Soul UK (Geno Washington & The Ram Jam Band)

Image result for geno washington ram jam bandI 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.

 

 

 

Image result for geno washington posterGeno 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.

 

Image result for geno washington posterThe 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.

 

Image result for geno washingtonBy 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.

 

Coming To You On A Dust Road (Sam and Dave Double Dynamite)

So where the heck did this come from ? The Y-tube clips of Sam & Dave’s turbo-charged live act are just the greatest thing. The dynamic duo’s great run of hit singles received plenty of exposure at the time which we are lucky enough to still have around. Then there’s this gem, a promo for a song that was never actually promoted.

As Mod as anything ! “I Don’t Need Nobody (To Tell Me About My Baby)” is a track from “Double Dynamite”,  Sam & Dave’s 2nd LP for Stax Records. The record was not as successful as their debut “Hold On  I’m Coming” or the succeeding “Soul Men” but it included 3  high quality 45s (“When Something Is Wrong With My Baby”…oh my !) which kept their name in the frame. This track was not 1 of the 3, not even, I think, a B-side. Written by Randle Catron, a Memphis personality, a future king of the local Cotton Jubilee, it’s not the usual dynamic call & response belter rather a sweet soul swinger. The guys look as sharp as a winter’s morning & the girls, dancing barefoot, are just the epitome of 1966/67 chic. 6 months later there would be dashikis, afros & a liquid light show. I think that I prefer this cool, casual look. Straight from the fridge.

Sam Moore & Dave Prater hooked up in Miami & were recording for Roulette Records before they were signed to Atlantic Records by Jerry Wexler who already had a connection to Stax Records in Memphis. The duo, like most every R&B act in the early 1960s, were on that Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Little Willie John thing but Atlantic wanted the raw, harder recipe that Booker T & the M.Gs were cooking up. They were lloaned to Stax,  assigned to the young staff songwriters Isaac Hayes & David Porter & once the 3rd single, “Hold On I’m Coming” reached the Top 30 there was a string of thoroughbred hit songs tailored to their new distinctive, urgent style.

Of course “Soul Man” was the big one in 1967. I would play that 45 on repeat. There’s a little drum break in there that still rocks me, so that’s Al Jackson. As the song says “Play it Steve !”, so that’s Steve Cropper. Earlier that year the Stax Volt Review had toured Europe & thrilled audiences. Similarly the artists were galvanized by an exposure to a, mostly white, audience they had previously been unaware of. After “Soul Man” Sam & Dave were in the major league back home. Here they bring the soul revue experience to the Ed Sullivan Show & how much fun is this ? “I Thank You”, the most basic of their singles was another big hit. Prime time TV could never capture the lightning of their live show but the fanciest horn section, all 9 of them, give it plenty & make their appearance special.

The loss of Stax’ superstar Otis Redding hit the label hard. Musicians & writers, especially Steve Cropper & Booker T Jones, were less content to live in the studio at East Macklemore Avenue, judged by the quantity of records sold rather than the quality of the music. The next  year, 1968, the “gentleman’s agreement” between Stax & Atlantic was revealed to be weighed against the good guys. As a consequence  Sam & Dave’s loan period ended . They returned to Atlantic & were never as popular with a wider audience again. The Sullivan Show gig was to promote “Soul Sister, Brown Sugar” which, despite being their biggest UK hit, always seemed to me to be one of the weakest of their releases. Still, what do I know ? The storming 1968 single “You Don’t Know What You Mean To Me” , written by Cropper & Eddie Floyd, was#1 in my heart in a time when there were plenty of rivals for my affections. The song came nowhere in Britain & just made Top 50 in the US.

This story does not have a happy ending. The duo’s records made in New York never recaptured the Memphis magic. Their often volatile relationship led to a temporary split, the punters wanted Sam & Dave not Sam OR Dave. Sam Moore’s affection for heroin didn’t help. When he added coke to the mix his $400 dollar a day habit meant that he was working for the monkey on his back. There was always work. They opened for the Clash on a 1979 tour, Jake & Elwood Blues, a Sam & Dave tribute act revived interest too. By the time Sam did clean up Dave had hired another Sam & a lot of lawyers became involved. Dave was prematurely killed in a car accident in 1988. Sam has stuck around & he is just great.

I’m going to end this with something I found on like page 9 of a “Sam & Dave live” Y-tube trawl (you have got to go deep, just in case). It’s film of the most successful soul duo ever doing what they did better than anyone else, performing live. It is shot, I think, on that first Stax tour of Europe when the acts were backed by Booker T & the M.Gs & the Mar Keys, Stax’ A-team. I’ve never seen this before (33 views…that’s nuts !). A small sweaty club, the cameraman apparently sat in Booker T’s lap.  “Of all the R & B cats, nobody steams up a place like Sam & Dave ” (Time). “Unless my body reaches a certain temperature, starts to liquefy, I just don’t feel right without it.” (Sam Moore). The clip is 10 minutes long & I know that you are all busy people but it’s “You Don’t Know Like I Know”, “Hold On I’m Coming” & it really is a wonderful, relentless & irresistible thing.