"Gino is a Coward" is the song Springsteen based his 1988 Tunnel of Love Express tour show piece on, "I'm a Coward." It's one of those songs that prove that R&R lyrics do not have to be all that elaborate or sophisticated to really make a connection. "Gino is a Coward" is of the most simple poetry, yet it perfectly captures an emotion a lot of us are only all to familiar with. Within those rambling guitars and gusto vocals Gino Washington bares his Soul, he confesses a fear most of us like to leave unspoken, that we're simply affraid of love. We might just feel more fear for love than that grizzly bear Gino likes to wrestle. Love does have that power to paralyze us, to make you feel like your heart is bleeding on the floor. Love is a roller coaster ride of emotions, where it is not all that certain that the cart will stay on the tracks. Now, be honest, who isn't just a little scared of that! It is not without irony that the B-side is the haunting "Puppet on a String."
Gino Washington is one of those more rough and raggedy talents that got eclipsed by Motown's sun. With Detroit buddy's Nathaniel Mayer and Nolan Strong, he never gained the fame of a Marvin Gaye, but did become one of those cult figures that gained a quaint following amongst Garage bands and R&B fans who were drawn to the more unpolished side of the equation. Gino's dad had been a failed Blues singer, so Gino was aware of the disappointments the trade could bring. Yet when he saw Jackie Wilson perform, Gino knew what he wanted, he wanted to be on stage. After winning the talent contest on local television's Milky's Party Time four times in a row, Gino got his break with the fledging Correc-Tone label. "I'm a Coward" was the first single he ever cut, what a way to introduce yourself. Very few copies on this label were ever printed and very rare indeed today. The Ric-Tic version presented here is a re-recording of that very song, without the horn arrangement that is so prominently there in Springsteen's version. In the liner notes for the excellent compilation Gino explains what happened. "With the first time I cut the song, with the horns, it bombed! The arrangement was all wrong, so I went in with Jeff and the Atlantics and tried my arrangement". Correc-Tone than put the single out on their subsidiary Sonbert, when the song broke in Detroit Ric-Tic picked it up nationally.
By the time "Gino is a Coward" started to hit, there was only one thing keeping Gino from the top, those pesky Beatles. As influential as the Beatles may have been, they did change the market. Just when white teen-agers started to discover R&B and allowing people like Gino Washington and Gary 'US' Bonds some cross-over success, the Beatles gave those very white teens a clean cut, easier to identify with, alternative. Though in Gino's case it might also have had something to do with his way of doing business. As Jeff remembers in those same liner notes, the shows were getting bigger and bigger after "Gino is a Coward" hit. Gino got the chance to open up for quite a few big names, the Four Seasons, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones. The problem was Gino was always late. He'd walk in the very last minute, dressed to kill looking ready to do business. The promoter got fed up with them and when Gino showed up late for the Beach Boys gig, he yelled; "That's it you're not doing the Beatles." If the reaction he evoked during the live shows is any indication, Gino could have been bound for much greater things. Not everybody gets an audience hollering his name, "Gino! Gino! Gino!," during a Rolling Stones concert! If you want to know what Gino is all about, keep an eye on him. He's still out there on the road somewhere, like at last edition of the Ponderosa Stomp! What ever you do though, don't ever mistake him for that fraud Geno Washinton!
"Gino is a Coward"
Available on Out of This World