You can’t write the history of D.C. go-go music without Trouble Funk.
Frontman “Big Tony” Fisher is ready to rock Wolf Trap this Sunday at 8 p.m.
“This is our first big gig back,” Fisher told WTOP. “This is a very historical moment. We’re the first go-go band to [headline at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center], so that’s a very big deal.”
The bill also includes special guests Sugar Bear and DJ Kool.
“Mr. ‘Let Me Clear My Throat,'” Fisher said. “We’re going to get in there and rip that joint up. … You can expect to hear all of the Trouble Funk classic hits. The only problem with that is we have so many songs, so many hits, that we can’t play all of them, but we’re definitely going to try to get as many as we can in there. We have a really big catalog.”
Indeed, the band has been cranking out music for over 45 years.
“We were a bunch of guys located throughout Southeast D.C.,” Fisher said. “Trouble Band & Show was just a Top 40 R&B cabaret band before we got there. … When myself, Taylor Reed and Dyke got there, they changed the name to Trouble Funk.”
How did they come up with the catchy new name?
“We bought a used Hammond B3 organ, the front panel was missing, so Dyke and I got a board, painted it with some glitter, Elmer’s glue and got some magic markers and wrote … ‘TROUBLE will FUNK you,’ but all you’d see from a distance is ‘Trouble Funk.'”
In the early days, the band opened for D.C. go-go legend Chuck Brown.
“He got tired of losing people on the dance floor … so he started playing Top 40, slowed it down a bit, put the percussion on the one, and created a beat to play in between the Top 40 songs to keep the people dancing,” Fisher said. “They called it the go-go beat.”
At the time, Fisher couldn’t figure out why Trouble Funk had fewer fans than Brown.
“We would get our butt kicked every week,” Fisher said. “So I would stay around and try to figure out what they were doing … and a light went off one day. I was the bass player [and] I said, ‘I think I have an idea to make people dance, but I need a microphone.'”
Suddenly, the floors got packed at the Howard Theatre and the Washington Coliseum.
“Trouble Funk was very fortunate to bring go-go up there to Georgetown,” Fisher said. “We had a spot called The Paragon II in Georgetown. They loved it up there, man. It was crazy. Go-go was never in Georgetown before. We were the first band to bring go-go to Georgetown, to one of those really nice, versatile clubs where you have different nationalities.”
Their fans included a young Scott Van Pelt, future host of ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”
“He told me how his crew used to always come through, just a bunch of white boys getting down!” Fisher said. “Scott Van Pelt is a big Trouble Funk fan. … A year ago, he moved back to D.C. and we did the new anthem song for [the 11 p.m.] ‘SportsCenter.’ … He always gave us plenty of acknowledgement. I really appreciate that.”
D.C. go-go fans have long sang along to “Hey, Fellas.”
“Back then we would listen to the radio and whatever was hot, we’d try to do our own version of it,” Fisher said. “Rick [James] had ‘Super Freak’ …. so I came up with the idea, ‘Hey, Fellas, we gotta take time off and get close to the ladies, let’s find a super freak.’ … I just took the words, moved them around and gave them my own flavor.”
Trouble Funk was similarly inspired to create the title of “Let’s Get Small.”
“That was actually inspired by Steve Martin,” Fisher said. “He had a comedy album out called ‘Let’s Get Small.’ That’s where I got that hook line from. Also, Kool and the Gang had a song called ‘Get Down on It.’ … So I took that and gave it my own flavor.”
Likewise, future hip-hop groups would sample Trouble Funk. For instance, “Pump Me Up” was sampled for Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” Kurtis Blow’s “If I Ruled The World” and M.A.R.R.S.’s “Pump Up The Volume,” among others.
“It started out called ‘Trouble Funk Gonna Funk You Up,’ but we were like, ‘Nah, we need a better hook.’ … To be completely honest, the title came from a porn movie and we created a hook line from that title.”
Perhaps most catchy is “Drop the Bomb.”
“I was running late for a show one day and the band had to play without me,” Fisher said. “Dyke was on the synthesizer [and] the people were going, ‘Drop the bomb!’ … So I’m hurrying to hook my guitar up so I can get to the mic. I go, ‘Do you want to drop the bomb?’ … So that song was created between us and the audience on the spot.”
In 2008, the band lost Dyke to pancreatic cancer at age 50.
“That hit really hard; that was like my other half,” Fisher said. “People always compare Chuck D and Flavor Flav to me and Dyke. … It can’t be the other way around, because we were there long before they were. I guess they had more publicity or recognition, but Beastie Boys, Fishbone, Red Hot Chili Peppers, all these cats used to open up for us.”
Not to mention fellow D.C.-area native Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters.
“Dave Grohl actually opened up for us with a group called Scream,” Fisher said. “He used to tell me stories about how our music inspired him to do what he does. Dave and I became really close friends and we’ve actually toured a few shows with him. Before the pandemic hit, we were going to be opening up at RFK Stadium for Foo Fighters.”
After Foo Fighters induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, is Trouble Funk next?
“Hey, that would be really nice,” Fisher said. “We’ve been around long enough.”
Today, the music still is enjoyed by multiple generations of go-go fans.
“I’m very surprised to see how the younger generation gravitates to our music,” Fisher said. “Just like Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, we were very fortunate to be a part of a time where there was such thing as classic music. When you put a Trouble Funk tune on, ‘Pump Me Up’ or [Chuck Brown’s] ‘Bustin’ Loose,’ these tunes will last forever.”