Curtis Johnson: From Soul Searching to Eternity


As we continue to usher in new generations of this Go-Go culture, one of the biggest things that I am finding the need of is maintaining historical facts of the beginning to now, but also the beginnings of the beginning.  Because truth be told, the old cliche is true: You can’t really get a full understand of where you’re going if you don’t even know where you’ve been.  Just think about that one for a minute.

In other words, even before the creation of Go-Go, DC has always been a live music town… full of live bands.  To take it even further, that fact that it has always been a live music town is without a doubt one of the biggest reasons of how Go-Go was created in the first place.  It was destined to happen.  A genre that basically took on a form of its own. And the form that it had become, and continues to become, bases on many aspects of the culture as a whole.

This is why from time to time we like to do these Q&A sessions from the actual artist and musicians who have walked the walk.  Because each and every story pieces together the entire story as a whole.  And this particular Q&A session is now exception.

cjohnsonart6Keyboardist Curtis Johnson is probably most known for two bands that he has played with over the past decades.  The Soul Searchers and Eternity.  But as one of the people who were there from the beginning and have seen shift changes through the years, his story is a walk that only few people these days can tell.

So, come on.  Let’s walk with him.


Introduce yourself?

My name is Mal Curtis Johnson. But, if you went to school with me you would know me as Mal Johnson. On the Streets everyone knows me as Curtis Johnson. Technically I am Mal C. Johnson, some people just call me CJ.

Where are you from?

I was born in  Washington DC.  I first live in the Northeast neighborhood of  Trinidad on Trinidad Avenue, and then later my family moved to Oates  Street NE,  after that we moved  across the Anacostia River to Southeast Washington DC into the  Fairfax Village neighborhood on Fort Davis Street. As a child  I attended  Anne Beers Elementary School.  I went to Sousa Junior High and from Sousa Junior High I went to Anacostia High School. After graduating high school. I  attended some vocational training school and music tutoring classes.

Thinking back to early childhood, what was your first experience with music like?  What song do you remember most as a child?

Awesome!  Thinking back to my early childhood days, my first experience with music was awesome! The joy! I felt was awesome! My Father purchased  my brother and I, guitars from Sears & Roebuck. It was my first instrument.  Acoustic guitars,  hollow body Acoustic guitars. It was then my brother and I began to learn  to play the acoustic guitar at the same time.  I remember one of the first songs that I  learned  to play was ” Walk Right In Sit Right Down” second was  honky-tonk.  From there we began learning chords and analyzing and patterns phases.


What made you first realize that you wanted to pursue a career in music?

Well, basically watching  entertainers like James Brown, Johnny Guitar Watson, my  Mother would call us to watch TV, shows like American Bandstand, The Ed Sullivan Show. Listening to artist like Billy Preston and listening to the radio playing many different song that I liked and wanted to learn how to play. The Entertainment industry has this glamorous and captivating  scene that just made me want  to be a part of it.

How old were you when you started getting involved in music?

Let’s see, I believe I was about fifteen. I was working at the Shell station where earned enough money to buy my first organ and amplifier, which was a  Wurlitzer organ and Univox  amplifier.


How did you become involved in the type of music you play/sing now?

The type of music that I play now and how I got  involved in it was an evolution, really more like a variety of all the different types of music that I played up to that point. I played gospel, I played jazz I played blues and We all started playing funk! I played soul music (Motown).  Now the type of music that I am now playing, GOGO basically it is the music that we created. We created it. For the most part it  was the style, of the men, who were at the forefront of it.  Ricky said it was a Chemistry. It was  a Musical Collaboration. Somewhere 1980 we started naming and calling this music gogo music. Curtis Johnson Style of organ playing.


Can you me a brief rundown of the experiences that you have had in the music industry (i.e., groups, bands, other projects leading to where you are today)?

