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January 8, 2010

BUSTIN' LOOSE IN HIS OWN WAY - Though he is the son of legendary musician Chuck Brown, Nekos Brown is shy - but he's not bashful about putting his football gig ahead of his love for music

By: Jimmy Robertson

Keep what you got

Until you get what

You need y’all

You got to give a lot

Just to get what

You need sometimes y’all

Gimme the bridge now

I feel like bustin’ loose

Bustin’ loose

Gimme the bridge now

I feel like bustin’ loose

Bustin’ loose now

(Chuck Brown, Bustin’ Loose, 1978)

Nekos Brown

Some songs, such as this one, just uncannily withstand the rigors of time. The lyrics are not overly complicated. They’re not some deep inner revelations from the soul. Instead, they are simple and hold hands with a perfect beat.

Even without the music, the lyrics to this piece can drum up the rhythm inside one’s head, and in the case of this song, one’s feet start moving and body starts rocking; natural reflexes to one of the absolute great songs of a lifetime.

Nekos Brown certainly knows the lyrics and the music to Bustin’ Loose, a song that reached No. 1 on the R&B singles chart in early 1979.

His father wrote the lyrics.

And produced the music.

And he still sings it on stage all over the world in front of thousands of fans, even to this day at the ripe age of 73.

Nekos’ father is Chuck Brown. Yes, that Chuck Brown, the godfather of go-go music, a genre of music that blends Latin beats and elements of jazz and African rhythms. His music is like beef stew – a lot of ingredients, but no fixed recipe.

He is the Chuck Brown who is the owner of 20 albums; the winner of national awards (the National Academy of the Recording Arts and Sciences Board of Governors Award in 2003 and the Lifetime Heritage Fellowship Award presented by the National Endowment for the Arts); and arguably the coolest dad on the planet.

Nekos loves his dad and loves his music. He keeps his own iPod loaded with it, even songs produced before his birth.

But he certainly won’t be following in dad’s footsteps, at least not any time soon.

“I’ve always been shy,” he said with a soft voice and softer smile. “Real shy.”

That seems hard to believe considering he’s the son of such a flamboyant man. It also seems hard to fathom because he was a four-year letter winner for one of the best football programs in the nation and just wrapped up his career with a Chick-fil-A Bowl appearance. Counting the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Nekos Brown has played on national television between 30-40 times in his career in front of literally millions.

But he’d rather be pancaked by an offensive lineman the size of one of Lane Stadium’s towers than step on stage in front of a group of people. In fact, his helmet shields him when he steps on the field.

“In front of those fans, he’s got that helmet on,” smiled Wiley Brown, Nekos’ brother and roommate. “If he didn’t have that helmet on, he probably wouldn’t be out there.”

He hid behind it for four years, all the while performing at the same high-intensity level of his high-energy father. Hiding is easy for him.

He faked sicknesses and headaches and often burrowed himself in the backseat of the family’s ride during his father’s shows just to avoid having to come up on stage with his father during one of his intermissions.

“Every outdoor show he did, that’s when he usually tried to get us on the stage,” Nekos said. “In the summer time, I usually dreaded my father’s shows because I knew he’d try to put me on stage. So I used to fake a headache or hide or lay in the car until the end of the show.

“Usually there was a part in the show where he’d have a break and bring us on stage and let someone in the band do a solo. When I knew that part of the show was over, that’s when I’d come out.”

So how does the son of such a colorful man as Chuck Brown turn out to be so shy?

“I get it from him,” Nekos said.

Say what?

“My father is shy,” he said. “You never see it, but he’s scared to death every time he steps on stage.”

Chuck Brown laughs.

“Oh, I’m super shy,” he said. “I’ve been in music for 47 years, and four hours before every show, I’m a nervous wreck. Once I hit that stage, though, it’s all gone.”

Actually, the same could be said for his son.

Nekos Brown hugged his parents, Chuck and Jocelyn Brown, before taking the field for his final home game.

Understanding Nekos Brown means first understanding the family background. Most know about Chuck Brown’s career.

But there’s more to the story. Folks don’t know about the Chuck Brown who grew up in poverty in the Washington, D.C., area. Or the one who dropped out of school in the eighth grade (he later got his GED). Or the one who got into trouble and spent time in prison. Or the one who later moved his family into a room at an old hotel on the outskirts of the city while he worked jobs as a brick mason, a truck driver, etc., to keep food on the table.

