Robert Reed, 50; Pioneer of Go-Go Era

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 1, 2008

Robert Reed, a leader of the Washington go-go band Trouble Funk, which flirted with international fame in the early 1980s, died April 13 of pancreatic cancer at Capital Hospice in Arlington County. He was 50 and lived in Greenbelt.

Mr. Reed was a pioneer of go-go, a rousing, infectious style of dance music that combines elements of funk, rhythm and blues, gospel and Latin music. Trouble Funk, which Mr. Reed founded with his brother Taylor Reed and Tony Fisher in 1977, was one of the leading bands of the go-go era, which reached the peak of its popularity about 25 years ago.

Longtime Washington musician Chuck Brown is usually credited with creating go-go, which bridged the period between disco and hip-hop. Go-go has a nonstop, driving beat and often blends one song into the next to keep fans dancing. Trouble Funk was one of several bands, including Rare Essence and E.U. (Experience Unlimited), that spread the appeal of go-go music from all-night dance parties in inner-city Washington to audiences worldwide.

Each group had its own style and usually featured a "talker" who sang and spoke to the audience -- in Trouble Funk, it was "Big Tony" Fisher, the bass player -- encouraging a call-and-response interaction.

Mr. Reed, who was known by the stage name Syke Dyke, was a guitarist, keyboard player, vocalist and songwriter who often experimented with outlandish electronic effects on keyboard. Other members of Trouble Funk included James Avery, Timothy Davis and David Rudd.

"Trouble Funk had an aggressive funk sound," said Kato Hammond, a go-go musician who runs a Web site about the music. "They were instrumental in opening the doors for go-go."

The band's biggest hits, all co-written by Mr. Reed, included "Pump Me Up," "Don't Touch That Stereo" and "Roll With It."

"We used to play ["Roll With It"] for two or three hours at a time," said Taylor Reed, who played trumpet and keyboard. "We started playing at 10 at night and played until 5 in the morning. You had to be in shape."

In 1982, Trouble Funk released its first album, "Drop the Bomb," on Sugar Hill Records and embarked on tours in Japan, Europe and Australia. The group performed on the same bills as the Ramones, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Curtis Mayfield and once appeared before 70,000 people in London as the opening act for Def Leppard.

Trouble Funk later recorded two albums for the Island Records label, but the popularity of go-go began to wane outside Washington after the mid-1980s. The large bands, typically consisting of nine or more members playing horns, guitars, keyboards and drums, proved too expensive to take on the road. Moreover, the long, dance-marathon songs seemed more effective in live performances than on record.

"Go-go was going to be the new Motown," Hammond said. "But, commercial-wise, the labels didn't know what to do with it."

Robert Michael Reed was born Aug. 4, 1957, in Newport News, Va. He came to Washington at age 6 and graduated from Woodson High School in Northeast Washington. In the mid-1970s, before graduating from Howard University with a bachelor's degree in music, he helped form Trouble Funk while performing as a guitarist for visiting musicians such as James Brown and Gladys Knight.

In recent years, as go-go faded from the national scene, Mr. Reed worked with Federal Express and taught music technology at Bowie State University. He recently installed a full-service music studio in his home and operated a car service and music production business with his brother.

Trouble Funk hadn't recorded since 1987, but its early music has been widely sampled by younger hip-hop bands and remains popular with live audiences in Washington. The band gave its final performance last summer in Richmond.

In addition to his brother, of Greenbelt, Mr. Reed's survivors include his wife, Sheila Edwards Reed of Greenbelt; two children from an earlier relationship, Robert Michael Reed II and Angel Bianca Reed, both of Greenbelt; a stepdaughter, Danielle Edwards of Greenbelt; his mother, Ruth C. Reed of Hampton, Va.; two other brothers, Ernest Reed of North Carolina and Melvin Reed of Richmond; two sisters, Sheila A. Reed of Norfolk and Toni Reed of Atlanta; and a grandson.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company