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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

Goldie and the Gingerbreads

A picture of Genya Ravan with Goldie and the Gingerbreads during the 1960′s.

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” andChicks 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.

Ten Wheel Drive Band

Genya with Ten Wheel Drive.

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…

Genya Ravan Album Undercover

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.

An edited version of this story appeared on Venus Zine’s website back in June of 2007.

Cheap Perfume

NYC’s first all-female Punk band discuss the joys and hardships they faced while paving the way for the next generation.

By Bess Korey

Cheap Perfume Band Picture

Thirty-years-ago Rock N’ Roll was still a boys’ club. Even though all-female rock bands had existed before 1977, many of these bands were driven into obscurity. Most were seen as novelty acts, had short-lived careers, and/or were not given a proper chance to record their music.

In recent years, the music of many all-female Garage and Psychedelic bands from the ’60s has resurfaced, including: She, the Ace Of Cups, the Luv’d Ones (whom I have also written about, and the article is posted in this blog), and the Daisy Chain, and has been released by retro-themed labels like Ace and Sundazed. But by the mid-late ’70s, this rich musical history of all-female bands remained mostly lost. Female musicians who wanted to play in bands had to create a new path for themselves.

The members of Cheap Perfume (Lynn Odell on vocals, Susan Palermo on bass, Brenda Martinez on drums, Nancy Street on rhythm guitar, and Bunny on lead guitar), an all-female band that began in 1977, certainly felt like that was what they had to do. Born out of the early New York Punk scene, the fact that they were breaking new ground for female musicians, made them stand out from other bands, but it also sometimes worked against them. In regards to this, Bunny says, “That there were so few female musicians at the time proved to be helpful, but we felt we had more to prove to our audience — that we could actually play as well as the next band of male musicians — so in a way there was more pressure on the band to shine musically, as well as visually.”

But despite this added pressure put on them because they were an all-female group, Bunny still feels that, “The punk scene was definitely more welcoming to female musicians. Before punk, the music scene was mainly male bands and disco, with female singers, but without all-female bands.”

Punk not only opened a door for Cheap Perfume as female musicians, but it’s DIY mantra proved to be inspiring as well. Palermo says,“I was working as a waitress at CBGB, and after watching several other bands perform, I decided to form Cheap Perfume. I thought, ‘hey we could do this just as well’. Everyone was eager to hear and watch female musicians and I was just as anxious to get the music out there.”

Through CBGB’s scene, Palermo was fortunate enough to know a few other female musicians who shared a similar goal and desire, and was able to find the rest of the members through auditions. Funny enough, both Palermo and Bunny started playing guitar at the age of 13, and Palermo also tried to form her first all-girl band at that age as well, but unfortunately not to much success. Bunny stuck to her playing, but Palermo gave it up for a number of years. It wasn’t until closer to the time that Cheap Perfume formed, that Palermo learned to play bass. She was dating the bass player of the Tuff Darts, John DeSalvo, and he played a role in her wanting to learn the instrument.

The group did not have much confidence in themselves early on. Palermo says, “When we started, Brenda, Alison [was the name of the original guitarist, Bunny was her replacement, and did not join until later] and I would play for 3 hours every Saturday afternoon at Cottage & Castle, no matter what. It took us almost a year before we were competent — and confident — enough to start looking for a singer. You have to remember, there were few female musicians, and we really had no role models at that time. Once Lynn and Nancy joined the band, we auditioned at CBGB’s about 3 months later.”

Once they started writing songs, the band used influences from both the past and the present to carve out their own sound. The fact that they were 5 unique individuals with different musical tastes shows through the versatility of their music. Unfortunately, the group never put out an album, but there are a handful of tracks that have been recorded. “You Won’t Stop Me” is a straightforward punk song, loud and fast, with defiant lyrics, which could even be considered feminist, since the girl in the song refuses to let a boy stand in the way of what she wants to do. “Forever Damaged” verges on having a metal sound, and not only does it rock hard, but it also tells the tale of a woman who has lived too hard.  A cover of the Shirelles’ “Boys” which they make their own, completely switches gears from the latter songs by being poppier, as well as being heavily influenced by the music scene of 1966. It is a gender-bending response to the Chocolate Watchband’s “Let’s Talk About Girls”, with a little bit of Tommy James And The Shondells’ “Hanky Panky” and the Capitols’ “Cool Jerk” thrown in for good measure. Like “Boys”, “Bittersweet” also has more of a pop feel, and it’s verse is reminiscent of Johnny Cash’s “Ring Of Fire”, but it is more like Blondie’s cover of the song than it is the original.

