The band’s percussionist played with rototoms or drums with no shell. The higher-pitched percussive attack was a stark contrast to the traditional deep-toned polyrhythmic thump older listeners knew. Some criticized it as noise. Authorities tied violent episodes that sometimes occurred at concerts to the band.
But Burwell, his band and their new sound were in demand.
Sometimes the group would split into two — TCB and the second band, Polo and The Boyz — so they could play locally and out of town on the same night.
Friends and family members said the hectic schedule and public scrutiny took its toll on Burwell, who had high blood pressure. They suggested he take some time off.
“Man, I got to go,” Burwell would tell them.
Two years ago, all the traveling, late nights and long gigs exacted a price. Burwell had a severe brain hemorrhage that left him in a coma.
Sometimes, he tries to pull his legs away when his mother tries to massage them. Recently, she noticed throat movement as if he’s trying to swallow again.
The band continues to perform, but some fans wonder whether TCB can regain its “Bounce Beat Kingz” title without him.
But Clara Shields isn’t worried about his career. She’d be happy to have her son out of a rehabilitation facility and back at home.
“I know it’s a matter of time,” said Shields, 58, a spiritual woman who has faith that her son will recover. But “if God never does anything else [with him], I’m more than grateful.”
‘You’re not going to die’
As a teen in the late 1980s, Burwell was interested in two things: football and music. He formed a band with some friends and played regularly throughout their Eckington neighborhood in Northeast Washington.
The band constantly tinkered with its sound. It stripped it down, similar to what punk music legends the Ramones had done to rock music in the mid-1970s.
They debuted the new, “bouncy” sound in 2003 — at the risk of alienating fans of traditional go-go, said Eric Hinnant, a former manager of go-go band Mambo Sauce.
“Bounce beat created a great divide,” Hinnant said. “When he started, I don’t think people took it serious.”
Not everyone was a fan of the band’s popularity. After an 18-year-old man was killed leaving a concert at a club on Central Avenue in December 2009, former Prince George’s County police chief Roberto L. Hylton said: “Although nightclub violence has been significantly abated in 2009, events featuring TCB continue to harm our communities. The PGPD stands shoulder to shoulder with our community leaders against the proliferation of violence masqueraded as entertainment.”
On April 10, 2010, the band had two shows: an afternoon gig in Philadelphia and its regular Saturday night show in Waldorf.
Burwell collapsed onstage during the night show and was taken backstage. Band members said he looked weary and grimaced as he complained of headaches. They agreed that he should go home to rest.