Reviewed on this page:
Free Yourself - Just The Way You Like It - Future Funk - 2 Places At The Same Time - Livin' Large - Cold Kickin' It
- Make Money - School Daze Revisited
Along with Chuck Brown and Trouble Funk, E.U. ("Experience Unlimited") was key to the development of Washington DC's go-go scene. Go-go
is a flexible style of dance music combining polyrhythmic Latin percussion with funky bass, chanted vocals and little splashes of horns,
keyboards, and guitar. In their 80s prime - after a brief flirtation with Mandrill-like funk-rock - E.U. played it as well as anybody: The band (one of the few go-go acts to spotlight a lead guitarist) was razor-sharp, with a great ear for hooks
(self-made or purloined) and a lead vocalist, Sugar Bear, with a booming voice and a broad, jovial sense of humor. They were so good, in fact, that they attracted the attention of director Spike Lee, who featured them in his 1988 film School Daze performing the Marcus Miller-produced "Da Butt," a watered-down version of go-go that was nonetheless extremely catchy.
The hit propelled E.U. to national attention, but unfortunately it started them down the road to R&B mediocrity: their subsequent major
label releases are full of routine synth-dance numbers and even syrupy ballads.
In the early days of go go, it was hard to scrape together money for LPs, and some of the best E.U. tunes were only released as singles -
for that reason, I recommend checking out compilations like Go Go Crankin and The Go Go Posse. Alroy and I caught the band in 1997 opening for War and reviewed the show here.
Experience Unlimited - Gregory "Sugar Bear" Elliot, bass, vocals; Donald R. Fields, guitar; Michael Hughes, keyboards;
Clarence Smith, Greylin T. Hunter, Philip Harris, horns; Anthony Easton, drums; Andre Lucas, Marvin Coward, David Williams, percussion.
E.U. - Gregory "Sugar Bear" Elliot, lead vocals, bass; Ivan Goff, keyboards; William "Ju Ju" House, drums; Genairo "Foxxy"
Brown Foxx, congas; Timothy "Shorty Tim" Glover, percussion; Valentino "Tino" Jackson, guitar; Darryel "Tidy Boy"
Hayes, trumpet; Michael "Go Go Mike" Taylor, trombone; Jerry Parker, keyboards; Eric Handon, lead/backing vocals.
Kent Wood replaced Parker, Edward "Junie" Henderson replaced Handon, circa 1989.
Benny "Scooter" Dancy, sax, added 1990.
Sometime between 1990 and 1996, Ellis
Merriman replaced Henderson; Julian Sutton replaced House; David B. Gussom replaced Jackson; Maurice "Mighty Moe" Hagans
replaced Brown Foxx; Nathaniel "Bouncey" Lucas replaced Glover; Hayes and Taylor left.
Free Yourself (Experience Unlimited: 1977)
I'd always thought that go-go sprang fully formed from the forehead of Chuck Brown, but actually the three biggest go-go acts all evolved from 70s soul-funk; additionally, Experience Unlimited started out with a rock-fusion orientation (the band name is a Hendrix reference), though on this debut their arrangements are closer to mid-70s Kool & The Gang than anything else ("Hey You").
On the other hand, the horns on "It's All Imagination" and the pervasive percussion on "Functus" are closer to go-go than most of the R&B lite on Brown's Funk Express.
The real trouble is, the tunes themselves are unexciting in the extreme, though the very end of "Funky Consciousness" turns into a fun funk jam. Most of the time the only point of interest - especially for an E.U. fan - is how adept a bassist Sugar Bear already was (title track).
Recorded for Black Fire with some help from labelmates including vocalist Wayne Davis; produced by the band with house producer Jimmy Gray.
As Chuck Brown's go-go beats took Washington DC by storm, the band moved away from funk rock (though to this day they use more guitar than other go-go acts) and went with the flow. As far as I know, Sugar Bear is the only band member who survived the transition. In 1980, the renamed E.U. surfaced with a couple of 12" singles ("E.U. Freeze"/"Knock Him Out Sugar Ray") that quickly established their reputation on the burgeoning scene.
Just The Way You Like It (1981)
This double-12", released on tiny Inner City Records, contains one studio disc and one recorded live, taking advantage of go-go's appeal as a live medium (Trouble Funk later used the same technique). The studio disc is brief, with just four songs including vocal and instrumental mixes of the video game-influenced "Computer Funk," but it's worth hearing for the terrific "Oo La La La," which proves you can write a song about artistic resistance to economic deprivation without being pompous about it.
The live performance is quite a bit better, showing that E.U. was already adept at constructing continuously compelling sets out of unexpected quotes - everything from "Uncle Jam" to "Down By The Riverside" - call-and-response audience chants, and continually shifting percussion, bass and keyboards underneath it all. Some of the band's hits do appear - "Rock Yuh Butt"; "E.U. Freeze" - but they're not the point... it ain't nothin' but a party.
Future Funk (1982)
Sort of an abbreviated version of the previous release's approach: one side studio (the Brick-y funk "Wind It On Up") and one side live. And even more than the other key go-go acts, they sound like two completely different bands: "Tell Me Why" is a flute-led, synth-heavy instrumental that sounds like a demo for Evelyn "Champagne" King. "Crankin' At The Go Go," on the other hand, is much like the live show on Just The Way, though a little less sharp.
The same year, the group released a stone classic 12": "Somebody's Ringing That Doorbell (Express Yourself)," a long string of celebrity impersonations and non sequiturs that's nonetheless irresistable. As far as I can tell, they didn't release anything else until they (along with Trouble Funk, Brown, and several other acts) hooked up with Maxx Kidd and Island Records.
