Geno Washington & the Ram Jam Band
"I’m not a worker, I hate work!"
You’re playing at Retro Festival this year, what can we expect from your set?
We’re coming down with the Ram Jam Band, and we’re gonna be rocking the house! We’re going to put some glide in the people’s stride so I can make some loot for my suit! Yeah man, we’re coming down to party so tell everybody we’re coming to do some serious booty shakin’.
Fantastic. I’m far too young to have enjoyed your music back in the day, but from the videos I’ve seen the energy looks incredible. You must have some crazy stories.
I’m in love with performing for people, trying to raise their spirits. I want everyone to rejoice for that moment, you know?
Is it just as easy to get that energy nowadays?
You see, fortunately I got lucky because when you love something so much, it’s not work. It could be anything, rain, snow, sleet, whatever, when you love it that much it helps you keep the energy going because of that adrenaline. When you perform, the adrenaline kicks in and it keeps me happy and joyful.
What are the audiences like at your gigs? Are they old fans reliving the glory days or do you attract some younger faces as well?
Yeah we’ve got that! But because of the music and the atmosphere at our shows we get the young ones also, you understand? Young people are kickin’ on to it. We still play places where the audience is my older fans, and we play places where everyone’s young. That’s really working out really good for us, everywhere we go we get a standing ovation so I’m happy to go with that!
You’re also very much into your hypnosis and meditation, how did that come about?
I lost my self-confidence and got real bad with that. Rather than drinking alcohol and taking drugs and things, I went to a hypnotist. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. Her name was Pat Collins, one of the world’s greatest stage hypnotists, and a hypnotist for some of the top hospitals in Los Angeles. She was my teacher, and she took a liking for me, so I became her protégé, you know? It was a wonderful experience, and that also helps me keep it up, because I also sing under hypnosis.
How does that work?
Well I just put myself into a quick trance; I give myself a pep talk and see myself in the groove. They teach athletes the same thing now, the people who are going for the Olympics, you know? I found out about it so I did it to myself to see if the shit works! [laughs] You’ve got to check. It was fantastic, man, so I said “Woo! I’ve got to have some of this!” My energy level and enthusiasm when I walk on stage, I just love it. I’ve always liked to make people happy, when I was a little boy I was always walking around telling people jokes and trying to make people laugh and get them in a good mood. If you can get most people you meet laughing, it proves to be much safer [laughs] it’s hard to kick somebody in the ass when you’re laughing!
Tell us a bit about your early life, you started performing whilst you were stationed in England with the US Air Force, so how did the move to singing happen?
Ah well, first of all I joined the Air Force to avoid the Vietnam War. I was a PT [physical training] instructor for the base gymnasium, so I trained officers and the kids in exercise and that kind of thing. One of the guys who worked at the base, his name was Brian, would come back from the weekends and talk about what a fantastic time he had watching these bands, you know? So I said “Where’s all this action at?” [laughs] so he told me to go down to Ipswich, and there’s a place called the Mecca Ballroom, and the joint is jumping, good-looking women, good booze that ain’t watered down, that kind of thing! I went down and I asked these girls to dance and they went “No” and I thought “What do you mean no?” and you’ve got to walk back across the dancefloor with your head down, everyone knows you’ve been turned down [laughs]. I thought they were being prejudiced, you know, they don’t like black guys and all of that, but 5 minutes later, they jump on the dancefloor with some guys that were as black as me! So then I realised, I just look like a GI, why should they dance with me? I could be a raving maniac! [laughs] So I figured OK, it’s because I’m not in the circle, that’s why these girls won’t dance with me. I went back about 6 times, and on the 6th time the answer came to me. There was a group on and their name was Shane Fenton and the Fentones. He had a little name then you know, so when Shane came on some of the girls got so excited that they ripped their knickers off and threw them on the stage! At that moment, I little voice spoke to me and said “I think this is a job for you Geno!” [laughs]
After I left the Air Force, a big blues explosion happened and everything changed. As black Americans, we were shocked because some of the English kids knew the blues better than the black Americans did! A group came up called the Rolling Stones, and blues bands were popping up everywhere so I joined a local band. We were kicking ass man! I wanted to keep making myself better, because if I failed I could always go home, you know? Living in America at the time it would’ve been hard to find jobs, and I’m not a worker, I hate work! Talking about it makes me mad. I’m mad right now, I want to come there and kick your ass! [laughs] That’s how bad the word ‘work’ feels to me! I used to go to London and sing with The Animals, Rod Stewart, Long John Baldry, Eric Clapton, all those cats. None of us were famous at that time, but we all went on to shock the world.
You certainly did. What else have you got for this year? It sounds like you’re showing no signs of slowing down.
Yeah man, still full force! We constantly tour. It’s not one of those things where we tour and then we come off the road for nine months or whatever. If you’ve got the money, you’re going to treat us right, and you want soul music rockin’ the house, we’ll be there! I do interviews on radio, magazines, and I’m truly blessed and happy. I’m going to be 72 in December, and if I knew I was going to live this long I would have treated my body much better!
Retro Festival takes place 7-9 August at Newbury Show Ground. Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band appear in the Ricky Tick Marquee on 8 August.
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