Go-go music may have been what originally spurred guitarist Valentino Jackson’s career, but his distinct versatility didn’t allow him to stay moored to the genre for long.
After picking up a guitar at just 4 years old, the Maryland native got his start playing with local bands across the Washington, D.C. region before he even hit 13. While in junior high school, Jackson joined the Experience Unlimited Band (E.U.) and the group performed at various clubs across the area. Though the band drew a sizeable following in their hometown, they experienced tremendous success after their performance of “Da’ Butt” in the Spike Lee “joint” School Daze. Jackson later went on to pursue pop music and worked with a bevy of notable artists. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll and Go-Go Halls of Fame.
Now, Jackson, 55, is a member of the pop/rock group NYC. The group recently released their first single “Dance My Tears Away,” which was distributed by the Sony Red label. The AFRO spoke to Jackson about his career and his plans with the group.
AFRO: You got started with E.U. while you were still in high school. What was that experience like, being with this band at such a young age?
Valentino Jackson: It was a humbling experience for me. It was very humbling to meet people from other cultures when I traveled the world meeting people from the music and movie [industries]. It was also grueling at the same time because it’s a lot that people don’t see outside of what they see on stage and on television.
AFRO: It’s safe to say that “Da’ Butt” is E.U.’s signature song. Explain the creation of that track.
Valentino Jackson: Well, Spike Lee came to the 930 Club [where we were performing] and said, “I want you guys in my movie.” We were like, “Who’s this little short guy?” [Laughs]. We had no idea that it was really him. But our lawyers were there and they did the research and sure enough, it was. Then, Marcus Miller, who wrote for Luther Vandross, wrote the song and collaborated with us. Marcus was a great guy. We really enjoyed working with him.
AFRO: Explain your crossover into pop music. Was it something that you always wanted to pursue?
Valentino Jackson: I’m very broad-minded with music. I’m not just looking for one particular style or sound. At an early age, I started playing rock and roll, so I knew the technique in how to capture those sounds. Then, I ran into another band member who played with the group Starpoint, and he also joined our band. We would collaborate from time to time and [we became close]. After we finished the tour, we got on a plane and flew to South Beach, Fla. We had never been there before and we just started writing. It was a good vibe because it was away from everything else. Then after we ran out of money, we came home and had all these pop tunes that we wrote. We then met other people who were interested in working with us. So that’s how that basically came about.
AFRO: You’re among the godfathers of Go-Go music, with Chuck Brown, Rare Essence and a few others. What are your thoughts about Go-Go today?
Valentino Jackson: Go-Go has changed considerably, from back in the day with Chuck Brown, Rare Essence and Trouble Funk. Most of those groups still perform but play music more so for the “grown and sexy” crowd – the people who grew up around our era. [Older audiences] appreciate going to those shows because we’re playing music that they’re familiar with, along with the Go-Go flavor. But at the same time, they wouldn’t dare see some of these younger groups – no offense to Backyard and other bands – because they act like a bunch of wild animals. I respect them as musicians but at the same time, they’re stuck in that realm. I look at it and say, “Wow, it really has changed.”
AFRO: So what’s up next for you and NYC?
Valentino Jackson: Right now, we’re just letting this single run its course. We have another single with E.U. called “Shake the Snake” that should be out in June at the latest.