When I first heard Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers' "Bustin' Loose," I assumed it dated from the early 1970s. It sounded very much in the vein of a James Brown track, and its grittiness seemed to predate the slicker production which dominated the late '70s and beyond. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that "Bustin' Loose" hails from the disco era, specifically 1978. Not only did this funky track bring people to the dance floor, it kicked off a brief musical movement: Go-Go.
First, some background on Brown: hailing from Washington, D.C., he struggled to find his own sound while playing gigs in the 1960s. The guitarist, songwriter, and bandleader began playing covers of top 40 hits with bands like Los Latinos, but infused their material with Latin percussion, blues, jazz, gospel, and soul as well as a healthy dose of James Brown. According to his artist website, he would add flourishes such as encouraging calls-and responses with audiences, extended percussion breaks and other techniques to keep crowds moving.
After releasing some modestly successful singles with his newly formed band the Soul Searchers in the early seventies, he finally scored a hit with his composition "Bustin' Loose," the 1978 single topping the R&B charts and peaking at number 34 on the Billboard Hot 100. The subsequent album, also titled Bustin' Loose, also fared well on both charts.
Meanwhile, the single marked the beginning of the D.C.-based "Go-Go" genre, a blend of funk, R&B, and early hip hop that featured rapping similar to James Brown's exclamations. Live performances typified this movement, which dates back to the 1960s. After "Bustin' Loose's" popularity, fans predicted that Go-Go would dominate R&B music in the next decade; as AllMusic points out, other than E.U.'s 1988 single "Da Butt," the music failed to topple rap and hip hop in the clubs. Brown never duplicated the success of "Bustin' Loose," but the song remains a highlight of seventies soul.
Lyrically, "Bustin' Loose" offers little, except that the words propel the rhythm. Similar to James Brown's grunting and "good gawds," Brown chants phrases to encourage the band such as "gimme the bridge now!" One can sense how Brown engaged the audience by encouraging participation, shouting phrases like "freak, freak-a-deek!" At times he appears as a preacher (revealing his gospel roots), telling listeners at the beginning that "you got to give a lot just to get what you need sometimes y'all." He then declares that he feels like "bustin' loose" then describes just what he means by the title phrase: "Bustin' loose to my love jones / Bustin' loose to each his own."
While these lines enhance the song's party vibe, it's the instrumentation that really shines. Percussion straight out of his Los Latinos days, blaring horns, and a funky bass line demand that listeners get on their feet. Brown may have written the track and arranged it, but the superb players deserve equal credit: trombonist/keyboardist John "JB" Buchanan, trumpeter Donald Tillery, saxophonist/flutist Leroy Fleming, bassist Jerry Wilder, percussionist Gregory Gerran, organist Curtis Johnson, keyboardist Skip Fennell, drummer Ricardo Wellman, and guitarist LeRon Young.
"Bustin' Loose" lingers in popular music, most notably sampled in Nelly's 2002 hit "Hot in Herre." While Nelly updated the track to accommodate heavier hip hop beats and rap, the original's innate funkiness remains the same. Brown tragically died in 2012, but his timeless song transcends time to bridge old school funk with harder rhythms. Go-Go music may have had a short life, but radio's continuing airing of "Bustin' Loose" ensures that the genre will never be forgotten.