On the way up, I played with a number of different bands  From the One Band, Skip Mahoney and the Casuals was  the biggest band I played with outside of the Soul Searches Band. When I joined the Soul Searches Band it  was not  called cjohnsonart7Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers it was called  Soul Searches.  After we recorded “Bustin Loose”  the name of the band changed to Chuck Brown and the Soul Searches and this was  the new sound that we  created that we call Go-Go music. I also played with the Dynamic Corvettes band which was the number one band in Southern Maryland.  I felt pretty good because I came from the number one band in Maryland and I went straight to the number one band in Washington DC.   Ricky Wellman and I  both left  the Corvettes Band and we both joined the Soul Searcher Band, probably  two weeks apart. I think Ricky was in the band two weeks before I was there and Leroy came in the band several weeks after me, then Lloyd Pinchback left the group. this was in 1978.


What can people expect to see at an Eternity Band live performance?

Watch the band’s web site.www.thebandeternity.com My guess is sometime in late April, you will see more places that the band will be playing. watch us on Facebook for advertisements. We are schedule in for the Safeway BBQ Battle this Year. Call Us!  301-894-4215. There are new song to be released, Around Town and Over the lord

What do you feel distinguishes “an artist” from just a musician?

In my opinion. I consider an artist to be someone like myself. I guess  everyone can be called an artist. But, a lot of people don’t really do the duties of an artist. An artist is someone who actually creates new music, look at the word, it is someone who develops something. Some say they do the duties of an artist, To me,  here is the difference, A musician would  be basically someone  playing other artists  material and  does not really create new music.   Yes! and maybe  I’m thinking well a musicians a guy who’s the   artist buddies really because he/she bases  their focus mostly playing  songs rather than creating new music. some people are both like me.

In these particular singles, “Hit Me With The One Two” and “Tell Me”, which are very melodic and impassioned, can you tell us what each one is about and how they came to be?

So  the song “Tell Me”  Basically I’m sitting down at the keyboard in my little practice space and All of a sudden I get an impulse. “tell me are you my lady. So, I started  hitting some cool chord changes, and being a pioneer of go-go I wanted to stay on the same go-go groove, so I employed the rick wellman sash beat, that’s what is call it. then creating lyrics Tell me are you my lady  , tell  am I your man. Tell me are we together ,Tell me will this thang last, Will the stars shine bright , so that is how I wrote “Tell Me”  If I had  been playing with Chuck Brown and Associates at the time when I came up with that, is a great possibility that I would’ve induce the idea and same groove while  right on the Bandstand,  we did a great deal of that matter-of-fact Chuck used to say, “Curtis man  you know how to play something that falls right in pocket, chuck said I have answers to a lot of that you play but i be on the mic. Now As you know on the “Bustin Loose” album there are two tunes “Game Seven” and I got you now “that was basically an organ lead. so that  was the beginning of the organ lead in for the band, the organ leads the band into the song, chuck said from time to time, i was hoping  you would lead the rest of the band into that idea you had.

Now the song “Hit Me”  Actually, I was sleep one night and I don’t know if I was dreaming of that but I was hearing that Joe Crocker song “Feeling Alright” and my thoughts were,  man you know I could probably change that around and make it a go-go  So, you know the next chance I got to get on the keyboard I started to create the song, some call and response and some line dance was the original idea, I  have always wanted to do some with one two buckle my shoe, so this was a perfect time to create a kids version, and day by day continue to build until song was completed in short.


Is there anything that you would like to do in addition to making music?

There is something I do in addition to music, I’ve always had a passion for owning my own business, right out of high school I created Johnson moving and storage, and have been operating ever since, however, creating music has always been my passion and my maie desire. I’ve always wanted to be able to afford to be full-time I feel  if  I were full time  would probably be much better. I do other things and always have, I’m like a jack of all trades, master of some. I have a mechanical meaning auto repair background for on (meaning auto repair).  I am a real estate agent. I have a debt  and credit repair business, and  a few other little l things that I do to pick up some extra money But what I really would prefer to do is really make the big  money  just play music All the Time.

