Gingerbread woman: A Q&A with Genya Ravan
Written by Admin
Monday, 19 December 2011 22:23
A Q&A with Genya Ravan
Before there were the Go-Go’s, the Runaways, or Fanny,
there was Goldie and the Gingerbreads, the first all-
female band ever signed to a major label. Unlike other
girl groups of the ’60s, Goldie and the Gingerbreads played their
own instruments, and the groundbreaking group made a splash
in the U.K. with their 1965 hit single, “Can’t You Hear My Heart
Beat?” They toured with the likes of the Rolling Stones, the Kinks,
and the Yardbirds. Pioneering frontwoman Genya Ravan would
go on to front jazz-fusion band Ten Wheel Drive, have a solo
career, and become the first woman to produce records other
than her own.
Between recording and producing (her latest album, Undercover,
came out in 2010), writing (she’s working on a screenplay based on
her 2004 autobiography, Lollipop Lounge: Memoirs of a Rock and Roll
Refugee), and deejaying (she hosts two shows on Sirius XM’s “Little
Steven’s Underground Garage”), Ravan remains just as musically
minded as always. Today, Ravan and her former bandmates are finally
getting some long-overdue credit for their legacy at the current Rock
and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit, “Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion,
Power”—recognition that’s brought her career full circle.
When you were first starting out in Goldie and the Gingerbreads,
did you have to fight being seen as a novelty since the idea of an
all-female band was pretty much unheard of at the time? How did
your male peers react to the band?
We were considered a novelty till they heard us. Right from the first
note, they knew they were hearing and watching something special.
The U.S. was far more misogynistic than [Europeans]. In Europe
they said, “Wow, you are great!” and in the U.S., guys were like,
“Do you broads really wanna be in this business? Shouldn’t you be
home married with children?” I never let it bother me—it drove me
to become so good that male musicians would get embarrassed
when they followed us onstage. The thing that really bothered me
was how journalists would mention age [when writing about us].
They don’t say “Mick Jagger is in his 30s now” or talk about what
male groups wore that night.
What was the best thing about being in Goldie and
It was the best schooling [in] music anyone could get. I feel sorry
for the musicians today; they don’t get a chance to play clubs, learn,
jam. Radio just sucks today—it’s a fast-food industry. [In] older times
Your purchase of this digital edition makes it possible for us to thrive.
you didn’t get a contract for recording ’cause of payola, you got it
’cause you were good.
Do you have any plans to release a compilation of Goldie and the
Gingerbreads’ music in the future?
I believe there is enough to put out a full CD, [but] I am not sure
the quality of those records would hold up now. The other problem
is that the singles are on different labels: some on Atlantic records,
some on Decca England, some on Spokane, Scepter. It would be
hard to get an “okay” from all of them to put it all together.
Did you feel as if you had any trouble being taken seriously as a
female record producer since it is typically a job that men do?
I always got resistance, especially from engineers, but I would fire
[them] if they didn’t give me what I wanted. If it was an artist giv-
ing me a hard time, I would pass on them, too. I took no chances
when it came to my reputation. I remember an engineer telling me
how nervous he was about me because he heard I was tough. I said,
“Give me what I want and I’m an angel!” [What] bothers me is when
a male producer says what he wants [and] is called a genius. When I
say what I want, I’m “hard to work with.”
For more information about Ravan’s career, check out her official web-
site at genyaravan.com.
Genya Ravan - Lollipop Lounge - Memoirs of a Rock and Roll Refugee
Written by Admin
Monday, 19 December 2011 22:22
A daughter of Polish immigrants who - barely - escaped the Nazi Holocaust, Genya came to America and learned to love the country and, especially, its rock'n'roll. A lovely woman, she eventually started doing "cheesecake" modeling to make money and then, after sitting in with a band in Greenwich Village, decided to start her own group. But not just any band, she wanted an all-female band! And so, Goldie and the Gingerbreads were formed. This was in the early 60's and this was so unusual (obviously long before the Runaways or even Fanny) that they had no trouble getting gigs, despite having problems keeping members. They became the toast of NYC and even moved to England for a while, playing with - and screwing - some of the biggest stars of the time. Eventually the band split up, moved back to the states and Genya decided to start a jazz-influenced group, Ten Wheel Drive.
