Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, and musician Geno Young has the world in the palm of his hand. An alumnus of Dallas, Texas’ Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts–which has turned out a most impressive cavalcade of artists including heavyweights like Erykah Badu, Roy Hargrove, RC Williams, Robert “Sput” Searight, and yours truly, Rhonda Nicole–and Howard University, Geno is at the centre of the new soul movement. That movement includes musicians such as Carmen Rodgers, Eric Roberson, Anthony David, and N’Dambi. With his critically-acclaimed debut release The Ghetto Symphony and his highly-anticipated follow-up entitled Ear Hustler, Geno has left his indelible imprint on music lovers and artists across the globe.
For the second installment of the Artist to Artist series, SoulTrain.com caught up with the masterful Geno Young to talk about the new CD, his latest live music venture in his hometown (The Camp Wisdom music series), and how he made the leap from hometown hero to world renown.
SoulTrain.com: You are a bit of a musical jack of all trades, donning the hat of performing artist, songwriter, producer, and musical director with amazing skill and ease. Which of these roles gives you the most satisfaction?
Geno Young: That’s a difficult one for me, but I think performing is probably the thing that comes most naturally. I’m the most comfortable when I’m on the stage, connecting with the music and the audience. But I also enjoy producing and creative process—it’s very intimate and you’re involved in creating something new.
SoulTrain.com: How did you actually begin your professional career?
Geno Young: When I was at Howard, I did my share of performing and cutting my teeth in different groups as a musician playing the keyboard and singing background. College was like the breeding ground, with me getting out there and gigging. And that led to being a music director for artists like Erykah Badu. So it was a progression from being a struggling musician to actually getting paid every now and then, and so on.
SoulTrain.com: You’ve worked with some of the most innovative artists in the industry. How do those collaborations and relationships develop, and what are some of the more memorable experiences you’ve had working with different musicians?
Geno Young: I have to give Erykah lots of credit, because so many of these relationships developed from knowing and working with her and sharing in her success. They also came from growing up in Dallas, and attending Booker T., knowing some of the same people and having the same musical colleagues [as Erykah Badu]. Working with her and being on the road with her was definitely a springboard that led me down the path to working with many more artists. She’s the link.
There are so many memories I have of being on the road and working with different artists, it’s hard to pinpoint just one. But I will say that watching artists like Erykah—who taught me by her example how to be free, how to write and arrange from your heart–and being part of the creative process are the things that stand out most for me. I learned how to be a real artist, not just a singer and a musician.
SoulTrain.com: Let’s talk about your new release, Ear Hustler. Where did the title come from?
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Geno Young: I teach music to elementary school kids, and “ear hustling” was a phrase the kids always used when someone was in somebody else’s business—dippin’. And when I heard them saying it back and forth it stuck with me, and I equated it to what I was trying to do as an artist—to use all that’s around me to get to your ears and dip into your business musically.
SoulTrain.com: You took several years between the new project and your debut CD The Ghetto Symphony. Was that deliberate?
Geno Young: I kind of did it on purpose. Releasing music independently like we do, sometimes you’re amazed and really fortunate that the first release reached so many people at home and overseas. But independent albums also have a life of their own, and while a lot of people know you and recognize your music there’s still so much more ground to conquer. Anytime I’d begin trying to work on a new project, I’d realize there were still areas or markets I hadn’t been in or hadn’t approached. So I just kept moving with The Ghetto Symphony until it stopped moving. But I also wanted to make sure I had something to say and not just doing an album because time had passed.
SoulTrain.com: Earlier this year you launched a live music venture in Dallas called The Camp Wisdom Series. Tell our SoulTrain.com audience how the series came to be, and the significance of “Camp Wisdom”.
Geno Young: Camp Wisdom is a group of guys, most of whom attended Booker T., that have been friends for years and grew up together in the same neighborhood. We eventually became the nucleus of the band that played with Erykah and produced for N’Dambi and Carmen Rodgers. It’s a unit of brothers who’ve won Grammys producing for people like Kirk Franklin, who make music in Dallas and are a little bit unsung but we’re everywhere. If you read the liner notes of certain albums you’ll see our names. The name Camp Wisdom comes from the neighborhood of Oak Cliff where we all grew up. The idea for the music series was inspired by the fact that we’d done all this music and all this traveling, but we’d never really gigged in Oak Cliff. So we approached the Kessler Theatre and Dallas music writer Sarah Crisman, and said let’s bring the sound that was created in this neighborhood, and the artists who helped create it, back to Oak Cliff.
SoulTrain.com: If you could assemble the ultimate band of your dreams, who would be in it?
Geno Young: I’d put Braylon Lacy, one of our Camp Wisdom brothers, on bass; on drums, I’m going to pick another Dallas legend, Robert “Sput” Searight and also Bernard Purdy. On keys, Herbie Hancock, and I’d put Donnie Hathaway on another keyboard with a boomstand and mic so he can sing as well. Then when Donnie decided to get up from the keys I’d have (fellow Dallas musician) Shaun Martin sub for him. On guitar, I’d just go ahead and go with Prince, just because! And then, if anybody got sick it’d be fine because he could play everything else, too!
SoulTrain.com: 2011 marks the 40th anniversary of Soul Train. Share with us some of your fondest memories of the TV show.
Geno Young: Soul Train was a social event when we were growing up! I remember my dad taping Soul Train and everything at the house stopped when it came on. It connected us culturally, seeing the dances they were doing and the fashions on the west coast. My favorite moment was seeing James Brown performing live, and a young Rev. Al Sharpton presenting him with an award from the youth of New York. And that moment brought to light the kind of social mecca Soul Train was for our community. I really don’t know where Black music would be without Soul Train, honestly.
– Rhonda Nicole
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