Based on a True Story
‘Ge-no! Ge-no! Ge-no!’ chanted the audience with great persistence. They were determined. They hoped that the great entertainer would satisfy their rapturous applause and they longed for him to return to the stage for another encore. But Geno had already given them two encores and he was tired.
He slumped into a chair in his back-stage dressing room and breathed a deep sigh. The adrenalin in his body, tempered with a few glasses of red wine began to subside and he could hear the chanting slowly begin to fade. He picked up a towel and wiped the sweat from his brow.
The energy of the music, the audience and the skill of the band’s musicians always spurred him on to return but Geno, now in his seventies, knew he needed to pace himself. He wasn’t a young man anymore and he was tired of the road.
Still, this life was all he had ever known. The life of a Soul singer.
That is, he thought except that time when he had decided to study hypnosis and learned how to hypnotically take his excited audience to higher planes with a gospel fervour. He had learned so much about suggestion and hypnotic language. He used call and response chanting on stage to create a great energetic connection with his audience that never failed to be both exciting and greatly entertaining. His first thought when he stepped on that stage was always to get the audience and he’d always succeeded in that quest.
He was tired though, sure. As a performer he knew that he was addicted to the adrenalin of performing and even though the hours of his work perpetuated exhausting insomnia, this made it very hard to quit.
He began to remember the early days when many of the famous Sixties artistes and bands would queue up with regular ticket buying fans to witness the soulful onslaught of Geno Washington and The Ram Jam Band. Among those queuing in line were The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Who and even the mighty Otis Redding.
They were there because they knew that Geno had the ability to take hold of an audience and take them higher than anybody with his performance… He had Soul in spades and the charisma to make everybody ‘feel it’ every night.
It was this evening that Lee, a writer, and vocal coach, came knocking on Geno’s dressing room door. He had interviewed Geno for a Voice book a few years back and wanted to catch up with him after the show.
“You don’t know like I-I kno-ow,” he sang as he entered the room. One of Geno’s hit records.
Geno smiled. “Heyyy. How’re ya doin’ man?... Are ya stealin’ my songs again?”
Lee loved Soul music. The first time he’d met Geno he’d introduced himself as ‘a soul singer’ which Geno found greatly entertaining, laughing out loud. This young caucasian guy could sing maybe, sure. But a Soul Singer? Sam Cooke was a Soul Singer. So was Otis Redding… and African American Soul singers learned their trade singing in Gospel churches, singing on the Chitlin circuit and paying their dues on the road. But this guy?
He was surprised to learn that Lee had paid his dues though. He had grown up with all of the classic Soul vinyl records and he’d earned his Soul apprenticeship by playing hundreds, even thousands of gigs. But in many ways, Lee was a respectful student of Geno.
He pulled out a notebook and pen. “How’re you still singing like this in your seventies, Geno? You’ve outlived everybody!”
“Whaddaya mean seventies!?” Geno teased him. “This young man??” Then he laughed out loud. “They die young when they party hard and get addicted to that high. You’ve got to condition your mind to stay in control,” Geno told his student. “You’ve got to learn self-hypnosis ‘cos your sub-conscious mind loves you more than you do,”
“Geno, can you explain what Soul means to you? Can you define Soul?”
Geno thought for a moment. His take on it was always going to be something deeply personal. Lee was very curious in the same way he’d been when Sam Cooke had hummed a few bars of what Soul represents on an old fifties radio show.
“Soul is singing from deep in your heart and sharing it with the world,” Geno said. Then he flashed that knowing smile.
They talked for a while and Lee recognised a spiritual connection with Geno. Some kind of Soul connection. Or then again, maybe it was just that Soul music connection, he thought. They seemed to think very much alike, whatever their differences.
“I’ll be away for a while, Geno. But I’ll see you when you’re back around in Bristol again in the Spring.” Lee congratulated Geno on another great show and thanked him for giving his time. They shook hands and said farewell.
“Joy to you, my friend,” Geno said. “Remember, change your thoughts and you change your life….”
The Club was soon empty and some of the guys in the band said goodnight to Geno. He changed into some comfortable clothes and pulled a cloth cap over his shaved head. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. Smiling eyes, closely shaved mottled beard and a golden earring that glistened under the dressing room lights.
The last guy to say goodnight was the drummer, who Geno affectionately called ‘Handsome Dave.’ “Geno, there’s some guy out here wants a word with you. Says it’s about a booking. See ya next week, man.”
As he walked back out, Geno could see a man sitting at a table at the back of the club. His face was obscured by the shadows as the overhead lamp silhouetted him, but he appeared to be wearing a Trilby hat and a black suit. Geno never missed a trick and he also noticed that a large glass of red wine was awaiting him.
