Keith Killgo, 60, has a deep connection to Rock Creek Park. Not only did he grow up just blocks away on Van Buren Street NW, he also helped put the park on America’s music landscape. Killgo, of Silver Spring, and his fellow Blackbyrds had hits with “Walking in Rhythm” and “Happy Music,” but their “Rock Creek Park” forever associates the park with summer and a delicious funk groove.
“Rock Creek Park” is one of the great, but still underappreciated, songs of the ’70s. How did it come about?
It started in Camden, New Jersey, at a place we called Chicken Bone Alley. We were opening for the Commodores. We got there early, just goofing around. And we came up with these two grooves. The first was the “Rock Creek Park” groove, and the second was “Happy Music.” [Later] we were laying the grooves down in the studio, and I started singing, “In Rock Creek Park,” and everyone started chiming in, “Ooh, yeah.” And it just became a jam.
Do you remember what it was about the song that made those words pop into your head?
I just think the feel of that rhythm made you feel the park. The sound feels like the park. I was in France, and a young guy came up to me and said, “Man, I’ve never been to Rock Creek Park, but I go there every day when I play your record.”
Lyrically, it’s not exactly a complex song. The entire song is pretty much “Doing it in the park/ doing it after dark/ooh, yeah/Rock Creek Park.”
[Laughs.] Yeah, and the bridge is “Do it, do it, do it, do it.” That’s Merry Clayton singing that part. She used to sing with Ray Charles.
It’s probably one of the very few songs to be honored by the D.C. city council.
Yeah. I guess the Blackbyrds were conceived here in Washington, D.C., and that really cemented it. Forever we will be associated with Washington, D.C., and the fun part of D.C., because Rock Creek Park is about having a good time. We did a lot of things in Rock Creek Park through the years. [Laughs.]
What was the vibe in the park back then?
Basically Rock Creek Park was where we vacationed. With my aunts and my cousins, we’d go play volleyball, football, soccer. Go try to find some fish in the water. It was just a place to kind of get away from the hustle and bustle. As a kid, Snake Hill was the place to go with your bike. It had that one curve that if you didn’t get it just right you might be off into the woods. We were always just skinned up.
Do you still visit the park?
Every now and then. The beauty is in April when the leaves are starting to come in. The canopy is unbelievable, and I just sit there and take it all in.