James Leavey's Sharing An Ashtray With... Geno Washington

Geno Washington

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James Leavey's Corner
  By James Leavey

The legendary black Americansoul singer from Evansville, Indiana, produced, with the Ram JamBand, two of the biggest selling albums (Hand Clappin’ – FootStomping’ – Funky Butt – Live! AND Hipsters, Flipsters, And FingerPoppin’ Daddies) of the 1960s in the UK, both recorded live.  He wasthe subject of Dexy’s Midnight Runners UK chart-topping tributesingle, Geno, in 1980.

JL: Where did you firststart smoking"

GW: I was 21 and ahalf, I had just got out of the air force, and joined the Ram JamBand.

JL: Where are you from"

GW: I’m from thestate of Indiana in the mid-West, the city of Evansville.  I firstcame to England on December 13, 1961. From 1961 to 1965 I was in theAmerican air force.  The middle of ’65 I was in the Ram Jam Bandgoing up and down the M1.  My first cigarette was in a club inManchester called the Twisted Wheel.  This girl asked me…’I want acigarette’.  I said, ‘No, I don’t smoke.’ And she said, ‘Well you’dbetter. Don’t be such a sissy…If you want some of this, you’d bettermake this right with me, if you want me to be right with you.’ Sincethen, I’ve been a social smoker…

JL:  What do you smokenow"

GW: My favouritebrand is Rothmans, and sometimes I go over to Mayfair.  I switchfrom Mayfair to Rothmans – that seems to do me….Just enough to makethe lungs black.

JL: Frank Sinatra, whenasked about his opinion on Tony Bennett’s voice, said that TonyBennett didn’t smoke enough. Do you think, if you didn’t smoke, thatmaybe you wouldn’t be such an interesting singer"

GW: That’s right! Exactly… know what you mean.  I went to quite a few recordingsessions with no smoking and no drinking whatsoever.  It wasstrictly business, getting down to the case – it was terrible. So, Iwent back.  I tried it many times but in the end I usually have ascotch, wash it down with a Budweiser or somethin’, pop one of thoseRothmans in my mouth, and I’m hot to trot – ready!

JL: You’ve been on stagewith a lot of well-known smokers, like Jimi Hendrix.  Did you guyssmoke on stage in those days" 

GW: Definitely.

JL: And do you stillsmoke on stage now"

GW: Oh yeah,definitely. In the 1960s, if you wanted to smoke on stage, yousmoked.  Then they started introducing ‘no smoking’ areas.  But,personally, I try to break the rules whenever I can.  I’m one ofthose guys who sneaks into the lavatory’s on planes, to sneak acigarette.  I’m that type.  I definitely love my cigarette.  If I’min a party or somethin’ and some blockhead says you can’t smoke, I’drather leave the party and go somewhere else because I want my boozeand my cigarettes – and that’s just for starters.

JL: Which musician, aliveor dead, would you like most to share an ashtray with"

GW: I’d take it withOtis Redding…No, no, not Otis, Arthur Connolly (who sang ‘Sweet SoulMusic’).  I’d do it with him ‘cos he’s wild and crazy.  Personally,if I wanna have a real good time and be relaxed, if I wanna chill, Ican’t have the drink without a cigarette – it’s like my milk andcookies.

JL:  It seems to me thatyour life has been one long special moment.  But is there onesmoker-friendly moment that really stands out"

GW: Yeah.  We wentout for a fancy Chinese meal in Chelsea – with Italian waiters andall that - and they put us in the no-smoking section, you know whatI mean.  And it was such a great meal, Man, washed down with somesaki, and a couple of long cool Southern Comforts, you know, and Ifelt like I was in a desert.  You know that line by that King, ‘Mykingdom for a horse.’  Well I would have given my kingdom and mycrown for a cigarette.  I needed a cigarette real badly and I was onmy way to the Gent’s (toilet), and one of the Cats that was doingthe cooking, he had seen my gig somewhere, said, ‘Hey, Geno, what’shappening!’  I said, ‘Hey, have you got a cigarette on ya, Man"’ Andhe slammed that cigarette on me and I was in the toilet, locked thedoor, lit that bad boy and whoah! I was in seventh Heaven!  Thattoilet cubicle was like an oasis in the desert. I was in thereblowing smoke rings and Geronimos and giraffes and shit, blowing thesmoke through the air vent.   

JL: Do you go back to theStates much"

GW: I go every sevenyears to see my parents and the people I grew up with, and that’senough for me.

JL: Did you notice thesmoking bans they’d got over there"

GW:  Oh yeah. They’ve got too many damned do-gooders trying to stop you enjoyingyourself.  You can’t smoke here and you can’t smoke there.  For me,it actually spoils the evening, not smoking.  What I done is Istarted going over to my friend’s houses, that way you can have abetter time.  That’s what I’ve been doing now to fight back. Otherwise you go out to a restaurant and spend $250 or somethinglike that and everybody’s kind to you, you’re doing your own thing,and then they say, ‘You can’t smoke here.’  And I say, ‘What!  Afterall the money I’ve spent here, I can’t smoke!!  Are you crazy,Man"’  A lot of people like me enjoy a cigarette after a meal.  I’mnot encouraging anybody to smoke, or anything like that, but whatI’m saying is it definitely feels good, or millions wouldn’t do it.

JL: What kind of musicmakes you want to smoke"

GW: That would be musicfrom Brazil.   I’m a freak for sambas and salsas.  I put on thatBrazilian music, Man, light up a cigarette, have a nice little drinkwith it, you know.  It’s just paradise.  Your mind just runs away. It’s almost like meditating – witha cigarette.

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