Today, that old hotel – which Chuck Brown helped build – serves as a reminder of how things were for them – and how they never want things to be again.

“My parents didn’t have much,” Nekos said. “Everyone thinks my father was a wealthy man, but we really didn’t have much. We were struggling for a while. They were struggling before I was born, and when I was a baby, we lived in a hotel. We drive past it sometimes, and they’ll say ‘That’s the hotel we used to live in.’”

Chuck Brown found himself in a dire financial situation because he got hosed out of his royalty checks from Bustin’ Loose – produced nearly 10 years before Nekos’ birth. And he got hosed largely because of his kind heart. He gave and others kept taking.

“He only got like $10,000 from that song and it was No. 1 on the charts,” Nekos said. “That wasn’t right.

“You don’t get that far in this world without being a good person and my father is. He’s a ‘people’ person. That’s why he got ripped off in the first place – he trusts everybody. He’s so good hearted and that’s why he got ripped off.”

Chuck Brown, though, always managed to survive. He gradually got more and more gigs and became more and more popular. He began playing all around the world. He ultimately moved his family out of the old hotel and into an apartment in Oxon Hill, Md.

“Everyone knew him,” Nekos said. “I didn’t understand everything until I was around 8 or so. We never looked at him as ‘Chuck Brown.’ We looked at him as ‘Daddy.’ It was normal to us. We didn’t pay any attention until I understood how everyone was acting. I understood how important he was to the D.C. area and how important it was for him to make go-go music. I didn’t realize how big that was until I got older.

“After the shows, we’d be there for an hour or two hours. It wasn’t over when the show ended because everyone was going to hold him up, wanting autographs and stuff like that. But I never got tired of the attention because I knew that’s how he fed us. That’s what he had to do. My father never had bodyguards. His fans had complete access to him and that’s why they love him so much.”

Today, they all live in a nice house in Waldorf, Md. But the Browns never forgot where they came from, and Chuck and Jocelyn, Nekos’ mother, raised their family the right way.

One needs to look no further than Nekos, who never got into a peep of trouble in four years at Tech and who graduated in three and a half years with a degree in human development.

“Both my parents are similar,” he said. “They like to keep stuff in order and they like to do things the right way. I’ve always been taught to say, ‘Yes ma’am’ and ‘No ma’am’ and ‘Yes sir’ and ‘No sir.’

“You get far in life by showing respect everywhere you go. It speaks volumes. People talk and the impression you leave on someone is everything. They’ve always taught me that. They’ve taught me that doing things the right way gets you far.”

Tech fans won’t like to hear this, but Nekos Brown and newly hired UVa coach Mike London know each other quite well.

London recruited Brown while serving as the Cavaliers defensive coordinator before he left in 2005 to take a job with the Houston Texans. Brown liked London a lot and planned on going to UVa once the school offered – the Cavaliers were waiting on Brown to attain his ACT score.

But London’s departure opened the door for Tech. An unofficial visit to Blacksburg and some not-so-subtle coercing from former Hokies Darryl Tapp and James Anderson convinced Brown to come to Tech.

“They asked who I was deciding on and I told them it was between Tech and UVa,” Brown said. “I remember it well. James kept saying, ‘Horrible decision, horrible decision.’ At the end of the day, there was nothing for me to think about.”

“I always thought Tech was a better school. I never thought they’d offer me. When Tech offered, there was nothing else to think about.”

Brown ended up playing his freshman year, though Tech’s coaches tried to persuade him otherwise. He came to Tech as a linebacker, but found himself behind two pretty decent ones – All-Americans Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall. Both of those guys elected to come back to school for their senior seasons, which surprised Brown.

Still, Brown wanted to play in large part because his father came down with pneumonia. Chuck Brown was bed-ridden for weeks and Nekos wanted his father to see him play in a game in case something tragic occurred.

“He was in bed for a long time,” Nekos said. “I wanted to play so that my father could see me play at least one time in college. That was my mindset. So I left it in God’s hands and went out on the field and did everything I could.”

He played – but not at linebacker. Jason Worilds injured his shoulder late in the North Carolina game early that season. Defensive line coach Charley Wiles looked at Brown and told him to go in and rush the passer.

“I was like, ‘What?’ Brown laughed. “But I went in there and rushed the passer and got a hand on the quarterback. I grabbed his foot and he jumped out of it and made a throw. But I got to him, and the coaches called me in the office the next day and wanted to move me to end. He [Wiles] asked if I wanted to do it and I wanted to do whatever would help the team.

