Chatting with the original ‘soul’ man

Geno Washington back on stage at the Spalding Beer and Music Festival. Photo: Tim Wilson (SG270517-179TW)
Geno Washington back on stage at the Spalding Beer and Music Festival. Photo: Tim Wilson (SG270517-179TW)
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Geno Washington is a tricky man to pin down. Still touring and performing at the age of 73 with the Ram Jam Band he’s as busy as ever.

Following his performance back on stage in Spalding, 50 years since the infamous Barbeque ‘67 Festival, I finally got the chance to chat with him.

People were chanting ‘Geno, Geno, Geno!’ We had an army, it was like a carnival atmosphere

Geno Washington

As one of the most prominent and charismatic figureheads during the 1960s soul boom, he didn’t disappoint.

Geno came on the phone full of energy, with an infectious laugh that you will never forget.

Speaking to me from his home in Mill Hill in Edgware, London, which he shares with his wife Frenchie and German Spritz dog Zee-Zee, he was already roaring with laughter before we even got started.

I said to him “thanks for talking to us” and he replied:

“Hey man. I’m just grateful because there are thousands of singers out there and there are some people who remember me!”

Geno was one of the biggest stars of the time back in the ‘60s and it was him who people crammed into the Tulip Bulb Auction Hall in Spalding to see at Barbeque ‘67. So to say some people will remember him is an understatement.

He said: “It’s been 50 years since I’ve been in Spalding and it’s hard to believe that was such a big event. It was a shock to everybody that it would be so big.

“No one had ever seen anything like it and it’s never happened again.

“There were thousands there and people were gate-crashing. There were supposed to be people guarding the gates but people bribed them to get in and there was so much money in people’s pockets that night.

“It was the worst gig for Jimi Hendrix and Cream. They were throwing toilet paper at them and chanting ‘Geno, Geno, Geno! We had an army of people. It was like a carnival atmosphere, like Rio, people all joining in and it was great.”

When Geno played again at the recent Spalding Beer and Music Festival it was the first time he had seen Zoot Money in a decade and they had a tearful and emotional reunion backstage before Geno’s set.

He said: “I hadn’t seen him for 10 years and I’m, like, we’re both still alive! Every day above ground is a good day! It was really wonderful to be back on that stage. It is a personal thing to do a gig and I came back 50 years later to celebrate an occasion so I was very pleased to be there.

“ It was a dream come true. I am 73 (years old) now and I didn’t want to get on stage all broken down and people going ‘well he used to be good.’ - but it was a great occasion for me and I had a great band with me.”

Geno got into singing by accident. Originally from Evansville, Indiana, he ended up in England after being stationed here while in the American Air Force.

He said: “We would go out in Ipswich and I liked to dance. I used to dance like Michael Jackson. There was a lot of prejudice back then and it was before Martin Luther King.

“I was trying to get in with the locals, trying to figure out how I would get into the circle. Then one night I saw Alvin Stardust on stage. They were these good-looking guys with girls all around them and the women were throwing their knickers at him on the stage.

“I thought ‘Geno this job is for you’. I thought, I have to find out if there is any money in this. I got to make sure there is some money in this and I asked the guys (the band) and they said ‘yeah we get paid’ and I thought I got to get some of that.

“He (Alvin) asked me ‘can you sing?’ I said ‘oh yeah my sister is in Martha and the Vandellas and my auntie is Diana Washington. I was lying my arse off but he said you need to get yourself to the Flamingo Club in London, that’s where all the GIs go.”

Following the advice he took himself off to the London club and ended up meeting Zoot Money and later The Animals, who he got to sing with, going down a storm with audiences.

The Ram Jam Band followed and a career which has seen him rubbing shoulders with Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones, who he is still friends with today - and of course, sharing a stage with the legendary Jimi Hendrix at Barbeque ‘67.

I didn’t realise until recently that the Dexys Midnight Runners’ hit ‘Geno’ was written about Mr Washington himself.

Geno told me: “He (lead singer Kevin Archer) said he was influenced by me and that was when he made up his mind he wanted to be a singer in a band. He said ‘I have to get some of that.’ He was having fun. I’m glad that I had an influence on him.”

○ As well as being a successful singer and performer, Geno Washington is also a trained hypnotist and a member of the Guild of Hypnotists.

He has included hypnotism as part of his act. In the past. his show has consisted of some demonstrations of hypnotism in the first half and some “Get down soul music” in the second half.

He has also penned books, appeared as a motivational speaker and guest starred on tv and in film.

Screen stints have included an appearance in the movie ‘A Bit of Tom Jones’ which premiered in London in 2009.