“Mr Washington,” the man said. “Thank you for coming out to talk to me and thank you for that wonderful performance tonight.” The man was dark-skinned, with a closely groomed beard and he wore a big smile. His face was slightly cloaked in the shadow of his hat behind the lamp light, but Geno could also see that he was wearing shades which made him a little suspicious. The man extended his hand and Geno shook it firmly. Then he handed Geno his business card which read Mr W. Pickett, Soul & Gospel Entertainments Agency.
“I’m Mister Pickett” he said in a gruff voice. “Please join me.” The man gestured to the unoccupied seat and full wine glass and Geno sat down and took a sip. All the while his eyes watched the man, distrustfully.
“Maybe I should give you my manager’s number” Geno said, hoping to avoid a long and fruitless conversation.
“Oh no!” laughed Mister Pickett. “What I must share with you is for your ears only, Mister Washington. I have a very special proposition for you.”
Geno turned his head to one side, curiously and squinted at him in the lamp light. He couldn’t help feeling slightly uncomfortable as though something a bit shady and unexpected was about to happen. He took a quick look around him, but the club was now empty except for a bartender who appeared to be carefully washing glasses behind the bar.
“This is an opportunity unlike any other. I can promise you that, Mister Washington. A very special occasion. A unique show.”
“A Gig?” Geno replied. “Unique, in what way?”
It is a celebration, you might say. A Soul tribute concert. The host has elected to remain nameless… but there promises to be a very large audience and many other artistes performing.”
“Oh, really? Which other artistes?” Geno inquired.
Mister Pickett pulled out a scroll of paper from his inside breast pocket. He unrolled it and held it out before himself at a distance as though adjusting his vision under the lamp light.
“Let me see… a, uh. A one… Joe Tex, uh… Raymond Charles, Uh… Jackie Wilson, Ben E. Floyd, Betty Wright, Uh… Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Uh Marvin…”
Mister Pickett stopped as Geno had already stood up and was shaking his head.
“This is some kinda joke right?” said Geno. “Ha, Ha, I’m sorry Mister…uh… Picket. I don’t do no tribute gigs.”
“Oh no, Mister Washington. Wait a minute. Please don’t misunderstand me. This is a wonderful opportunity. You will of course be the headline artiste. The fee is also very generous indeed.”
Geno took of deep breath and sat down, still shaking his head. “Ok, what did you have in mind?”
Mister Pickett placed a black briefcase on the table and popped it open. He very carefully removed a large envelope and handed it across the table to Geno who took it looking back at him very suspiciously.
Geno opened the envelope which was unsealed and pulled out several pieces of paper held together in the top left-hand corner with one paperclip. He pulled out a pair of reading glasses from his coat pocket and scanned the contract until he came across the proposed fee.
‘We the undersigned do agree to pay the sum of £30,000 to Mister Geno Washington for Performance of one hour at Soul Revival Festival on 10th September…’
Geno looked up at Mister Pickett. He was stunned. “Wait, this is tomorrow night!?”
“Yes, Mister Washington. I understand this is very short notice. Arrangements have been made though in advance. We will send a car to collect you. You are after all, our guest of honour…”
“Guest of honour…? Then why, Mister Pickett am I the last artiste you will have added to your roster?” Geno asked.
“Mister Washington. This is… a surprise. It is unusual and I do understand. But when our host makes up his mind…Timing is of the essence. You see… He really was decisive that he wanted you to be there.”
He turned the briefcase around revealing what appeared to be £30,000 in Fifty-pound notes.
The car arrived promptly at eight and Geno was ready. It was a cool, cloudy evening and there was a slight chill in the air. As the driver departed from the city, Geno noticed a light fog emerging from the surrounding fields of a countryside road. He attempted to make conversation with the driver who remained quiet, just occasionally replying ‘Yes, sir.’
Geno was confused after reading the contract again with a certain amount of scrutiny. He was astute with business although these days he left business with his Manager who had somehow gone missing today, so he ‘gave up’ when it came to the small print which was almost eligible. The most pressing concern was that there appeared to be no information about the venue for this concert whatsoever. He asked the driver where they were heading but he then appeared to be a little hard of hearing and instead directed Geno to a bottle of wine and a glass that sat in a mini-bar fixed in the back. Geno poured a full glass and closed his eyes. Maybe he should just relax. After all, this would be easy money, a house band and maybe he should just enjoy the evening.
It was not long though before the driver pulled up. “We have arrived, Sir.” He announced.
Geno stepped out and was greeted by a familiar voice. “Very happy you could join us, Mister Washington.” Mister Pickett stood there before him. This time there was no hat or sunglasses, but he recognised that big unmistakeable smile. He felt sure he had seen that face somewhere else before. It was just so familiar.
“Please come with me. We have a V.I.P. seat reserved for you.” he said.
