Special thanks to Sarah Crisman for conducting this excellent interview!

Gino “Lockjohnson” Iglehart: Growing up on Camp Wisdom Soul

Interview by Sarah Crisman, October 27, 2010

Gino “Lockjohnson” Iglehart is as comforting and familiar a presence in Dallas as the bright red Pegasus anchored atop the Magnolia Hotel downtown.  Born and bred in the Gospel crowd and as part of the Camp Wisdom family – a collective of influential musicians who grew up along Camp Wisdom road in Oak Cliff.  Save for his college years spent at Southern University in Baton Rouge and a year spent commuting between New Jersey and Dallas – Lockjohnson has been a staple drummer and community supporter his entire life.  As is wont to happen to the talented cats here in Dallas, Gino was scooped up by Erykah Badu’s camp in the early days along with the rest of the Camp Wisdom crew, including N’Dambi, Geno Young, Braylon Lacy, and Grammy-winners Robert “Sput Searight, Shaun Martin, and RC Williams.  Lockjohnson played and wrote on Mama’s Gun, toured extensively with the Badu camp, and served as Erykah’s Musical Director for five years.

I sat down with Gino last week and he gave me a very candid look at the interpersonal relationships, tensions, and lessons learned from his years spent working with this tight family of musicians.  Gino will debut his own original work this Friday, November 5th, at Arnetic in Deep Ellum — Right down the street from where this soul revolution first took shape.

You grew up in Oak Cliff in the same neighborhood as Geno, Sput, and Shaun.  Unlike many of your neighbors who went on to Arts Magnet, your musical roots were honed in your Gospel upbringing, correct?

Yes.  I was a PK (Preacher’s Kid) – preacher’s grandkid, nephew, cousin, all that.  My whole family is in the ministry and the majority of them play something.  My dad thinks he can play organ, but he’s awful.  He also thinks he can play guitar and it’s even worse.  But he can sing and he can preach.

Where did the nickname “Lockjohnson” come from?  I’m just curious.

We were recording the Tunin Up & Cosignin album for N’Dambi with the Camp Wisdom family.  On this particular song, Keith Taylor was playing bass.  We had played this stuff before, but we hadn’t recorded it, so we were trying to generalize the ideas.  He was trying to learn this bass line, but I’m in my own world in the isolation booth and I’m playing the song, ready to get at it.  He just shouts out “Got dang, Lockjohnson, lemme get the song first!” The whole room fell out, lit up with laughter and that was that.  Thank you, Keith Taylor.

I keep hearing about the Camp Wisdom family; tell me about this particular group of individuals.

The street, Camp Wisdom, connected all of the members in some kind of way.  You could get to each one of our houses within five minutes using Camp Wisdom:  Shaun Martin, RC Williams, Geno Young, Braylon Lacy, Sput, Jason Davis, and Madukwu Chinwah.  It was a big Oak Cliff thing (though Jason is a South Dallas cat– the Night Mayor of South Dallas, as we call him).  The first meeting for the band was in my living room.  Shaun and I were playing for Friendship West, Geno had just come back from Howard… but the story was much more vast than that.  I can’t just sum up Camp Wisdom from that meeting. I have to go way back.

Go for it.  Go back.

Before Sankofa was born, there was a place called Kaladus that was really the birthplace of Camp Wisdom.  We were all looking for an outlet.  We had been playing in all the jazz clubs and wherever else we could.  Even though I wasn’t a part of the Arts Magnet “school crowd,” I knew all the guys from church.  Anytime anyone was playing anywhere, I would go and check them out.  Whether it was SoHo’s in Addison (we could get in there), or Sambuca.  I really didn’t start getting out onto the music scene listening until I was 16 or 17.  My family is kind of strict when it comes to the religious/spiritual side.  They weren’t trying to hear me say at 16/17 that I wanted to go to Sambuca to hear my friends play.  Whereas for Shaun and Sput that was normal; it was what they were going to school for.  Sambuca was the place you could go play and it was cool at our age.  Right there in Deep Ellum – and Deep Ellum was jumpin’ — serious music scene back then.  You could find anything any night of the week.  I grew up in church playing drums my whole life, but it was not something I wanted to do for a living.  I wanted to play soccer and own a barber shop, and figured eventually I would become a preacher.

At this point everybody was getting to know everybody from playing in church and musicals here and there, then Kaladus was born and this sound was birthed that we were all familiar with.  We hadn’t grasped what had just started.

What was familiar about this sound?

The soul.

Do you think that was a church thing?

