Before I even heard the song itself I received Full Force’s “Alice, I Want You Just For Me” on 12″ as a present one Christmas. Immediately upon seeing the cover, it was jehri-curl love at first sight. Then once I put the record on play and began doing my research I realised what major music players Full Force are. Back in Spring 2012 I found myself in New York attending a music conference and was delighted when Bowlegged Lou agreed to meet up for a chat one sunny morning in Alphabet City …
Picture three young brothers in early ’70s Brooklyn, New York, reading lines from a play written by the youngest. The two elder siblings are reluctantly rehearsing their parts as the scrappy little one persistently and enthusiastically insists that they play along.
It could be a scene from so many families’ photo albums, a fond memory from your average Brooklynite’s childhood, or even the start of some heart-warming festive movie. But, this particular scenario is a snapshot of the early years of the George brothers, Brian, Paul Anthony and Lucien, a determined trio who would go on to form the inimitable group Full Force. From busking outside of theaters they would go on to achieve musical careers marked with creativity and theatricality, and from putting on living room productions they would make their mark with memorable roles in the cult movie House Party.
Growing up in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, the George brothers were spurred on musically by their father Lou George Sr. and would successfully compete in amateur singing shows under the moniker the Amplifiers. Then, once cousins Junior Clark, Curt Bedeau, and Gerry Charles became involved, instruments were brought in and the group evolved into the one and only Full Force.
After initial struggles to break the music industry themselves as Full Force, the group began producing hit records for other artists, and were the first group to generously and tactfully do so. They produced classic records such as Kurtis Blow’s “Basketball,” UTFO’s Roxanne War sparking “Roxanne, Roxanne,” as well as the cautious female’s anthem “I Wonder If I Take You Home” for Lisa Lisa & the Cult Jam.
Having helped out and fostered an impressive roster of artists, it was finally Full Force’s time to shine with the release of 1985’s “Alice, I Want You Just For Me.” The George brothers seized their opportunity to act again in 1989’s House Party, playing the comedic bullies Zilla, Stab, and Pee-Wee, and it was the extended use of Full Force’s “Ain’t My Type of Hype” in the movie’s dance-off sequence that provided the group with their biggest hit.
The songs of Full Force are undeniably fun and magnetic, often verging on ridiculous, and within their infectious jams there are real pearls of truth to be found. Songs such as “Roxanne, Roxanne,” “I Wonder If I Take You Home” and “Friends B-4 Lovers” deviated from the usual stories found in hip-hop and R&B. Instead they offered interesting and honest angles on love and courtship: the object of your desire not giving you the time of day, concerns over being played, and the importance of friendship and taking things slowly. The group’s playful and refreshing sensibility helped to engage multitudes of fans who could relate to the content, and also to push those conversations being had forward.
The impact of Full Force on popular music is manifold. Even after success on their own they continued to work with and found new faces, producing big records for the likes of the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Lil’ Kim, and a seemingly endless list of others. Simultaneously influential and supportive of fellow artists, Full Force are an integral part of modern music history.
Possessing great vision, Lucien George Jr., the bowlegged one, was always daring and pushing his band mates out of their comfort zones. Encouraging them to have fun and take themselves less seriously, just as he did as a budding playwright in his childhood days. So, it was a true honor to sip coffee one morning with Bowlegged Lou in Manhattan’s Alphabet City and hear the Full Force story from the man himself…
Bow Legged Lou: It was my brother’s idea to name the song “Alice, I Want You Just For Me” because of his love for The Honeymooners. That was a big American TV show back in the day and still reruns all over the world. It was always “Alice, you’re the greatest.” So they say that in the record and some of the B-sides, like this one we have called the Bang Zoom remix. It’s all attributed to The Honeymooners TV show and the character of Alice. In fact we almost had Audrey Meadows, who played the character of Alice, make a special guest appearance in the “Alice, I Want You Just For Me!” video. But it didn’t work out, and she passed away years ago. “Alice” was a big record for us.
Taking it right back to the beginning, how did Full Force first come together and start making music as a group? You’re all related…
Three brothers and three cousins. Myself, Paul Anthony, and B-Fine are three brothers and Curt-T-T, Baby Gerry and Shy Shy are cousins. So, it started with the three of us when we were in a group called the Amplifiers. We started at the Apollo theatre, which is a historic theatre in Harlem, and we used to sing outside for money. Before you knew it we were inside competing for the amateur show. We won four times in a row, the three of us when we were little kids. Then later on after that our cousins joined the group, we started playing instruments and became Full Force. My mother and father, all of our parents actually, were catalysts. My father was because he used to sing in a group and with a lot of bands, and we developed that from him; he passed it on to us. My younger brother B never liked singing but my father would whoop his ass, saying “you gotta practice B, and learn how to sing.” Because of him the three of us starting learning how to sing and doing our thing. My mother was always the strong part of the whole family; the backbone of us. Our parents raised us, and we became Full Force when our cousins joined in.