2 Places At The Same Time (1986)
A live album, one side cut at New York's Irving Plaza and the other cut at home in DC. The New York side is hotter, surprisingly: a stew
of riffs and chants from Funkadelic, James Brown, and even the Jacksons ("Body"), plus E.U. originals like "Shake It Like A White Girl," blending together into an unflagging
nineteen-minute shot of musical ecstasy. The high point is "Everybody Get On The Floor And Do Your Thang," with irresistable syncopation,
heavy bass and searing lead guitar. The DC side repeats some of the same material, and though the crowd is more energetic, the band
doesn't seem quite as keyed up. The album ends oddly, with a four-minute keyboard-led instrumental clearly recorded in the studio ("The
Theme From Escape From Del Go-Go") - it's enjoyable but out of place. T.T.E.D. label head Maxx Kidd is listed as producer.
Go Ju Ju Go (1988)
Some of the band's best known tunes are here, including "Shake It Like A White Girl" and the title track. Sadly, their novelty number "Doing The Cabbage Patch" didn't make the grade.
More significantly for the group's career, the same year E.U.'s performance of "Da Butt" appeared on the School Daze soundtrack and became a huge hit.
Rock Yuh Butt (1988)
Includes their initial hit "E.U. Freeze"; I suspect this was a collection of single sides that was compiled after "Da Butt" broke huge. (DBW)
Livin' Large (1989)
The band cashed in, taking their newfound fame to Virgin Records. Unfortunately, they lost sight of what made their sound work in the
first place, adding crashing synths and drum machines and losing the groove. The album contains a remix of the song that made them famous
("Da Butt '89," with a brief quote from Led Zeppelin's "D'yer Maker"!),
and a version of the Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing" performed with Salt-N-Pepa,
whose energy level is so high they show up the rest of the disc for the calculated claptrap it is.
There are a bunch of "Butt"-style pseudo-go-go tunes: repeated raunchy catchphrases, bass vamps, and cowbells
("Buck Wild"), but they're depressingly sterile and calculated (Marcus Miller's "Come To The Go-Go") - often all the tunes have going for them is Sugar Bear's good humor. Worse are the ballads sung by Junie Henderson, a dull cross between Luther Vandross and Philip Bailey ("Taste Of Your Love," "Don't Turn Around").
Fred Wesley arranged horns on the title track, and Melvin Franklin contributed
vocals to a remake of "Shake It Like A White Girl." Larry Robinson produced the title track and "White Girl"; most other tracks were produced by
various band members.
Cold Kickin' It (1990)
Hardly. Junie Henderson gets most of the lead vocals, and the disc continues the worst excesses of Livin' Large, only heavier
on ballads ("Got To Be Wherever You Are," "You Are").
Even the uptempo numbers are cheesy dance tracks that would seem more appropriate for New Edition ("I Confess," "Keep It Up" with mid-80s
pop synths), with lyrics to match. New sax player Scooter also contributes a Bob Marley
imitation on "M-O-N-E-Y." The one real go-go tune is half-decent ("Hot Cakes"), but even that pales in comparison to the band's early work.
No notable guests this time; production is by House, Goff, and new member Marvin Ennis.
I can't think of a single reason
a sane person would want to own this album.
Make Some Noise (1993)
Around this time House left to join Brown's band. (DBW)
Make Money (1996)
A party-hearty return to straightforward go-go, produced by Goff, but it's embarrassingly shoddy. The layers of percussion are identical on nearly
every track, and at times verge on the robotic. Where E.U. used to drop in someone else's riff to liven up the proceedings or signal a mood
shift, here they just cover familiar tunes with generic go go arrangements - Curtis Mayfield's "Freddie's Dead"
- and even remake their own early hit "Ooh La La La." They do occasionally lock into a solid groove, though ("I Can't Go For That," based on
the Hall and Oates tune), and the two ballads ("Touch Me, Tease Me"; "Hold You" - both sung by Ellis Merriman) are much less slick and more enjoyable than the Junie
Henderson schlock. Not to mention the go go incarnation of "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer," present in two nearly identical versions.
I don't think the disc accomplished its stated objective, but if you can't find a good go go album, this will at least give you a sense of what it's all about.
In 2002, E.U. performed a bunch of tunes on Put Your Hands Up! The Tribute Concert To Chuck Brown, and sounded great doing it. (DBW)
School Daze Revisited (E.U. & Friends: 2007)
This doesn't have anything to do with the Spike Lee movie or earlier soundtrack except for a trivial remix of "Da Butt" ("Dabutt 2008"), but it's a fairly interesting showcase of the band's associates and proteges, largely written and produced by Atif Tate.
Shorty Corleone (a lover) and Duv Sac (a fighter) get two tracks each, and a bunch of folks get one apiece: many are rappers (Pretty Boy's "Butterflies") though Lady Day's a singer and Earl Carter plays smooth jazz guitar ("My Paradise"). Best of the unknowns are Shy Thoro, whose "You Don't Know My Name" is the sort of tender, innocent romantic rap I didn't think popular music could produce anymore, and Ajani Sekou (the clever, BDP-ish history lesson "Blow This Joint").
And E.U. delivers a couple of quality cuts: "Gogo Girlz (Work It)" and "It's Like That," a go-go cover of the Mariah Carey hit with vocals from Sweet Cherie Mitchell.
Bodacious One Brickhouse (E.U. featuring Sugar Bear: 2012)
Really a maxi-single; principally a cover of the Commodores hit with a few skits and remixes. (DBW)
Click your thang.