Junk Yard Band (JYB) celebrates thirty years in the go-go game on August 7th at the Capitol Skyline Hotel. Not many bands can have a thirty-year anniversary show when the members are as young as the guys in JYB. The band formed in 1980 when some of the musicians were as young as 8 and no one was over 13. At that time, their instruments were buckets, boxes, and cans with a couple horns. These were kids from Barry Farms, some consider it the roughest neighborhood in the city, who wanted to play some music after their days at Birney Elementary school. They’d unpack the equipment on corners and play for the streets.
Though they started as kids playing for fun, the group would change go-go music. When JYB emerged, go-go was still an outgrowth of seventies-era funk. Chuck Brown had invented the go-go sound a few years earlier by taking the funk style of bands like Cameo and the Ohio Players and putting an insistent non-stop D.C. beat behind it. The key was percussion that would keep people on the dance floor. Trouble Funk, Rare Essence and E.U. took Chuck’s sound and turned it into a legitimate regional music genre. Junkyard took that already percussion-heavy genre and added even more emphasis on percussion. This might have just been because their instruments were mostly buckets, but the effect was to create a new generation of go-go bands that didn’t need horns or guitars.
The band started having some success by 1983 and they had a couple of high profile (and now pretty funny) performances on a t.v. commercial for Cavalier men’s clothing shop and in the Mr. T movie D.C. Cab. Eventually, JYB dropped the buckets and cans to play real instruments including congas, keyboards, and a drum kit. But they never lost the heavy percussion beats. The band grew popular enough to become signed to Def Jam Records in the mid-eighties. A promised spot with Eddie Murphy on his Raw tour didn’t work out when they couldn’t arrange for tutors for the still-young band members. The Def Jam association led to just one single, the band’s biggest hit â€œSardines.â€ DJs around the country are still playing â€œSardines,â€ but the biggest JYB hit in the DMV is probably â€œHee-Haw.â€ The Hee-Haw is a dance phenomenon that brings incredible athletic displays of flapping arms and body contortions.
They really hit their stride in the late eighties with legendary shows in clubs around D.C. and at places like Wilmer’s Park and back in their old neighborhood Barry Farms. Lead talker Buggs became one of the best crowd motivators in the business, conga player Winko kept the beats funky, and JYB had some of the best singers around. You can’t discuss the history of JYB without mentioning the tragic loss of monster drummer Heavy One who was killed by a stray bullet in 1992.
Over the thirty years there have been plenty of break-ups and splintering of the group. There’s been J-Mob, JY-Band, J-Squad, Another Side of Junk, Art of Junk, and I think a few more. Most of these kept the spirit of the original band. A JYB show is always a performance. The music always cranks and the stage show includes stepping and roll calls. That’s why they’ve kept an incredibly loyal audience in the DMV, filling clubs a couple nights a week for three decades.
On Saturday, the anniversary show will hopefully feature some of the members that have come and gone from the band like T-Bob, Gene Pratt, Blue-Eyed Darryl, Baker, and Demi-Doc. The current lineup includes Buggs, K-C, and Winko. Even if some of the older members aren’t there, JYB is sure to break out all the stops for an anniversary show that should show you all they’ve learned about entertaining since they were kids.