I made up the name Full Force because even back then before we had a record deal our stage shows were crazy. Outrageous. We used to have fun on stage and play with all the energy of a band group, do dance steps, flex our bodies, our muscles. Before anybody started showing off their bodies in music, before LL Cool J, before everybody: Full Force was first. LL Cool J and all of them, they used to come to our shows and look at us, see us and go “oh…shoot,” because we were always respected in the hip-hop world. People would come and see us and see us do our thing. After that then everybody started taking off their clothes, the men anyway.
Did the family ties in the group ever bring up conflict?
Here’s the crazy thing: Full Force has six members and for all of our careers as far as writing and producing, we have always split our money six ways. Which has sucked sometimes but that’s how we made the rule. So if one person wrote a song, or two people write the song together, it will always say “written by Full Force.” One for all and all for one. That’s what we’ve always been from the beginning of our career until now. So whenever you see a record out you will never see it written as Bowlegged Lou, or written by B-Fine, or written by Gerry – it will always say written by Full Force. One of the guys in the group Shy Shy, he hasn’t written a song in his life, but we still bring him on there for the publishing part.
Do you feel it is important to stay unified like that?
Well we thought so. I think so. Cheryl ‘Pepsii’ Riley’s “Thanks For my Child” was a number one record for like a month on the charts…and I wrote that song by myself. So when the royalties money is coming in for that song and it gets split six ways, sometimes I would go “didn’t I write that song by myself?” My brother B did Lisa Lisa’s “I Wonder if I Take You Home,” Baby Gerry did “All I Have to Give” by the Backstreet Boys, and Paul Anthony did Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam’s “All cried out.” But, we still shared it all Full Force.
How did you get your individual nicknames?
We purposefully set out to have crazy nicknames. Some of it wasn’t all that crazy though. It started with UTFO, who had Kangol Kid and Doctor Ice; rappers always have crazy names. So when we discovered Lisa at an audition with our former co-manager Steve Salem, we said “okay, we’re going to call her Lisa Lisa.” They had Duran Duran so why not Lisa Lisa? Then when we did Full Force I said: “okay now we’re going to have some crazy names.” So Baby Gerry, who is the youngest member, is always with a baby bottle and that became his moniker. Curt-T-T, the reason why it’s three t’s is he was introduced on Soul Train like that: “my name is Curt-T-T, with three t’s.” Shy Shy, his real name is JR, but in real life he’s really shy, so we gave him Shy Shy. B-Fine, B was like: “yeah, I’m going to call myself ‘B-Fine’.” His real name’s Brian. Paul Anthony said “I’ll just be Paul Anthony!” And I said “I’m going to call myself Bowlegged Lou,” because I am bowlegged, not crazily bowlegged, but bowlegged. Always when I tell the women that they say “you don’t look bowlegged, you’re crazy!” I put my feet together and they’re like “oh yeah you are bowlegged…” So I say “you can see it more in my underwear…” And they would always crack up. My brothers used to say “don’t call yourself Bowlegged Lou man! People are going to think you’re a wrestler, don’t do that!” So I said “no, I am going to do that because if Full Force become big and famous like I feel we will, my name’s going to stand out.” And, it has. But, we were just having fun with the names.
How would you describe Full Force’s sound?
Havelock Nelson, who was the Billboard Magazine editor, gave us the name of “the original hip-hop vocal band.” When we came out there was no band playing R&B and hip-hop together, and singing also. There was none, we were the first ones. Our sound was hip-hop and R&B right from the beginning. Then, we started delving into other things. When we did Lisa Lisa we did hip-hop, R&B, dance, and pop, and mixed that all together. “I Wonder If I Take You Home” was that kind of song, and it was a huge song for us. It started overseas, and that was crazy. It became huge overseas, so when we came back from producing Samantha Fox and we came into the United States we started hearing it in the clubs, like “where did you get this record??” Because we didn’t even know it was in the United States yet, and people were going crazy for it. So we consider ourselves musically diversified, but we definitely have the beginning of our sound in hip-hop and R&B. Then with Lisa it was hip-hop, dance, and R&B mixed. And that’s our sound. Then we started producing other people and working with people like Bob Dylan, the Backstreet Boys and even Lil’ Kim. We run the gamut of everything.