It came from the church roots, and it came from what we all knew and that happened to be the same thing: Soul.  James and Marvin and Donny… You’d have conversations with guys at gigs about what they were listening to.  We were fresh in this music thing and in understanding what was in our ears.  The conversations were starting to get deeper.  Now we wanted to do records.  By this time, the God’s Property had come out and they were phenoms.  We got all amped up and “that’s my boy!  Sput!  Peebody!  The whole crew.” Everyone was excited and realized they could be next.  I played with God’s Property before, that’s me!  We were excited, but we didn’t know how to wrap it up yet; it was still undressed, very naked.  Kaladus was real gut-bucket, grassroots.  People were doing poems, they were singing.  Mind you, this is before they dubbed it open mic.  It was just rockin’ the mic.  I had a real cheesed-up drum kit; someone would be playing the keyboard in their lap because they couldn’t afford a stand yet.  It was real, uh –

Janky?

Yeah!  But it was so much fun!  N’Dambi was already on the scene making noise.  People knew her as Chonita from the church scene.  I got hip to N’Dambi by meeting Geno Young.  I would dub Geno the godfather, really, because all of our connections to N’Dambi and Erykah funneled through Geno.  I was working on a job before I ever knew who Erykah was, playing in little jazz sets, but I haven’t heard the name Erykah Badu yet.  I had met N’Dambi, but hadn’t worked with her yet.  So I’m sitting at my desk one day, on the job, and “On & On” comes on the radio.  I’m listening to it and it feels so right.  I said that sounds like me! I play like that.  I could do that! I can’t remember what my title was—but I was in a desk and I had a title, Supervisor of Corporate Services.  I was doing a spreadsheet and I said “I’m gonna play for her one day.”  Less than a year later, I was.

Tell me about that infamous Velvet Elvis gig in 1998.

The Velvet E!  I linked up with N’Dambi through Geno and the Velvet E was her show.  It was such a dope venue, I hate that they tore it down.  All the different bands playing that night happened to be all the cats.  This is still before we were dubbed Camp Wisdom – man, this story is great because this is the first time we meet Bernard Wright!  I didn’t know the history of Bernard up to that point; I just know who Bernard Wright is.

This was the first time outside of bootleg shows at Kaladus that I had actually played with N’Dambi.  This was the big hoorah.  That night was monumental.  Geno had been singing backup for Erykah at this point and was sending us updates and gettin’ hip to what was happening on the road.  There weren’t any issues, really, but Erykah was still fresh.  She didn’t put together her first band, the label did.  It was a power trio.  She felt like wanted and needed more.  She’s very much a control freak (like the label said), and she wanted to have her snap from Dallas.  Meanwhile Bugg (Geno) is singing backup for her and she made sense of it and asked him to put something together for her.  N’Dambi and Erykah had a checks and balances system — they made a pact when they were comin’ up that whoever gets on first has the other sing background and then they flip until the light.  Now, that never really happened, but N’Dambi did her thing regardless.

We had a rehearsal at Geno’s house.  Madukwu played guitar, Sput was on keys, Braylon Lacy was on bass, Aisha Searight and Carmen Rodgers were singing background.  I got to Geno’s house and there was this cat there lookin’ frail but real funky.  I looked closer and said “Shit!  That’s Bernard Wright.”

“Yeah, this is Bernard.” N’Dambi said, “He play so good, he playin’ tonight.”

We were in awe.  Nobody had seen Bernard in a long time.  I didn’t even know he was living in Texas.  This was a pivotal point in my life.  I was not considering drums as a career until that night.  They let me go from my desk job, and I was making good money playing at Friendship West; was married and had a son, daughter on the way.  Then I started gigging more.  But that N’Dambi gig set it off.  The buzz was in the air, Bugg hipped us to it that Erykah was lookin’ for a new situation.  She wanted to change the band.  I said I’m down, I want it to be us.

That night at the Velvet E – Sarah, I play everywhere.  Everywhere. In front of lots and lots of people.  But that night at the Velvet E was one of the top three I ever played in my life.  Energy wise – I like it when the people are stacked up on each other like knuckles and fists.  Man, it was crazy.  Erykah was in the balcony so you could see her straight forward.  The place was big enough, but not that big.  I was lookin’ at Erykah and it was like the spotlight was shone right on her.  You just couldn’t believe it.  It was a dope show.  Erykah was vibin’ the whole time, real hard.  She came up and did a number.  I can’t remember what she sung but I remember it was one of them tearjerkin’ moments.

After the show, as I was breaking down, Erykah came up to me and said she enjoyed my playing.  I think I want you to play for me, she said, Bugg’s gonna set up something.  I want to hear you again.

