Gino Washington vs. Geno Washington

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Both Gino Washington and Geno Washington are great rock and roll singers remembered for frenetic, legendary shows in the 1960s. Each was compared to James Brown in his day, each served in the military, and each still performs and records today. Since I inadvertently linked one to the other at Culture to Go (Gino appears on the new novelty song "Do They Know It's Halloween?"), I figured I owed it to these guys to compose biographies of each, using what I could glean from online sources. Good thing I did: Their music is wonderful (click their names above for links to sample tracks). Maybe somebody could get these two onstage together for a show sponsored by Gino's pizza, or Geno's pizza, or something.

Gino Washington

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Gino with an "i" is the tough Detroit R&B singer born George Washington (in 1946, maybe), who appears on the new parody single "Do They Know It's Halloween?" (He recorded the cameo in his kitchen with producer Adam Gollner.) As "Jumpin' Gino" four decades ago, Washington recorded in the storied Golden World studio, cutting raw regional hits such as 1963's "Out of This World" and 1964's "Gino Is a Coward" (the Ric-Tic label's first single), a tune later reworked by Bruce Springsteen as "I'm a Coward For Your Love." These sides were big in some cities, but never cracked the national charts. Yet Washington was the only non-Hitsville act featured on the touring Motown Revue, and he ended up opening for the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones in Detroit (though the singer was late enough to the Stones gig that the headliners had to go on first, amid shouts for "Gino!").

Washington's band, Gino and the Atlantics (led by killer guitarist Jeff Williams), made local history in other ways. They became a sort of a prototype for the Dirtbombs--a black singer fronting a white garage group--and were one of the first big interracial acts to gig across color lines in segregated-by-custom Detroit clubs, as well as teen dances. "My name is Gino, so a lot of people thought I was Italian," Washington told the Detroit News in 1999. "You'd go into an all-white nightclub and they'd think you're Italian, but you're black! Everybody would look at me. After we got on stage, though, they didn't care anymore."

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Washington got drafted out of his teen band into the Army at the peak of his career, and was sent to Vietnam after a tour of duty in Japan. He returned home in '67 to find that a similar name was making a bigger name for himself: the UK's Geno Washington. (Left: recent photos of Gino and Geno performing today.) Gino with an "i" kept releasing records, many on his own label, ATAC. (Perhaps out of spite, and to the confusion of future collectors, he released at least one single under the name "Geno Washington.") And the singer hosted a variety show on local TV in the '70s. But in the end, his onetime backup singers from the early '60s became more famous: the Primettes went on to become the Supremes. And Joyce Vincent (of the Debonaires) and Telma Hopkins had hits as the fictional "Dawn" of Tony Orlando and Dawn. (Hopkins also enjoyed a long career in television.) Today, you're as likely to have heard Gino's nephew, Keith Washington, a quiet storm R&B crooner who got airplay in the '90s. But check out Gino's classic singles on the Norton Records' collection, Out of This World (reviewed here and here) and don't miss his occasional gig with his old friends Jeff and the Atlantics.

Geno Washington

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Geno with an "e" is the equally tough soul singer who had two hit LPs in the United Kingdom in the swinging '60s (both live albums) while fronting the Ram Jam Band. But he's an American, born William Francis Washington in Evansville, Indiana, in 1943. Washington served in the U.S. Air Force, and was stationed in the UK in 1961, at RAF Bentwaters near Woodbridge. The singer made frequent trips to London, taking impromptu stand-in gigs, and upon his discharge in '64, decided to stay. Within a year, he'd been recruited as frontman for Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band, named for the legendary Brixton hangout the RamJam Club, where older Jamaican immigrants mixed with young white mods, dancing to soul and ska records spun by DJs such as Duke Vin, Count Shelley, and Count Suckle. Touring the nation, the Ram Jam Band quickly became live legends on the '60s rock circuit, signing to Piccadilly by early '66, and breaking the UK Top 40 the same year with "Water." (Check it out on the 2000 Castle collection My Bombers My Dexy's My Highs: The Sixties Studio Sessions.) They headlined above the Small Faces (whom impatient crowds booed), Cream, and Jimi Hendrix before disbanding in 1970.

Washington returned to the States for the mellow decade, recording on occasion (a "comeback" album in '76, and some unreleased music with the Beach Boys) while otherwise studying hypnosis and meditation. But in 1981, Dexy's Midnight Runners released tribute single, "Geno," which became a number-one hit in the UK. The media attention brought Washington back to London for good, and he's been recording and performing ever since, though he touts his latest CD, 2003's Return of the G (produced by Ram Jam bass player Catfish Maitland), as the first to capture his live energy. Washington is currently booked around the UK through the summer of 2005 to promote the album, which is available through his web site and the Voiceprint label.

Washington has also published a fiction thriller, 2003's The Blood Brothers (Do-Not Press). Set in the late '60s, it follows the adventures of a black Vietnam vet named Robbie Jones, who travels from the jungles of South East Asia to the deserts of Mauritania fighting slavery and injustice. I wonder if he consulted Gino Washington for research.

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