You have worked with such varied artists. How did it compare when you were working with these acts to when you were working on yourselves as Full Force?
Well, I take it personal with Full Force because we have to carve out our own niche. Especially because in the beginning we just wanted to be Full Force and that was it, I wasn’t thinking about producing other people. That idea came from our former co-manager Steve Salem, may he rest in peace. He and I went to college together and he started co-managing us. We managed ourselves also, as Full Force we would send in tapes and demos and masters to the various record companies, and they would hand them back and wouldn’t want us. My mother always hid the rejection letters away from us so that we wouldn’t see. We just couldn’t get over, so Steve was the one who said “you’ve got to produce for other people. I think if you produced for other people, then you would get a deal on your own and you guys would get recognised.” Back in those days the producers never really got recognised. All those top producers, they never really made a name for themselves coming out. We were the first ones to really push our names as producers. So whenever we would do Lisa Lisa records we would be in Lisa’s videos, or UTFO would make cameo appearances on some of the records we produced, and we’d say “Full Force Get Busy 1 Time” on some of the songs so that people would know Full Force!
So we produced for UTFO and Lisa Lisa, and after that, then Full Force got a deal. At that time there were no other groups producing or writing music for others, they just worked for themselves. So we were the first self-contained group to produce for other people. We stayed in our lane and “Alice” was our break out song. When “Alice” came out it was crazy, first of all because it was a different sound and people had never heard that type of music before, it was hip-hop and R&B with a little jazz in there. We sampled loops, and nobody was sampling stuff in their records before us. We were the first ones doing the samples and everything. Phew – what a song. And the rest is history. When we performed it in concerts it would go off. That was the beginning for Full Force the act, but the producing next to our song writing is what carried us through the test of time. Even up to today.
There is a lot of nostalgia and a revival for the eighties and nineties now in popular culture, how is it seeing it come back around?
I love it. It always comes back around. Things always come back to full circle. I feel like the eighties and the nineties, especially the eighties, are the best of music. To me, overall, there was a great feeling. Now music is homogenised and gimmicky, and it’s just not the same. You don’t even have black bands any more that are making records. Back in our day it was us and Cameo and Earth Wind & Fire, there were so many, and it’s not like that now. But I love seeing it come back around. What goes around comes around, and in the eighties and nineties music was really feel good stuff.
House Party has become such a cult film now, how is it looking back and knowing that you were a part of it? Remembering what it was like at the time and seeing it be so iconic still?
Man, it’s just incredible. Who would have known? For us to even act in a movie, people were shocked at our performances first of all. We have a book out now called Not Just a House Party where we talk about our lives and everything like that. When we were little kids I used to write plays for my two brothers and me to do in the house. I used to force them to do plays and act, and that’s how we built our chemistry. I’ll never forget Ralph Tresvant from New Edition said “when I saw House Party I was shocked! Full Force??!” He didn’t think that we would be able to act. My first two brothers were in the movieKrush Groove with Kurtis Blow and Run-D.M.C. and they had two scenes were they were just beating up Run-D.M.C. So when House Party came along, our names were already written in the script. We didn’t know until afterwards that the director had written in the original script that the Kid N Play characters “get accosted by bullies with bowling ball muscles and drooping Jheri curls, sort of like Full Force.” Just like that.
The director and writer Reggie showed that script to another friend of ours named Robert Ford Jr., who co-produced our first three albums with J.B. Moore, including “Alice.” He told Reggie “why don’t you just go get Full Force?” and Reggie said “yeah? Can they act??” Robert knew how much of a practical joker I am, so he said “Bowlegged Lou is such a joker, he’s crazy. I bet you they can act. Why don’t you just try them out?” So they called and the three of us went down to audition. We did some impromptu skits for the director and his brother Warrington so they could see us perform and see that we can act. When it came time to work with the script they flew us out to L.A., and there we were at the reading table with all these new faces that weren’t known yet, from Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, A.J. Johnson, John Witherspoon… George Clinton even played one of the old DJs in House Party, he played the DJ for the scene in the old folks home.
I played Pee-Wee and my trademark was saying “I’m going to kick some freakin’ ass!” Even today, twenty years later, they still ask me to say that! I actually made up that part. When my brothers and I first saw that script, there weren’t that many lines in there for us. We would be mostly grunting and groaning, so I told my brothers: “guys, we’ve got to buff this up, we don’t want to just look like bullies with no personalities.” My brothers were like “leave it alone, just let it be. We’re in a movie.” And I said “I know, but I want to really be in a movie.” I told them “okay, I’m going to talk like this in this small voice” and they were like “Don’t do that, people will think Full Force is soft!” So I replied “we’re not Full Force in the movie, we’re characters.”
