This is an unedited version of an interview that I did with one of my musical heroes, Genya Ravan, that appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of Bitch Magazine. This version is longer and has more questions than the interview that was published. To see the interview as it appeared in Bitch, check out: Genya Ravan’s Official Website Press Page
“Walking In Different Circles”: An Interview with Genya Ravan
By Bess Korey
During the 1960’s, Genya Ravan was a founding member of the first all-female band ever signed to a major label, Goldie and the Gingerbreads. The band is finally getting some long overdue credit for their accomplishments at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit “Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power”, which opened May 13th, 2011 and will be running until February 26th, 2012. Unfortunately Goldie and the Gingerbreads never broke big in the U.S., but they had a hit song in the U.K. called “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat”. Their catchy pop sound and vocal harmonizing was reminiscent of other Girl Groups of the mid ‘60s, and because of that, their song “Walking In Different Circles” can be found on the Rhino Records box set, One Kiss Can Lead To Another: Girl Group Sounds, Lost & Found. Unlike most of their contemporaries that can be found on this box set, Goldie and the Gingerbreads played their own instruments and were not just a vocal group, which was a very groundbreaking thing for women to be doing at the time.
Listening to Goldie and the Gingerbreads, it is clear that Ravan is a talented singer, but her vocals sound a bit restrained when compared to the reckless abandon that she brought when she later fronted the all-male Jazz/Funk/Psychedelic influenced band Ten Wheel Drive, during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Her soulful performances with that band are comparable to the singing of artists like Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin. After Ten Wheel Drive, Ravan became a solo artist and a record producer. Even today, record producing remains a male dominated field, so the fact that Ravan was breaking in to it during the ‘70s, adds to her pioneering status. She produced her own music, including her 1978 album Urban Desire; which fits in well with the Punk/New Wave sounds of the mid-late ‘70s yet still gives Ravan a chance to show off her raspy and soulful vocals; and she also produced the Dead Boys’ infamous first album, Young, Loud and Snotty.
Ravan continues to produce, perform and record music today. Her latest album, Undercover, came out in 2010. She is also a writer, and had her autobiography, Lollipop Lounge: Memoirs of a Rock and Roll Refugee, published in 2004. She is currently working on a screenplay based on that book, and would like Juliette Lewis to play her in the film. She also DJs on two different radio shows for Little Steven’s “Underground Garage”, “Goldie’s Garage” and “Chicks and Broads”, the latter being devoted to music by female artists. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Exhibit has brought her career full circle, and in the following interview, which took place during June 2011, Ravan talks about her amazing life and accomplishments.
BK: Are you happy with how Goldie and the Gingerbreads is being honored at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Exhibit?
GR: Right now we are honored in the R & R museum which is wonderful, I would like the actual Hall of Fame to honor us for being the first girls rock group, before we all die….Carol MacDonald, is already gone, she died two years ago. She was the Guitar player. I might also mention that I was the first female producer to produce acts other than themselves. Women had produced themselves by then, but not other acts.
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?
We were considered a novelty till they heard us. Right from the first note, they knew they were hearing and watching something special.
How did your male peers react to the band?
A woman will always be treated like the weaker softer sex, very hard for men to comprehend ‘women doing what men do’ even if it’s better. The USA was far more misogynist than the Euro men. In Europe they said, “Wow, you are great!” and in the USA the guys were like, “Do you broads really wanna be in this ruff business? Shouldn’t you be home married with children?” I never let it bother me, it drove me to become so good that the male musicians would get embarrassed when they followed us on stage, the thing that really always bothered me was, how a journalist would mention age….they do not say Mick Jagger is in his 30’s now…40’s now etc…or what the male groups wore that night.
What was the best thing about being in Goldie and the Gingerbreads?
The best thing about having put Goldie and The Gingerbreads together was that it was the best schooling of 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…I loved the older times when you didn’t get a contract for recording cause of payola…you got it cause you were good and there was a future.
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. I am not sure the quality of those records would hold up now, the other problem is the singles are on different labels, some on Atlantic records, some on Decca England, some on Spokane Scepter records, it would be hard to get an ok from all of them to put it all together…I will be trying ….someone tried to bootleg a CD, but its not only Goldie and the Gingerbreads, it’s also my first group The Escorts.
Was it a big change for you going from an all-female band to being in a band with all males when you joined Ten Wheel Drive?
Man oh man yes……but there was a bit of a break between the two bands, I had joined a male jazz trio because the drummer was a boyfriend [at the time]…Les Demerle, who is a great drummer. As far as Ten Wheel Drive, the feeling was not as warm as having a bunch of girlfriends in the same band…Ten Wheel Drive left me lonely many a time…I was used to hugging and kissing after a [Goldie and the Gingerbreads] show, uh uh, not with male players, especially Jazz players in TWD…they just do their thing and go smoke a joint.
Did people react differently to Ten Wheel Drive because there were male musicians involved than they did to Goldie and the Gingerbreads as an all-female band?
Well, the shock of Goldie and The Gingerbreads when curtains went up, was always a great thing to look at from stage…..I loved it…I always had something to prove, to work hard at.
What is your favorite memory from your time in Ten Wheel Drive?
Getting to jump on stage when playing with people like The Allman Brothers at the Whisky in LA when working opposite them…Having Janis Joplin jump on stage with me at the Scene Club NYC…I loved clubs, TWD really only did larger venues…So when I would get to a smaller club I could get a more personal performance. Like the old days with Goldie and The Gingerbreads.
Did you feel as if you had any trouble being taken seriously as a woman record producer since it is typically a job that males do?
I always got resistance especially from engineers, but I would fire engineers if they didn’t give me what I wanted, and if it was an artist giving 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 tuff on them, I said, “Just give me what I want and I’m an angel”…The part that bothers me is when a male producer says what he wants, he is called a genius, when I say what I want, I’m hard to work with!
What is your favorite album that you have ever done?
URBAN DESIRE for sure…Basically, this was the first time, I was able to produce myself, and it was the most recognition any of my albums ever had, it was the most picked album for two weeks in the trades, me and Springsteen’s record…..(my record company decided to close shop as I was climbing up the charts ). Ever since then, I have produced myself, I have had enough experience by then to do that. When I produce myself I have to step away from me and ego…ah, you think that’s easy? I have let certain vocals go on records that I was not all that thrilled with but they worked some sort of magic, you have to be pretty experienced to do that, it’s not easy standing away from yourself. Also those days I always worked with engineers, today I engineer myself with the magic of Pro Tools… on my computer… but and this is a big but….there are pros and cons here for not being in a studio, but rather working out of your own house. I like working with some tension…so I give myself deadlines too. “You’re never alone with a schizophrenic” haha.
What are your favorite bands to DJ on your radio shows?
Ah so many, new ones are a group from Europe, Fake Elegance is one of them,…and for my Chicks and Broads show…I still play the hell out of my older women: Baby Washington, Darlene Love, a new group called Spanking Charlene…the Sweet Inspirations…. Sissy Houston is in that [last] group (mother of Whitney Houston), the Ting Tings, Tegan and Sara…
What inspired your latest album Undercover?
Well I work best under pressure, so when I was signed to labels they would say, “We need to have that record finished by such and such”, that’s when I would do my best writing. Today, there is no pressure, there are no labels, such a sad time… I’m so glad I came on the scene when I did…those were the best music years….just look at what we had then….but back to the question. I came up with my Undercover CD by thinking about some songs I always wanted to sing, and decided to do my versions of them…I like doing that, it’s sort of old school, like jamming on stage with players you never played with before, and letting magic happen.