I never saw Geno Washington & the Ram Jam Band play live but I know some (older) people who did. How do you know someone saw Geno? Don’t worry they will tell you. In the mid-1960’s as the Beat Boom gave way to Modernism the local semi-professional bands replaced the R&B standards they had copied from the Stones first LP with the Soul hits of the day. If “Knock On Wood” & “Hold On, I’m Coming” were not in your set then you didn’t get the gig. In clubs across the country knowledgeable crowds came together at the weekend to dance to the American music they loved. The records were great but when Geno Washington & the Ram Jam Band came to your town it was the nearest to the charge, the bolt, the buzz of an American Soul revue that many people were likely to get.
Geno had come to Britain to fight the Cold War in the early 1960’s. His singing ability was noticed & the Ram Jam Band went to lengths to keep him in Britain, even considering buying him out of the USAF. Managed by the Gunnell brothers, owners of the Flamingo Club, the group had a ready made London residency to establish their reputation. They had a recording contract with Piccadilly, a subsidiary of Pye Records, who in 1966 released a single by John Lennon’s father, a couple of minor hits by singer David Garrick & a lot of easy listening. The 4 singles released by Geno that year all hovered in or around the Top 40 at a time when only the Top 20 was a thing.
Capturing the effervescence of the live experience was always going to prove difficult. In a year when “Reach Out, I’ll Be There”, “Try A Little Tenderness”, “When A Man Loves A Woman” & “It’s A Man’s Man’s World” arrived in the shops then you had to make a pretty good record to separate a Soul fan from their money & the Ram Jam’s records didn’t really stand out. Of course the answer was to record the group live so an audience was invited to Pye’s Marble Arch studio & “Hand Clappin’ Foot Stompin’ Funky-Butt…Live!” was the outcome.
In 1966 “H.C.F.S. F-B…Live!” rose to #5 in the UK LP charts. A record of a great night out was what fans wanted & in the following year “Hipster, Flipsters, Finger-Poppin’ Daddies” followed it into the Top 10. Geno may not have been the greatest singer but he was a passionate communicator. If the man with the microphone was telling you to get down & get with it while the band played & danced up a storm then it would be rude not to reciprocate & a great time was had by all.
The band were kept busy playing to packed crowds all over the country. In the Autumn of 1966 they closed the first half of a package tour which featured the Butterfield Blues Band, Chris Farlowe, Eric Burden & the New Animals & headliner Georgie Fame. Now that’s one for when I finally get this time machine working. The tour was co-promoted by the pirate Radio London & in the Summer of 67 they gave great support to a single which, I thought, would be the breakthrough for Geno Washington. “She Shot A Hole In My Soul” was a minor US R&B hit for Clifford Curry which did not get a UK release at the time. Geno & the Ram Jam Band’s full-bodied Pop-Soul failed to break the charts. The gig diary was always full but the hit single continued to elude them.
In 1968 the Ram Jam Band went to see the Gunnell Brothers about getting paid & found themselves out of a job. Geno’s new group had longer hair, ditched the Mod clobber & the choreography. The musical landscape was shifting, a set full of Soul covers was no longer on the cutting edge. My friend Pete saw Geno at Brixton’s famous Ram Jam club supported by the upcoming Jimi Hendrix Experience. It’s a good story that I’ve heard many times but there is a lot more Jimi than Geno in it.
By the Autumn of 1969 the band had broken up. Geno didn’t hang around long before returning to the US. I have always thought that with a better choice of material & more sympathetic production Geno could have had that first hit record & made the break from the club scene to the mainstream. Even without that hit there surely should have been a place for him on the new scene. Even the most stoned of hippies couldn’t fail to be roused by an all-action set of Soul standards. More pertinently a whole lot of people had not given up on this music. In the early 1970’s, through the Northern clubs who had kept the faith, there was a Soul revival which Geno would have been a part of. Instead we are left with folk who are stood on the landing wondering why they had even come upstairs but can remember every moment of the time they saw Geno Washington & the Ram Jam Band. Legend.