30 Sep 2004
EU (Experience Unlimited) is one of DC’s original go-go bands, a seminal group that helped define, refine, and combine the musical components of the genre, which originated here. EU produced the most recognized song in Go-Go history, “Da Butt,” which was featured in Spike Lee’s 1988 film “Skool Daze” after Lee saw the band perform. In fact, EU is the only Go-Go group to score a number one spot on the R&B; singles charts; it went double platinum.
EU formed in the late 1970s. The band, along with Trouble Funk and Rare Essence, was heavily influenced by “the godfather” of go-go, Chuck Brown. Throughout the 1980s, EU was one of the indisputable leaders of Go-Go. It became famous for its energetic, groove-oriented live shows, due largely in part to Valentino Jackson’s screaming lead guitar, William “Ju Ju” House’s drums, Ivan Goff’s keyboards, and leader Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliott’s funky bass, go-go chants, and exuberant personality. While the main elements of Go-Go come from percussion patterns using the snare, Congos, and rototom, the original Go-Go bands also featured horn sections. EU was considered the most melodic of the original Go-Go groups, known for its progressive-rock style.
After its hit with “Da Butt,” EU signed with Virgin Records, toured clubs and colleges, and put out the albums “Livin’ Large” in 1989 and “Cold Kickin’ It” in 1990. Livin’ Large included a version of “It’s Your Thing,” performed with Salt-N-Pepa. They subsequently recorded “Make Money” for the Escape label in 1996, which included a remake of their hit “Oooh Lah Lah.” In 2002, EU was also featured on the 2002 album “Put Your Hands Up! The Tribute Concert to Chuck Brown,” recorded live at the 9:30 Club. Other popular EU songs include “Freeze,” “Shake it Like a White Girl,” “People in the House – Let’s Roll Call,” and “Um Bop Bop.” Other albums and singles include: “EU Presents Christmas Baubles and their Strange Sound,” (2002), Sugar Bear and Ju Ju’s “Jigga’s On My Roof (2001), and “Party Hearty,” which was featured in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.”
MAMA CASS ELLIOT
Ellen Naomi Cohen was born in Baltimore in 1941 and grew up here in the Washington area. She was a classmate of Jim Morrison [later of The Doors] at George Washington High School in Alexandria
She was in a summer stock production of “The Boyfriend” at Owings Mills Playhouse, then headed to New York, where she auditioned for the Miss Marmelstein part in “I Can Get It for You Wholesale” in 1962 — only to lose to Barbra Streisand.
By then she was known as Cass Elliot. She toured in “The Music Man,” and hung out in The Village between acting gigs. Cass, Tim Rose & John Brown formed “The Triumvirate” — which became “The Big Three” when James Hendricks replaced Brown. The Big Three recorded two albums of high-energy folk-rock, appearing on “The Tonight Show” and “Hootenanny,” among others. The Shadows on M Street in Georgetown was a regular stop.
By 1964 the quartet “Cass Elliot & the Big Three” included Hendricks, Denny Doherty, and Zal Yanovsky. They morphed into the Mugwumps and were based at the Shadows. Less than a year and one single later, Cass became a solo act (while)here in D.C.
Denny Doherty went to work with John & Michelle Phillips as The New Journeymen — but by then the Beatles had arrived and folk was out, so the group headed for the Virgin Islands.
“Broke, busted, disgusted; agents can’t be trusted, And Mitchy wants to go to the sea. Cass can’t make it: she says we’ll have to fake it. We knew she’d come eventually.” That’s how John Phillips described the time in the song Creeque Alley.
Cass did go, of course, their harmonies clicked — and the group soon headed to California and became The Mamas and the Papas. From 1965 to ’68 they had a series of top ten hits: “Monday, Monday,” “California Dreaming,” “I Saw Her Again,” “Dedicated to the One I Love,” and “Dream a Little Dream of Me” — which became Cass’s theme song as she went solo in ’68.
Her own hits included “It’s Getting Better,” “Make Your Own Kind of Music,” and “New World Coming.”
She appeared on television and film — had a couple of prime time specials of her own — and was a valued guest on all the variety shows — singing and entertaining with Julie Andrews, Andy Williams, Johnny Cash, Red Skelton, Ed Sullivan, Carol Burnett. And several times, she guest-hosted The Tonight Show.
Cass wasn’t just an entertainer. She was a mom to her daughter and spoke out on (the/political) issues. She performed with George McGovern’s campaign in 1972 and was part of Jane Fonda’s anti-war coalition — which included Dick Gregory, Tommy Smothers, Donald Sutherland, and Ryan O’Neal. One would never refer to Cass Elliot as a shrinking violet. She was a mover and shaker in the entertainment community. And she once posed nude for Cheetah Magazine.
From one-nighters to stints in Vegas, she continued to tour the country and beyond, and record for RCA. In July 1974, Cass Elliot was enjoying a successful career as a singer and personality. Her shows at the London Palladium were sellouts, with nightly standing ovations.