While 10 Wheel Drive did quite a lot and played some huge shows, Genya was never completely happy since this was someone else's concept. Of course, having an affair with one of the main guys in the band wasn't the best idea, either, and, after a couple of years, the group split apart. From there she attempted a solo career, but had bad luck with producers and management and was not happy. Eventually she learned record production and made a name for herself with that.
One of her most well-known productions is the Dead Boys' Young, Loud and Snotty, though she worked with quite a few other NYC punk/new wave groups and even produced Ronnie Spector's Siren LP with many of those same NYC rockers as session players. She has some very unkind words for Ronnie, supposedly in retaliation to comments made by Spector in her auto-biography.
Genya also had another shot at a solo career with one of her best known records, Urban Desire, but record company, management and promotional problems caused another crash and burn and contributed to her alcohol and drug abuse, which got out of hand at this point.
She wasted a number of years of her life on drugs and alcohol and, in a sickly ironic twist, once she began to recover from substance abuse, she discovered that she had cancer. This almost killed her, but she learned of her own inner strength that she didn't know that she had and, with the help of friends and family, beat the cancer and regained her life.
This is a story with many ups and downs - lots of fun times with r'n'r music and stars as well as desperate times of addiction and sickness. This shows the reality of the music business from someone who lived most aspects of it and lived it in its most interesting times. A very cool read.
July 08, '05
In her recent autobiography, Lollipop Lounge, Genya Ravan recalls opening for Sly and the Family Stone when an audience member shouted, “Sly!” Ravan abruptly stopped everything to tell the audience, “If you don’t want to listen to my music, I will get the fuck off. If you do want to listen to more of my music, then shut the fuck up.” She was promptly arrested for obscenity.
If the story doesn’t quite qualify Ravan as the original wild woman of rock, it certainly stakes her claim as a pioneer of bad-grrrl attitude—years before Courtney Love, Chrissie Hynde and even Janis Joplin, the singer to whom she was mercilessly compared in the late 60s and early 70s.
“I hated when they compared me [to Joplin],” she says today, older and perhaps a bit softer. “I also understood why—but not at the time. At the time I was just really pissed off.”
Sure, like Joplin, Ravan hollers with chilling intensity, but she also has a gentler, reflective side that lets her “explore” jazz and soul with conviction and chops. In today’s music, when young singers prove their “eclecticism” by trying on different styles like Sean John sportswear, Ravan stands out as a true original. “R&B is what I was listening to as a child on the Lower East Side. One, two in the morning—my ear glued to the radio so my mother couldn’t hear it. I learned really how to speak English through music.”
Born Goldie Zelkowitz in Poland, Ravan came to New York at the outset of 1947, having survived the Holocaust in labor camps with her mother, father, and sister. As a young woman she worked as a “cheesecake model” before releasing her first single in 1962. Later, she formed what was arguably the first successful female rock band, Goldie and the Gingerbreads, fronted the jazz-funk group Ten Wheel Drive, then went solo in the early 70s. Her career peaked with the success of Urban Desire (1978), regarded as a classic of New Wave. But in the mid 80s, VH1-style everything collapsed.
“I bottomed on cocaine, on booze. I lost everything. Right after [losing] my own record company, Polish [as in ‘buff’] Records, I went into seclusion.”
Then came even worse news: Ravan was diagnosed with lung cancer.
“Oh, long story, honey. They said I had third stage and I had maybe three to six months to live. I remember just thinking, ‘What the hell is money about? What the hell is any of this about except living, breathing and looking at nature?’”
With manic determination, Ravan fought back, kicked drugs and cancer, and returned to performing. Her show at the Cutting Room will be recorded for CD and promises to be an emotional knockout.
“From performing recently, I almost embarrass myself because I am so out there. I’m being so intimate that I feel almost exposed. I think that’s where all my feelings are. That’s my primal scream.”
Cutting Room, 19 W. 24th St. (betw. B’way & 6th Ave.), 212-691-1900; 8, $10
--- David Freeland
Curled up with a good book - Review of Lollipop lounge
CURLED UP WITH A GOOD BOOK - REVIEW OF LOLLIPOP LOUNGE
© 2005 by Steven Rosen for curledup.com.
There are a lot of these types of books out there - tell-alls, behind-the-scenes, groupies with gossip - but this is real. This is told by a singer who lived the life and truly understood what it was all about. Genya Ravan was a wild and wonderful singer who combined a sort of do-wop, R&B, blues and rock style into a vocal presentation all her own. This is a book of her rise to fame and of all the falls along the way.
