Take Me Out: Kato's Must-Hear Go-Go Songs
Words by Peter Relic
When your handle derives from the name of Bruce Lee’s character in The Green Hornet, chances are you’re one cool dude. Washington, D.C. native Kevin “Kato” Hammond more than fits the bill. Growing up in the Chocolate City in the 1970s and ‘80s, Kato witnessed the evolution of D.C.’s syncopated sound known as go-go up close. A guitar player in thrall to Frankie Beverly and Eddie Van Halen, he flaunted his chops in groups including Pure Elegance, Proper Utensils, and Little Benny & The Masters. Kato eventually became the king of go-go media with his magazine-turned-website. His fantastic new memoir Take Me Out To The Go-Go (Otakcity Publishing, 2015) features first person stories of then-Mayor Marion Barry, pre-fame Denzel Washington, and just about every go-go luminary you could shake a drumstick at. Perfect for your summer reading rampage, player. In this Mass Appeal exclusive, Kato runs down his personal picks for 10 mandatory go-go songs. Now get steppin’.
Rare Essence “Body Moves” (1982)
(12-inch single, Fantasy Records, 1982)
Rare Essence “Take Me Out To The Go-Go” (2001)
(live version appears on Doin It Old School Style, Rare One)
One time I heard a member of Kool & The Gang say, "Everybody wanted to play with Parliament" because Parliament were coming up with the most fun stuff. In go-go, that band was Rare Essence. Everybody wanted to play with Rare Essence. To the point that even the bands who came afterwards, Junkyard and Backyard and Northeast Groovers, they will all tell you Rare Essence was the group. When Rare Essence first did they thing they were all in high school. They had a song called "Having Big Fun Class Of '81". They were talking about their school, Ballou High in Southeast D.C. They did "Body Moves" and "Take Me Out To The Go-Go" when they were like 17 years old. Think about that. That was back when you'd get given an instrument to play in public school, when music was part of the curriculum. You could develop early.
E.U. “Future Funk” (1982)
(from Future Funk, Galaxy Unlimited Records, 1982)
Sugar Bear from E.U. says that while Spike Lee was promoting his first movie She's Gotta Have It, he saw E.U. play and told them he got to have a song from y'all in his next movie. The movie was School Daze and the song was the "Da Butt". It was a super big deal because E.U. was one of the hottest bands at the time. We were all very proud that E.U. was featured in a Spike Lee joint. How could you not be proud when your hometown gets big? E.U. had a lot of good stuff, but people slept on "Future Funk”. Great song.
Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers "Sho Yuh Right (Back-It On Up)" (1985)
(12-inch single, T.T.E.D. Records)
All go-go bands built on Chuck Brown’s foundation. “Bustin’ Loose” is his most known song. My Chuck Brown pick is "Back It On Up". He had the ladies repeat after him: "If you ask me for my body I'ma put you in check, because we just met, we can't do that yet!" It went back and forth between what the ladies said to the guys and the guys said to the ladies. Chuck Brown laid the foundation.
Junkyard Band "Peach Fuzz"
Junkyard were still teenagers, even pre-teens, when Def Jam put out "Sardines." That's their most famous song, but they're still going today and they're a great band. Their song "Lighter Lite" is phenomenal, it's on their album The Beginning/ The End. Their singing has always been on point. Maybe not when they were little kids, but when they grew up they could not be touched, harmony-wise. In the club, everybody loved when they played "Tiddy Balls." They’d do the voice like Fat Albert: "Hey, hey, hey! Shake those titties!" Girls would show, you know. My favorite Junkyard song, I'ma go with "Peach Fuzz." They started it off quoting the Jacksons, they'd sing "Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself with me..." and then go "Peach...Fuzz!" Junkyard has the good stuff.
Little Benny & The Masters "Big City Groove" (1987)
(from Cat In The Hat, Big City Records)
This song is an instrumental. It was recorded before I joined the group, but it was still in the repertoire when I was in the group. We sometimes were criticized for playing too much music. We'd play Thelonius Monk's "Round Midnight" in a go-go style, we'd play "Trouble Man" by Marvin Gaye. People would say, "These jokers playing too much music." Folks just wanted to party. "Big City Groove" is an original song by Little Benny and Godfava. After we played at Capital Center, The Box would show our performance of a version of "Big City Groove" with Benny rapping on it called “I’m King.”
Rare Essence "One On One" (1995)
(from The Essence of Rare Essence: Greatest Hits Vol. 1, Capital City Records)
What Rare Essence did back then was incredible. Ayre Rayde had a song "Who Came To Freak A Deak" and Rare Essence took it and made it theirs. They put the melody from it at the top of their own song "One On One," they punched the line in on the horns. This was another song that Godfava was behind. Godfava is a musical genius on those keys. "One On One" became a go-go anthem. Because of the beat, everybody took it and put it in their songs.
Proper Utensils "Go Go Rumpshaker" (1993)
(12-inch single, Mob Records & Tapes)
Proper Utensils did all covers, stuff like “Georgy Porgy.” One night at a show at the Down Under Club in North West D.C. we did a version of “Rumpshaker” by Wreckx-N-Effect. A live tape of that show was played by DJ Gary L. Drew on WKYS and the phones went wild. So the group went into the studio and recorded a version called "Go Go Rumpshaker" with Benny doing Teddy Riley’s part and a member of the all-female group Pleasure doing MC Lyte’s bit. The song got so big it propelled Proper Utensils to the top ranks with other big bands.
Northeast Groovers “Booty Call” (1995)
(from Straight From The Basement LP, Liaison Records)
Northeast Groovers had a lot of smooth songs. This particular song really makes me move because of the hitting calypso style beat under the guitar rhythm to the tune of Kurtis Blow's "The Breaks." It gives a totally new meaning and feel to that riff.
Backyard Band "Life, Money, Struggle, Crime" (2002)
(from Skillet LP, Future Records)
Backyard had a song called "Keep It Gangsta" and Wale did a version of it [“Pretty Girls”]. Wale went on TV to perform it and had Weensey from Backyard come on stage on sing it with him. That was cool. Apparently Wale’s working on a go-go album right now, maintaining his regional identity even as a national artist. Anyway, the Backyard song I like best is "Life, Money, Struggle, Crime". The music is incredible.
For more info on Take Me Out To The Go-Go: The Autobiography of Kato Hammond, go to his website.