship gained them an invitation to appear in the film D.C. Cab. After signing a multi-year record deal with the chart-busting hip-hop label Def Jam Records in 1985, they went into the studio and soon released the U.S. sensation, “Sardines,” as well as the underground classic, “The Word.” Next, they took their show on the road armed with their unique musical style for a coast-to-coast tour during which they shared a form of music that many Americans had never experienced before.
As the significance of Mayor Bowser’s pending proclamation began to sink in, Moe realized that it would take place on the actual birthday of Dr. King and wanted to make sure the band chose the right song to honor the civil rights legend. It didn’t take him long to decide on a powerful piece that Junkyard’s fans often requested: “The Word.” The song centers on the plight of African Americans who lived in Washington, D.C. and its environs during the era when Ronald Reagan served as the country’s commander in chief.
“The Word” would quickly become an anthem for the go-go community and for many others with lyrics and music that reminded its listeners of a Negro spiritual albeit refashioned in a more modern style.
Moe, a co-writer of the song, understood Dr. King and his message of non-violence and said he relied on that knowledge while composing the song. As Junkyard Band Day 2018 approached, he asserted that there was no other day besides King Day when people had so much love and shared it with others.
It was going to be a very special day.
Meanwhile, Ronald Moten, along with others who made up the MLK parade host committee, secured the assistance of sponsors including Blue Sky Construction, City First Bank and the Jack Kemp Foundation – all committed to ensuring that the King Day Parade and other related activities would be memorable for the citizens of Ward 8 and others who called the D.C. region their home.
The parade route would be changed so that it ended on Junkyard’s home turf of Barry Farms – the place where the unique musical form traces its roots – energized and led by the incomparable Chuck Brown. Go-go has become the sound and heartbeat of Washington, D.C.
The Junkyard Band waited eagerly to receive credit for their decades of work that many Washingtonians believed was long overdue. Along with the proclamation from the mayor, Junkyard received two resolutions from Ward 8 Council member Trayon White and at-large Council member Robert C. White Jr. commemorating their music and contributions to the community.
The District and its leaders had finally acknowledged the fact that go-go music reflects “Our Music and Our Culture,” based on a message founded in love – a love for a musical genre that has become a mainstay to the people of the District.
Junkyard Band performs on Saturday, March 10 at the Fillmore Silver Spring where they’ll also celebrate the 52nd birthday of the band’s co-founder, Steven “Buggs” Herrion.
Several longtime friends of Buggs expressed thoughts about him and the Junkyard Band.
Moe Shorter: “Last December, Junkyard Band opened for The Roots onstage at the Fillmore Silver Spring where they were so impressive that Fillmore execs called on one of the District’s most-respected concert promoters, Darryll Brooks, who had originally pegged Junkyard for the show, inquiring about the possibility of putting together another concert with the band as the main act.”
“In response, Darryll and I put our heads together and proposed a show that would focus on the upcoming birthday of Junkyard’s co-founder Buggs while also hoping to reestablish the group’s former popularity in Montgomery County where they had achieved great success year ago.”
Darryll Brooks: “My company, G Street Express, was key in the formation of what I consider to be one of the most important events in establishing go-go’s prominence: ‘Go-Go Live at the Capital Centre.’ Since then, my familiarity with the story behind Junkyard, their prominence in go-go history and the relationship I’ve established with them, in part due to their being one of the more popular entertainers in my company’s annual Summer Spirit Festival, convinced me that they were more than deserving of having a day set aside in D.C. to honor their contributions.”
“The Junkyard Band is part of the very fabric of the District, the greater Washington area, the city’s now established go-go culture and especially those communities referred to as home in Southeast.”
Finally, “Buggs” weighed in on his amazing career that has spanned close to four decades.
“I have been playing go-go since I was 14. That’s close to 40 years. Still, playing on the Fillmore stage is yet another opportunity to continue building the Junkyard Band brand and to further the legacy of go-go put in motion by the late great Chuck Brown.”
“As for the naysayers, I hope they will stop trying to bury the culture and finally awaken to a more positive mindset that will assist us in advancing and growing go-go music. As for our fans, I simply want to assure them that as long as we’re around, the music will flourish.”
Washington Informer Editor D. Kevin McNeir contributed to and edited this article.
Washington Informer contributing writer Nico “The GoGo-Ologist” Hobson is co-host of “The GoWin Radio Show,” which broadcasts live from The Shops at Iverson 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. EST Tuesdays and Thursdays on GoGoRadio LIVE and WINDCRadio.