They were so nervous about that voice. And I changed the lines too. They didn’t want me to mess with them, but I said “we’re going to show the director and the writer and if they don’t like it, then we go back to the way that you guys want with no personality. But if they love it, then it’s all good.” So we got Reggie and Warrington Hudlin to come to our trailer and I said “listen, this part that you have in the script, we want to do it a different way. Tell me what you think about this way.” So we did it how I wrote: “well what are we going to do?? I smell – I smell – pussy!” All of that craziness I wrote. When we did that one scene for them, I remember Warrington just said “keep it!” and Reggie said “yes!” They were so excited. When they walked out I said to my brothers: “I told ya!”
After that day I just started looking in the script for our parts and I would change up everything. The director and producer couldn’t wait to see what else we had. So everything you see in House Party I wrote along with my brothers, because then they started getting brave and they started writing too. We connected like that; our chemistry in the movie is crazy. It’s such a historical movie because even kids that weren’t born when House Party came out in 1990 all know it, and they all love it. That movie still resonates. House Party 1 and House Party 2. They all know the three characters of Full Force and their craziness, and our song “Ain’t My Type of Hype” was in that movie. That was a great song, but it wasn’t better than “Alice.” But, because of House Party “Aint My Type of Hype” is the biggest song that Full Force has ever recorded, for Full Force. In the movie it plays the whole damn song through the dance sequence that Kid N Play do; it’s ridiculous.
Some people would call it a gift and a curse, but I call it a gift and a gift because I don’t mind when people say, “I know you get tired of hearing this but can you say, ‘I’m gonna kick some freakin’ ass’ in that voice?” I do it even if they don’t ask me. The other part: “I smell – I smell – I smell pussy!” Now that originated in the studio. I would only use that right when Samantha Fox would come into the studio to work with us. I love Samantha, and we had some big hits with her: “Naughty Girls Need Love Too,” “I Want To Have Some Fun.” But every time before she would walk into the studio I’d go, “Oh, Samantha’s here – I smell – I smell…” and they used to be like “Lou don’t say it!” “I smell pussy!!!” and she would walk right in the door. She would never hear me.
She never heard??
No. She would walk in right when I had it. It was hilarious. But House Party is an incredible thing that just adds to our statement. Kids that thought we were just actors from House Party were blown away when they saw that we were writers and directors and producers, and we were this band that performed too. They were shocked. So it’s an incredible legacy and I’m proud of it.
We did a show recently called TV One’s Unsung. It’s a huge urban show in the United States, just like B.E.T., and it basically depicts urban acts that they feel somewhere in their career might have been unsung and didn’t get the credit that they should have. They’ve covered people such as George Clinton, the Spinners, Minnie Riperton, and Sheila E. It debuted January 30 and became the highest rated documentary in TV One history. It was a great, great bio. Lisa Lisa’s interviewed in it, Cheryl ‘Pepsii’ Riley is interviewed, and UTFO and Roxanne are in it too. ?uestlove from the Roots is talking on our behalf, and because James Brown’s last two top ten records were written and produced by us that’s mentioned in there too. Blair Underwood the talented actor is also in there talking about the movie House Party.
So there is a lot in there that we were excited about. My brother Paul has cancer, but he calls himself the cancer champion, and in the documentary he talks about it. He talks about it as such a brave thing and in such a brave way. It’s supposed to be incurable, but not by his methods. When you watch the documentary, you’ll be wowed because when we performed onstage our concerts used to be quite outrageous.
In your music videos it looks like it when you performed live.
We always stressed physical fitness and health. We always took off our shirts and showed our bodies, and just had a great time. All the ladies would go crazy. The documentary shows this thing that we used to do in each town called the “Alice Sandwich.” Every place we performed we would invite different girls to come up on the stage and give her the name Alice. I’d say “right, now your name is Alice, and I can’t wait to kiss those juicy lips.” Everybody would be going crazy and the girl would come to me. But then Paul would tap her on the back, and she’d turn around to Paul. Paul would grab her, take her hand and put her hand on his ass. Then I would come in from the back of her while she’s facing Paul, and then Paul would lift both of us up in mid-air and the “Alice” music would play. And that’s why it’s called the Alice Sandwich. We did it in every town, and they show it in the documentary. Everything is in the documentary, it’s crazy.
First published here : http://www.waxpoetics.com/features/guest-blog/bowlegged-lou-i-want-you-just-for-me