Geno followed Mr Pickett, who he could now see was a tall, handsome and large-built man, dressed in a very luxurious blue Lame’ suit. As they entered the back door of the stadium, Geno could hear the rhythm in the distance. It began as a rumbling pulse but as they grew closer, he could make out the sound of driving guitar, bass and drums. Soon, he could make out the sound of a horn section. Tenor Saxophone, Alto, Baritone and Trumpets. Then he heard a voice so soulfully sweet and smooth, it was unmistakable.
‘It can’t be.’ he thought.
Mister Pickett grasped the handle of the entrance door and turned to Geno. “This is your night, Mister Washington,” he said. Then he pulled open the door.
Geno was overwhelmed by what he witnessed next.
A sea of faces cheering and dancing in celebration as far as his eyes could see. The large, beautifully lit stage was full of a large ensemble of musicians. The most complete and fully equipped Soul band he had ever seen. The rhythm section looked like Booker T & the MG’s. The horn section looked just like The Brecker Brothers. In the pits the band extended to an orchestra of strings and percussion instruments. Sweet soulful harmonies filled the air with the sounds of The Soul Stirrers and The Supremes.
Then that unmistakeable voice he had heard before, stood with feet planted in the middle of the stage, his hands gesturing expressively to the ecstatic audience.
“Darling you-oo-oo-oo, send me…Woah oh-oh, Wuh-oah-oah-Wuh-oah-oah”
His soaring tenor with ascending and descending trills and runs. Singing clean and smooth but then suddenly exposing an edge of gospel raucousness climaxing in that way that only a Soul Stirrer can do.
Mister Pickett ushered Geno to his seat in the V.I.P. Box. Geno looked at Mister Pickett. Then he looked at the singer. Then he looked back at Pickett. “This can’t be… What is this?... That’s Sam Cooke!” he exclaimed.
Pickett laughed out loud. “It sure is,” he said.
The song concluded to rapturous applause and Sam blew a kiss to the audience before walking off stage. “Let’s hear it for Mister Soul. Mister Sa-aaam Cooke ladies and gentlemen!” The audience cheered with great appreciation.
“Now… for your pleasure, the King of Soul. Mister Otis…” Impossible, Geno thought.
The big man, suited and booted stampeded the stage as Al Jackson laid down a killer rhythm and the band strutted into ‘Can’t turn you loose.’
Otis, with his powerful voice was accenting every beat and syncopation rhythmically and crying into every note with such energy and conviction. His voice pleading his audience into complete submission. A voice of undeniable soulful integrity. An unstoppable force.
“Mister Pickett. Looks and sounds just like him but that can’t be Otis.”
“Oh really?” said Pickett.
Otis stomped through two more songs and ended with his encore number ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ which built and built, pushing the band harder and harder as he sang “Got-ta, Got-ta, Got-a, na-na…Try a Little Tendern-esss.”
As Otis left the stage, it seemed that the audience were exalted to heights they might never reach again. But there was more to follow.
“Ladies and gentlemen. Mister Dynamite. The Godfather of Soul. …Give it up for Mister Jaaaames Brown!”
A piercing scream projected out from the PA system and the audience went wild at the sight of James shuffling and sliding across the stage from the wings at great speed. Geno thought this was just like a scene from Saturday night at The Apollo.
“You’re up next Mister Washington.” said Pickett.
“You want me to follow James Brown?” Geno said.
“Sure. You’re our guest of honour tonight. We’re all here for you.”
Pickett ushered Geno to the wings of the stage where he was greeted by Sam, Otis and then James. Geno was amazed. ‘This is some kinda dream,’ he thought. ‘I don’t ever wanna wake up.’
“My band ain’t never gonna believe this when I get back,” Geno said shaking his head in disbelief.
Mister Pickett looked perplexed. “Why Mister Washington. Didn’t you read the terms and conditions of your contract? There is no going back.”
The Lights lit up brightly as the tannoy announced ‘Ladies and gentlemen, our guest of honour tonight. The man you’ve all been waiting for. The incredible, Mister Geno Washington!” Then Geno heard the thousands of people chanting his name in unison.
Ge-no! Ge-no! Ge-no!’
It was late in the evening and Lee blew the dust off an old photograph album and stroked his long grey beard.
Turning the pages, he stopped and stared at a photograph that stirred a memory from many, many years ago. He remembered the last time he had seen Geno at the club and the conversation they’d had together. He had been so shocked and aggrieved to learn of Geno’s passing the very next day. The great man had always been a legend. Especially to him. Dexy’s Midnight Runners had even charted a number one hit record, Geno in his name sake. A kind man and a good friend. A soul brother. A legend.
A phone began ringing in the distance, but Lee paid no attention to it. He was thinking back to those good old days now. A time when he used to sing his heart out and share it with the world. Just like Geno did. He remembered all those Soul singers he’d had the pleasure of coaching and working with. He missed all of it. The fun. The band. That sweet, Soul music.
Then his dream came to a halt as his wife opened the door.
“Darling, it’s a call for you. A Mister…Pickett.”