Art & Music has an impact on both young and old. Everyone loves a celebrity, so what advice do you have for the youth of today?

The main things that I would recommend to the youth of today are, Use you time wisely. Get real tutoring, find someone who really knows how to play. If you intended to play an instrument, learn an instrument as best as you can as quick as you can. While you have the time as a young adult to actually learn how to play well, it takes years to learn how to play. In most cases and you can find yourself tied up right after  you get past age 18, and you discover that you need to work, and you don’t have the time it takes to actually study. In my estimation, to become one of the top players it would take  for the most part learning to read music. If you learn to read music well, that can take you a long way and it can open up a lot of the doors, and then it also puts you in a different category with other musicians. some play by ear without reading. we play by ear but reading is a very important aspect of being a full-time and a upscale musician.

If you had only five minutes on earth to perform one song that could leave a great impact on the world today, what song would you perform and why did you choose this particular piece?

“Tell Me” it is my composition, “Tell Me” is my music.

Do you have any video links where people can see you?

Yes there are a couple dinner party functions. About three or four YouTube videos are currently online. On YouTube is one of the songs that we created, called “The Booty Drop” one of  female friend assisted me in writing this particular tune  and she also took the liberty to have two ladies create a dance that was also call the booty drop also on YouTube.

Is there anyone special you would like to thank for making your dream come true as an artist?

My Mother and Father and Family of course!There are a lot of people that would like to thank. I been around town for years and years and years and learned a Great deal of things from Mr. Walter Hamlet(RIP) he introduced me to the B3 Hammond organ and He sat down with me and gave me some fundamentals on how you play. Roosevelt Roseville Smith(RIP), I used to watch over his shoulder and have school like every day in the music room at Anacostia high school, There are a great many more people.

In regards to the Go-Go Music scene, you were there when it all came into fruition.  Are there any moments that come in to mind that stand out the most when thinking back on the birth and growth of it?

Well actually you know this sound that we put together comprised of the “Busted Loose Crew” basically the road we paved was a mutual collaboration. Ricky Wellman, Skip Fennell, Jerry Wilder, Leroy Fleming, Donald Tillery, john Buchanan, chuck brown and myself, we basically used to collaborate on stage and off, and later on Glen Ellis he took over bass position, the music was named Go-go. Max Kid  , promoted the sound around the area and abroad, it was the sound of the Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers group, the sound of Washington DC. It felt very good  to be a part of GOGO and  to have GOGO as the sole music of Washington DC, this new style of music.

What are the differences that you notice between the local music scene today and the local music scene 30 years ago?

Well from a local prospective, there seems to be no loyalty from musicians.  For the most part a lot of bands have no identity, a lot of  the musicians play with multiple bands and for that the band itself can’t gel a sound of its own.  Back in the day the Aggression Band had their sound, Soul searcher had their sound, Leadhead had their sound, The Matador had their sound and so forth and so on.

Just for fun… finish these sentences!

Without music, I would be…
unknown unheard and just a basic average USA American citizen,(A BLUECOLLAR WORKER).

Music is…
the key music is life music is  a (VIBE A Feeling).

My music makes me feel…
Passion, makes me feel good, makes me feel happy makes me feel content. I think that playing music makes me  Express myself basically like Chuck would say,” Curtis he makes the music  Feel good” and that’s what I basically always try to do. Add feeling to what we were playing (PASSION).

I write the songs because…
I like to think that writing songs is a direct expression of who you are the type of music that you write basically shows you are and what you do. when you create a song when you create lyrics those lyrics actually come from the heart, that music that you play dance music that comes from you, so you expressing how you feel and it comes out in your music (Heart).

Support music because…
Music inspires. music lifts the soul. music is a vibe within the soul A Feeling played upon a beat.

Thank you kindly!

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