In Lollipop Lounge, she talks about touring with the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, the Kinks, and the Hollies, and fronting her own jazz/rock/fusion outfit, Ten Wheel Drive. She survived those tours, as well as a terrible bout with cancer, and the stories she shares here are full of humor and compassion and a deep understanding that the real miracle of her life - is her life. But the tales are remarkable. Here, she documents her first meeting with guitar virtuoso, Jeff Beck:
"He (Jeff) said, 'My guitar got stolen ... my favorite guitar.' I could hardly understand him between his crying and his heavy English accent. Then he added: 'And my wife has left me.'"
I handed him a tissue, and he started to calm down. "What's your name?" I asked.
"What band are you with?"
"Oh, yeah, the Yardbirds,' I said. "Look, you'll get another guitar."
He sobbed louder. "Never!" He spat out the word. "Not like this guitar."
"Maybe your wife will have a change of heart and come back to you on day."
"This guitar was special."
Humor. Sympathy. The deep, penetrating wisdom of a Polish Jew/rock singer. A tremendous book. Get it and understand what the '60s were really like.
Hollywood Reporter Book Review - Lollipop Lounge
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll are all well and good, but as the years pass they get harder to do gracefully. Well, at least the drugs and rock 'n' roll part, hangovers and amp-induced tinnitus taking longer and longer to recover from and hurting more than they did in the old days.
Just ask Pete Townshend (news). Just ask Walter Yetnikoff. Just ask Genya Ravan, who comes roaring into the pages of her book, "Lollipop Lounge: Memoirs of a Rock and Roll Refugee," and leaves it, if not exactly lamb-like, noticeably subdued.
Ravan bowed onto the music scene in the early 1960s, making her onstage debut with a now-forgotten band that came to be known as Goldie and the Escorts and that played tough New York clubs doing six 45-minute sets a night. ("I'm surprised I still have a voice left," she writes.) At one such club she met young Ginger Panabiaco, a then-rare female drummer, and the two put together an all-girl band, Goldie and the Gingerbreads. The players sometimes didn't mix well; of her first guitarist, Ravan writes, "She was cashmere sweaters, clean sneakers, and folded clothes. It was a real culture-clash. I wanted to throw up every time she spoke, but I managed to hold my peace."
Good thing, too, for even if most youngsters today will never have heard of Goldie and the Gingerbreads, the band made a wall-shaking sound -- and enough money that, Ravan recalls, she could pay cash for a brand-new car after one tour of American military bases. The soldiers loved them, while the rest of the country, Ravan ventures, wondered whether they were a "lezzy band" or just plain bad news: After all, she recalls, "at the time we all looked like Annette Funicello (news) after a rough one-nighter," that one well-groomed guitarist having since left them.
By 1964, Goldie and the Gingerbreads were rock royalty, signed to Columbia Records, regulars at the famed Peppermint Lounge. Soon they would be touring Europe with the Kinks, the Stones, the Animals, and other British Invasion acts, about whom Ravan has plenty of snarky gossip to dish out.
But Ravan's star began to dim in the late '60s, when pop gave way to heavier stuff. She played for a few years with a jazz-pop fusion band called Ten Wheel Drive, which brought the world a one-time-only rock opera based on Custer's Last Stand. That may sound unpromising, but, Ravan retorts, "I swear to this day that, if that performance had been recorded, Ten Wheel Drive would have gone down in music history."
What happened instead was a cycle of bruising relationships, oceans of booze and mounds of cocaine. The gigs dried up, but Ravan was able to bring her skills into the studio as a producer, working with legendary punk act the Dead Boys and, less successfully, Ronnie Spector. All the while, the excesses started to catch up, and Ravan's later chapters are marked by an affecting, even scary sequence of bottoming-out episodes that eventually turned her around.
Much of Ravan's memoir is the stuff of the usual "Where Are They Now?" rockumentary: bad career choices, dodgy record executives, outlandish and strange behavior (who would have known that Mick Jagger (news) was afraid of wheelchairs?), insatiable appetites. But even though it's not the best-written of rock memoirs (for that we have Ray Davies (news)' "X-Ray"), it shines with Ravan's sometimes rueful candor and self-targeting humor. She's a survivor, and anyone interested in rock history will find good things in her pages.