I went into the audition nervous because it was my boy sitting next to me.  I got this huge affinity for Peebody – that is my dude.  I knew if I got this gig, Peebody wouldn’t.  That sucked.  (I don’t know what he was feelin’ but that was my thought).  I wanted my man to be on, too!  I did me and she chose me.  Thus began Mama’s Gun/Super Music Industry tutorial.  It was exactly like boot camp.  I’ve never been as tired from a show or rehearsal as when working with Erykah.  Never.  I couldn’t do anything else.  I’d go home to my family and wouldn’t be able to function.  Dad was drained.  It was intense.  There wasn’t really a lot going on, she’s just very meticulous.  Her ears were growing to this new sound she was hearing behind her.  Our ears were being honed – I liken it to the James Brown experience.  They talk about how meticulous he was and how you had to watch.  You couldn’t sneeze, blink, cough, look down or you gonna miss something.  The first three years I played with her, I only hit the open snare maybe three times during an hour/hour and a half set.  Everything was rim shot.  She wanted everything to sound like a sample.

I played with her for ten years.  Five of was just playing drums, and the last five I was musical director.  There was a lot learned, a lot went on.  In that ten year span I was fired once – at church!  Before I went on the first US tour with Erykah, I did a Japanese tour with her for Mama’s Gun. I played on the record and I had done all the shows up to that point.  I let my church job go because we were going to be out for the whole summer.  Erykah had just joined Friendship West, which was cool because we were “one big happy family.”  Well, Badu has this thing that if it’s from New York or the East Coast, it’s validated.  If it’s not from the East Coast – music or person – then it’s not validated until the East Coast says so.  She was heavy in bed with The Roots at that time.  Her and ?uest and James Poyser got this whole brother-sister thing.  At that time, Frankie Knuckles was playing percussion for D’Angelo on the VooDoo tour.  Frankie is Amir’s boy.  They were in Erykah’s ear saying you gotta try my boy; I wanna hear how he sounds playing your set—he plays like Quest! Then without ever hearing him, she decides to go with Frankie Knuckles.  Now here I am at church, go up to talk to her by the altar while she waits to greet Pastor Haynes, and my family is 15 feet away.  Erykah said I gotta talk to you.  I really want to try someone else on drums. Now I just kept the same smile on my face because this is my church home.  She said I love you and everything; it’s just something I’ve got to try out.

How did that work out for her?

It didn’t fare very well toward the end.

When were you un-fired?

After that summer run.  They came home from the US run and went straight to Europe.  The whole tour I was getting updates Yo this cat sucks ass. It was a tumultuous experience because my guys all knew.  It was all the Dallas cats.  Shaun wasn’t on the gig anymore, RC Williams was on now.  Kirk Franklin realized the true power of Shaun Martin.  One day the light bulb really came on for Kirk, and then Shaun had a more stable situation.  But my dudes knew that I was about to get canned.  That fucked with me for a long time.  We’re family!  I dig the business, I get that.  At the end of the day it’s Erykah’s call.  I was put in those shoes later on, but that stung – and my family was standing right there.

Frankie Knuckles is cool.  It took us awhile to get to the cool point.  I wound up on the road with this dude.  Erykah called two days before we were set to leave, wantin’ me to come back and play.  The great part of not being on the road was that it forced me to make my own thing happen here.  When they came off the road, I had things poppin’.  While they were out, something told me to start playing percussion, so I added a small percussion rig to the left side of my drum kit.  Now I’m multi-tasking, sheddin’ on percussion.  Two days before I’m set to finally go back out with Erykah, she calls and says she’s going to let Frank finish this tour run, but will I play percussion?  I laughed and said sure.  That whole time they were out God was preparing me to play percussion on my first US run with Badu.

While we’re out on the road, it was tense.  Frankie created this wall for himself within the family.  Nothing ever really clicked.  He was a cool cat, he just didn’t warm up.  Now that I’m back it was weird because he thought I was trying to take his job.  But that wasn’t the case.  I was called to play drums, then she wanted me on percussion – but that wasn’t a conversation that we had.  As far as perception goes, this dude was back and he was feeling the pressure.  I mean, I’m not Dennis Chambers.  I’m not even Spanky.  But can’t nobody outplay Gino playing Gino.  I’ve got this vibe and this rapport with the band and with Erykah.  We were in Denver and everything just came to a head.  We had this big band meeting and Erykah apologized to me in front of the production staff, band, management and Frank and says “I shoulda never fired you.”

What happened to Frank after that?

He ended the rest of the run.

And he’s fine, he’s with The Roots.

Yeah, he’s on Jimmy Fallon.  He’s straight.  He’s cool.  That was another monumental place for me.  Erykah Badu apologized to me, and she is not an apologizer.  She got butt-naked in front of the JFK monument and didn’t apologize.  It was pretty intense.  It was just God bringing everything full circle.  I had just bought a house right before I was fired.  It was a whole ‘nother level of humility.  I don’t know if I was getting beside myself when I got the Erykah gig that God needed to bring me down a peg.  I felt like I learned my lesson and he raised me back up.

So let’s talk about now.  You are writing your own music now?