“I don’t regret it. I feel like God doesn’t make mistakes and everything happens for a reason. It’s made me a better player. It’s made me more physical.”

Brown stayed at defensive end and played as a backup for three years before starting this season, his final one. This season marked his best one by far, as he finished with career highs in tackles, tackles for a loss and sacks.

It marked his best personally as well, in large part because he got to spend it with Wiley, his younger brother. Wiley Brown played at Duquesne last season, but transferred to Tech and sat out this season. The two brothers shared an apartment and a fall’s worth of memories.

“We get along well,” Nekos said. “He’s more laidback than I am. I don’t like to see anything out of place. So if I see his clothes on the floor, I’m like, ‘C’mon, man, get that up.’ He doesn’t pay attention to things like that.

“But there’s nothing like having your brother there. We’ve been around each other all our life. We’re only a year and seven months apart. To have him back for my senior year is real big.”

“Nekos is so precise,” Wiley said. “Everything has to be organized, so I try to keep organized so that he’ll be less stressful.

“I’m going to miss him. We’re close and we’ll call each other all the time. But it won’t be the same. That’s for sure.”

Senior Day went as expected for all of Tech’s seniors. And it went as expected for the Brown family, which walked out onto the field to meet Nekos before the game against N.C. State, his final one at Lane Stadium.

“That was such a great experience,” Chuck Brown said.

One then can feel the emotion in his voice.

“Words can’t describe it. It was beautiful.”

Chuck and Jocelyn Brown felt those same emotions on Dec. 18 when they watched Nekos walk across the stage and pick up his diploma.

“Words can’t explain the way I’ll feel,” Jocelyn said, just a few days before graduation.

For now, Nekos’ future plans are in a holding pattern. He desperately wants to play in the NFL – scouts foresee him as a linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, which suits him just fine – and he plans on doing everything possible to go down that road.

“I know I can do it,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get an all-star game or Combine invite. I’m expecting that. I can’t wait to stand up and play linebacker again. I feel so much stronger and I feel it will be easier. Playing defensive end should make playing linebacker easier. I can’t wait to showcase my talent.”

If that doesn’t pan out, he also mentioned owning a pet shop since he loves animals and he brought up coaching and counseling. His quiet demeanor and strong sense of values would make him a perfect counselor.

But Chuck Brown has another idea.

“He’ll get into music. He’ll go down that road when he feels like it,” Chuck said. “He’s got plenty of time to pick up an instrument. He’s talented – he can sing and rap. Right now, he wants to do the football thing and that’s fine. I didn’t get serious about music until I was 24.”

“It’s natural to me,” Nekos admitted.

Maybe he is a chip off the old block, as the cliché goes.

Maybe Nekos Brown will bust loose some day. Maybe he will make his own music.

Rest assured, he’ll do it quietly.

Tech chaplain impacts Brown

Nekos Brown (47) credited Tech team chaplain Johnny Shelton for a lot of his success this past season.

Count Nekos Brown as a huge believer – not just in the Lord – but also in Tech’s team chaplain, Johnny Shelton.

“When I first saw him, I knew he was a man of God,” Brown said. “He’s got that presence. He’s got no worries. He’s got God in control of his life and it shows.”

Tech’s players rave about the impact of Shelton, who came aboard as the team chaplain in 2008. Shelton conducts weekly group sessions with the players and also meets with them individually. He also meets with the coaches and he takes the players out in the community as part of an outreach program. He tries to do one event each month.

More and more players are getting involved, though arguably none take it more seriously than Brown. The young man has never been in any semblance of trouble, but he holds himself to a high standard when it comes to his walk and Shelton serves as a reminder of that standard.

“Talking to him changed my perception of life,” Brown said. “My family always has been in the church, but I never really paid attention and took it seriously. I did it because that’s what I had to do. But I didn’t get in touch with God until I met Johnny. He holds you accountable.

“If you know you’re not doing the right thing, then open that book up and read that Bible. You’ve got to do it every day for it to stick. He tells us our spiritual food is just like our regular food – you can’t live off one meal. Going to church on Sunday is one meal for a whole week and you can’t do that. You’ve got to read the Bible throughout the week to keep walking with God because there are so many temptations in life.

“You can see the change in our team. When you start talking to Johnny and getting in touch with God, it’ll change your whole outlook on life.”