But the touring, the stress, her weight had taken a toll on her health, and on July 29, 1974, after the London shows, her generous and loving heart failed. She was just 32.
Cass Elliot left a sister, her daughter; six solo albums and several with other groups; and in the minds of so many who loved her work and her presence: memories of an unforgettable voice, an unfailing sense of humor, and electricity that filled every room she entered. Cass is also survived by a younger brother, Joe Cohen. Joe is a musician in his own right and is currently living in California.
Cass and her fellow Mamas & Papas were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. A movie about her life is in the works.
We in this Washington area are richer for having had Cass Elliot and her talents among us, ‘though for too short a time.
ROOT BOY SLIM
Foster “Ken” Mackenzie III (Root Boy Slim) was born on July 9, 1945, in Asheville, NC. His father was a golf course architect and he grew up in Washington, DC Root Boy attended a number of private schools, including Sidwell Friends and the St. James School in Hagerstown. Considered a tortured genius by some, Root Boy was a commanding, compelling presence in the DC music scene in the late 1970s and 80s. His songs were wry commentaries on the absurdities of life, including his own.
Root Boy attended Yale University, where he and George W. Bush belonged to the same fraternity (DKE, “the Dekes”), although Bush was one year behind him. Root Boy was the frat’s social director, and he would later tell people that the future president showed up at all the parties. Root Boy said that he went back to visit one year and Bush, now president of the fraternity threw him off the premises for smoking a joint on the frat house’s front steps.
At Yale, Root Boy made friends with fraternity brother Bob Greenlee, who was captain of the Yale football team. They formed a band called “The Young Prince La La, Percy Uptight and the Midnight Creepers.” It is said that the band never played the same venue twice.
Over the next decade, Root Boy attended architecture school, studied city planning, and traveled. He was arrested in Jamaica, then again in Jacksonville, and in 1969 jumped over the White House fence, landing him in St. Elizabeth’s for observation. He would later write songs about these events and, while living in Florida, enlisted his friend Bob Greenlee to record some of them. The band moved to DC in the spring of 1977, adding Ron Holloway on saxophone and the backup singers The Rootettes.
The band was called Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band, and the combination of excellent musicians, clever and unusual hook-ridden songs, along with Root Boy’s charismatic, outlandish persona propelled it to huge local success in the late 1970s and 1980s. His subjects included substance abuse, mental instability, and politics, with song titles such as “Too Sick To Reggae,” “Dozin’ and Droolin,” I’m Not Too Old for You,” and “Boogie Til You Puke.” Although he made fun of his vices, Root Boy used drugs and alcohol to excess. His shows were sometimes erratic, but they were always funny and outrageous. Root Boy would wear flowing capes, leopard outfits, and his trademark ROOT glasses, and he would order his backup singers, the Rootettes, to get down on the filthy stage floor with him as he sang “Do the Gator.” His performances at venues such as The Psychedelly in Bethesda, the Cellar Door and Bayou in Georgetown, and the Varsity Grill in College Park were always packed, and staffers from the Carter White House were among his following. He was even invited to visit the White House by Carter’s appointment secretary. Root Boy approved of the Carter administration, but when President Reagan was elected, he wrote “Cowboy in the Sun Too Long” and “Rich, White, Republican.”
In 1977, a demo album, including “Boogie Til You Puke” and “You Broke My Mood Ring,” produced by local entrepreneurs Joe Lee and Dick Bangham (who later became a Rootette) was unofficially rated “the most requested album of the year” on WHFS. This caught the attention of Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and producer Gary Katz, who took the act to Warner Brothers Records. Root Boy inked a quarter of a million-dollar deal with the record company and released his debut album in 1978 with all of the songs included on the original demo. An appearance in “Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video,” produced by Saturday Night Live head writer Michael O’Donahue, might have put him over the top but the special was rejected for air by then NBC-president Fred Silverman. The album didn’t meet expectations and the label bought out the remainder of the contract. The next year, Root’s second album, Zoom, was released on A&M;’s IRS/Illegal Records. The band toured England and Scotland, opening for Ian Dury and the Blockheads and making headlines in the British musical press as well as in Rolling Stone in the US. Marshall Keys joined the band in 1978 when guitarist Stuart Smith decided against doing the Dury tour. Root Boy went on to record four more albums with Greenlee and Lancaster on smaller labels, two of them Greenlee’s King Snake Records.
For the last fifteen years of his life, Root Boy continued to write songs and perform with a series of bands made up of many of DC’s most talented players, including Tommy Lepson. His last production was a moving video of his song “Hey Mr. President”, a call to help the homeless, released during the Presidential campaign in 1992. The Sex Change Band reunited in 1993 for an East coast tour. Worn down by his inner demons and declining health, Root Boy died in his sleep just four days after the band’s kickoff show at The Junkyard in Orlando, one month before his 48th birthday.
Content courtesy of Washington Area Music Association.