I started writing because of all the years of music and the Erykah experience.  I saw that if I ever really want to do anything, I gotta do more than just hit this snare drum.  I gotta write.  I started writing trying to get placements on her records, but I’m a lyricist.  Erykah is definitely her own lyricists – you not writing any lyrics unless it’s your verse on a duet, and then it gotta be approved.  I write the lyrics and the melody that goes with it.  Then I’ll strip my lyrics if I want to present it to another artist to write to and I’ll still have my own lyrics if they need it, so they can add to it or take the whole body of work.  I noticed with everything I wrote, none of it fit her.  I was ten songs in before I realized I was a writer.  I had been concentrating on her but nothing fit her, and yet the songs are still forming.  I didn’t notice.  I was such a robot.  Everything I did was programmed to please Badu – I hope E likes this. I wasn’t trying to have a one track mind; I was playing with other artists and doing my own hustlin’.  Even after the whole firing and everything, I still admired her so much.  Now I have this body of work.

Who does it fit?

I’m actually singing a majority of it.  Some I’m actually in front of the kit while someone else is playing.  It’s a huge culture shock for me.  I host and have sung some of my works before, but not this Gino.  The past five years have been really interesting.  From the time I divorced until now, a lot has gone on.

What has that done to your writing?

I write what I feel.  Most of my perspective is the male that got done dirty.  Usually it’s the woman crying that a man did her wrong but men have that, too.  We don’t hear a lot of those.  It’s either us beggin’ and pleadin’ or we want to see you shake your ass on the dance floor.  Nobody’s really saying ‘no, you didn’t do me right.’ That exists.

You mean there’s a third thought?!

Not saying that my whole relationship existence has been me getting’ done dirty, but I started writing when I needed to voice those things.  I have some feel good, I have some Need Your Love songs, I have some Rock Your Body, some that make you think.  I’m interested to hear it played in front of people to see what they think.

Who’d you pick to play with you for this first round out?  Have many people heard this?

No.  No one has heard this material.  It’s all fresh.  One song has been heard, but people don’t remember it because it went by them so fast at one of the Go Go parties with my band, Ivory Jean.  The sound didn’t really help get the point of the track across, so it flew by.  I could tell no one really heard it.

I got Marcus Roberts on keys, Xavier Jackson, also on keys, Justin LYONS on bass, Jason BELL on guitar, and I hired the Soul Committee last night.  Geno Young is hosting and Jay Clipp is spinnin’.

This is a debut for you in so many ways, even as a familiar presence here on the scene.

I want to stay relevant.  I feel like I get lost in the shuffle.  Out of the whole crew, I’m the emotional one.  A lot of the things that have gone on from back in the day until now, and a lot of the things that could have but either haven’t or stalled isn’t because guys didn’t like how they were playing – it’s because of relationships.  It’s hard to look past your pain to share five feet of space with someone on stage when you don’t like them or they don’t like you or you’ve got into odds.  I’m not talking about ‘you owe me $5’; I’m talking about we’ve known each other our whole lives and somebody has bruised the other.  It’s hard to do.  This has helped me pick myself back up.  I was almost in a depression a couple weeks ago when we went to Baton Rouge with Geno and Shaun.  We were talking at dinner with Taron Lockett, and Shaun asked me the same stuff about the album – he’s got like six tunes with me on the record.  I said man, I’ve been depressed.  Y’all are my friends and I’ve been depressed.  I’ve been sitting in the house with the blinds drawn, contemplating retiring.  I don’t feel needed.  I don’t feel wanted within my musical self.  Sometimes I feel like a joke.  Oh, Gino used to do this, but where is he now?

What was the turning point?  What snapped you out of it?

Nothing but God and deciding not to give up.  I’ve seen a lot of shit, I’ve done a lot of shit.  I’ve done plenty to make me unfavorable.  I’m not the Said Some Things guy.  If I offend you, it’s because I did something.  I’m brash and in your face.  I won’t say nothing, but you will know it was me.  Like it or not.  I was in a dark place.  I think it was when I listened to “Shoulda” – that was it!  Yeah.  I put on the record, went right to “Shoulda” and as soon as it came on I said fuck that, I’m relevant.

You wrote that.

Yes, I did.  I’m still me.  I need to do this.  That’s when I said yeah.  It gets hard when I look at stage and I’m looking at my band; I’m looking at Camp Wisdom.  The Gritz is literally Camp Wisdom without me on drums.  That’s hard when you see your family and yet somehow you aren’t included.  Is it me? Do I need to go back in the shed?  What is it?  I’m supportive.  Everything is seasonal, and I’m cool with that.  That does not block out that painful mindset.  I call it the human frailty factor.  It can get a brittle at times.  That’s N’Dambi up there, that’s The Gritz – it’s everybody but me.  Like I said, you just have to move past that and find where your existence is.