|courtesy of www.urban75.org|
Named after a soul band fronted by Geno Washington, the club's music mix of ska and soul made it a popular hang out for youngsters from the local, predominantly West Indian, population; but it wasn’t long before Mods, who were always on the hunt for something new, joined in- packing the place out! In the mid 60’s the venue was avant-garde in hosting ‘progressive’ acts such as Cream, Spencer Davis Group, and in December 1966 newcomer Jimi Hendrix.
One of the club's bouncers was nicknamed ‘Tiger’, due to the fact that he usually wore an American silk cotton bomber jacket with a tiger's face imprinted on the back. We all had great respect for ‘Tiger’; though there was very little trouble in the club, when there was- the big bouncer cleared it up in no time. Tiger- who’s real name was Alexander Hughes- had lived in Brixton, lodging with the same West Indian family, for years. He could speak Jamaican Creole, like a native; a talent that would benefit him in the years to come.
The 12th of October 1966 is a Wednesday, and the club though not full, has a few more guests than usual, most of them have traveled to see the headline act- John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and some to see the supporting act- Jimi Hendrix’s Experience. Jimi had only been in England a few months but his popularity was growing fast; and not only his guitar virtuosity. Jimi had been known to smash and burn his guitar during his performances; the Ram Jam’s management for safety, or whatever other reason, did not want him to do this in their club. I’m sure that Jimi had been told this before the gig, but the bouncer on duty, Tiger, reminded him before he went stage. On most weekdays you would find me at the Ram Jam, so it was not due to Jimi or Mayall that I was at the club that night. Being up on the second floor of the establishment, having a smoke and drinking a coke, I wasn’t near Tiger when he cautioned Jimi, but my mate Spencer was, and he came up and told us what he'd heard, “Tiger just told that ‘Endrix geezer, he’d have him off the stage in a flash, if he so much as pulled a match out of his pocket”- or words to that effect, whatever he said, it was enough to awake my interest to go down the spiral staircase, and see music history in the making. Just a short note- lead guitarist with the Bluesbreakers was Peter Green, two legends in one night!
As mentioned before, Alex was a friendly but tough character, and it was the combination of both these traits that made him popular not only with the Ram Jam’s customers, but also the performing artists who also made use of his ‘minder’ services. It was in the course of these events that the image Alex ‘Tiger’ Hughes faded, and using the title of a Prince Buster hit, the persona Alex ‘Judge Dread’ Hughes appeared. Judge Dread had always been a big ska and blue beat fan, and so with a little help from his mates, Prince Buster and Derrick Morgan, combined with his skill as a “tongue in cheek” lyricist, Judge Dread released his first single, Big Six, a brazen cover of Prince Buster’s Big Five.
Judge Dread, who sadly died in 1998, went on to being some thing of a legend himself, being the first ‘white’ reggae star to have a hit in Jamaica- 11 UK chart hits in the 70’s- more than Bob Marley himself, and the one that I’m sure Alex would be proud of- the honour of having the highest amount of banned records of all time! Modern day rappers: beat that!
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