After a career encompassing nearly four decades during which he would become a fixture and legend within the District’s homegrown Go-Go musical industry, D.C.’s own D. Floyd recently made his final appearance on stage for a standing-room-only concert at The Anthem in Southwest.
World-renowned both for his prowess on the saxophone and as the front-man for the genre’s celebrated band, Team Familiar, Floyd, affectionately known as “King of the Go-Go Beat,” marked the end of a stellar career filled with dozens of songwriting credits, amazingly-forged friendships with iconic mentors including Stevie Wonder, George Clinton and Chuck Brown and a bevy of performances where he shared the stage with the upper echelon of go-go artists in venues too numerous to count.
On Sunday, Nov. 24, D.C.’s incomparable grown-and-sexy band and its leader would be joined by entertainers eager to salute their colleagues and serenade Floyd and Team Familiar’s faithful fans, including: 12-time Grammy-nominated vocal powerhouse Ledisi, native Washingtonian and neo-soul sensation Raheem DeVaughn, hip-hop pioneer Doug E. Fresh, Tao (formerly of Dru Hill) and independent artist Kenny Sway who also hails from the District.
One day following the concert, D. [Donnell] Floyd, who began his journey as a saxophonist for Rare Essence during his matriculation at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in January 1983, spoke with The Washington Informer about his remarkable past and present — even sharing some of his plans for the future.
And for the record and much to his fans’ delight, that future, he says, will continue to include the music that has been instrumental in shaping his life — even significantly contributing to an assortment of principles and beliefs which continue to undergird his very existence, directing his steps and informing his decisions personally, emotionally and professionally.
Washington Informer: How do you explain the fundamentals of Go-Go music particularly to those unfamiliar with the genre?
D. Floyd: Like a DJ, the music never stops as we go from one song to the next. Every song has the element of a particular drum beat, “Mister Magic” — the identical beat and tempo you hear in the same-titled song composed by the legendary jazz saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. and on which Go-Go was founded by Chuck Brown. He put that beat under every song he heard and played, even if was an R&B tune. The percussion is heavy unlike most music except salsa or hip-hop. Call and response is another essential element and it goes on the entire night between the band and the crowd. And there’s a portion in the music, in the band, that’s easiest described as being like a DJ or MC. A person talks over the music like a DJ would — something you rarely find in bands playing other kinds of music except maybe George Clinton with Parliament/Funkadelic.
It’s an incredible form of music and because we generally play on weekends, some of the people who come out are from the underbelly of the city — blue- and white-collar. Go-Go gets a bad rap sometimes not because of the music or the fans but because bands usually perform in clubs where there’s alcohol and like anywhere else, people sometimes drink too much and you have the expected incidents. But to blame a particular style of music for the problems is absolutely preposterous.
WI: What kind of feelings did you experience Sunday evening, knowing it was your last time on stage with your longtime band members and friends?
D. Floyd: It was extremely humbling and a lot of people came to my room later like Stevie and Doug E. Fresh and of course some of the Go-Go people too with well wishes and good old-fashioned conversation — some of us have known each other since the 80s. We traded stories from back then and it was an unbelievable feeling — getting your roses now — that kind of thing. Truthfully, it was more than I had expected because I’ve never looked at myself as a central figure or savior for the music. I’m just someone who did his part to entertain the people.
WI: What do you remember most about your relationship with Chuck Brown?
D. Floyd: I played with him for three years and sat with him every minute possible. He came to shows early, even before practice, and I would too. He’d talk to me about running a band and more important how to run my career as an artist. He had a million rules and suggestions on how to do everything. He had a rule for every situation: don’t play in clubs that are storefronts; don’t play in brand new clubs; don’t play with promoters who don’t give deposits. I learned so much — it was on-the-job training.
WI: Has Go-Go gotten its just deserts?
D. Floyd: No, it’s still in the making. Look, it’s an incredible genre and it easily represents the greatest syncopated beat in any music, salsa and reggae included. The beat is intoxicating. When you hear salsa or reggae music and the beat, you feel a certain kind of way, instantly. Go-Go is like that as well. I’d say it’s had its day of recognition but not its time to shine in the sun like other musical genres.
WI: What needs to happen for Go-Go to truly make its mark in the world?
D. Floyd: We need to see youth in the District grow up wanting to be Go-Go artists like when I was growing up — most only have dreams of being rap or R&B artists. They’re not starting Go-Go bands like we did. We’re an endangered species. I’m not sure if it’s because music has been taken out of the public school system or not but something’s gotta change.
WI: How did you get your nickname, “King of the Go-Go Beat?”
D. Floyd: I wrote a song and the lyrics included the title — one I gave myself. It’s always been a fun title and I understand the Go-Go beat as well as anyone. Doug E. Fresh and I were just talking about getting together as producers because we want to collaborate and keep the groove going. I guess people have been referring to me as the King of the Go-Go Beat since the early 90s. One thing, I’ve always kept great percussionists around me and I’ll admit, I have a particular way that I approach Go-Go beats.
WI: So, is this really your last hurrah? What’s next for you D. Floyd?
D. Floyd: I want to change my view, explore other situations and shift into a different lane. I’ve always been, first and foremost, a saxophone player. I think I’d like to begin playing with a few R&B bands — lend my talents and enjoy playing a different kind of music with a slightly different kind of beat. But it’s still all about the music.
WI: One more question. So many of our children seem to be lost these days, dying early, getting involved in gangs or crime, losing hope. What would you say to our youth as a means of advice or encouragement?
D. Floyd: It’s important that young folks learn to respect life and the creator of life. I’ve had the advantage of significant loss and it gives you a different respect for life. I say “advantage” because it changes your perspective on how you’re going to live your life and how you’re going to respect the lives of others. You see firsthand how a significant loss can impact you and your family. More important, you begin to realize that all these things we believe we need to argue about, fight over and steal to get in our hands aren’t important at all. What’s important is living and living a productive life.
D. Floyd will soon have his website up and ready for viewing. Check him out soon at www.donnellfloyd.com. You’ll be able to read more about him and purchase music.