Their musical diversity doesn’t only point out the conflicting tastes amongst the band members, it also serves as a testament for the scene they were a part of, which had such a wide range of bands, with very different influences, all being considered Punk.

Once the group started playing gigs on a regular basis, they would go back and forth between CBGB and Max’s Kansas City every weekend. Peter Crowley, who was manager of Max’s Kansas City at the time, remembers them as being one of the most popular groups to play at the club. The fact that boys found the band attractive only helped their popularity, but Crowley feels as if there was more to it than that. He says, “I remember they had lots of boy groupies, but also -because they played with as much energy and skill as any of their “competition” – they attracted a much bigger following than they got from being pretty girls.”

Two of the “boy groupies” who went to see the band play back then were Michael Zuko and Freddie Katz. Both men look back quite fondly at the Cheap Perfume shows they witnessed in the ’70s. Zuko says, “I used to see CP at CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City. Yeah, yeah, all girl band, very cute – but the songs really struck me, very hooky choruses, harmonies, good musicianship, etc. I would remember them from time to time. I do shows quite a bit in NYC, would talk to people about them, and remember the titles of the tunes – “Tommy”, “Ordinary Girls”, “Overnight Angel” – so their songs did stay with me. I remember our girlfriends would get in a huff, ‘…oh, you wanna see Cheap Perfume because they’re cute, right?’ (well, yeah, sure!), but they were great live – 5 girls, full sound, always an element of ‘uh, oh, what’s gonna happen here’ – in my opinion, better than similar groups that were out there at the time.”

Their music also left a lasting impression on Katz. He says, “The fact is they were a great rock-n-roll band.  Part of the proof I can offer of this fact is that although I have no recordings I still can remember many Cheap Perfume songs all these years later. Titles like “Haunted”, “Too Bad”, “Tommy’s Such A Tease”; I could play them on the guitar and sing them for you right now!”

Katz is currently a sound engineer in NYC, and has kept in touch with the band after all these years. Despite their popularity in the city, he feels that since they did not have a chance to record an album, it made it difficult for them to gain recognition outside their hometown.

Not having an album to promote wasn’t the only slight that hurt the band. In general, they felt very misguided. Bunny says, “We were a young band. We really did not have the management. We had no knowledge of which direction to go in a field that was not really open to female musicians til later.”

The gap that had always existed due to them having differing musical tastes grew larger over time, and there were some personnel changes as well. Bunny ended up leaving the group and things were never the same after that. Susan was the next to leave, and they were unable to recover. The band broke up shortly after her departure in 1981.

Cheap Perfume Group

The reunited members of Cheap Pefume playing together in 2006.

Flash forward 25 years later to 2006. Max’s Kansas City is long gone, and CBGB is on it’s last legs.

The members of Cheap Perfume were feeling a common bond of heartbreak over the impending closure of CBGB, and it ended up bringing them back together. This led to them playing CBGB again before it closed for good, and wowing both new and old fans alike.

Shaunda is a new fan that witnessed that 2006 show, and she says, “I remember standing in the back area with my friends and Cheap Perfume went on. I could not take my eyes off of of the drummer Brenda and guitarist Bunny. The entire band performed with such confidence and flair. I mean New York Dolls unspeakable cool. Brenda and Bunny made me want to get up and play right at that moment!”

Shaunda is not the only new female fan that the band has gained since they reunited. Bunny says, “I feel we have a lot of new young female fans, so our audience is pretty well balanced now. Since there are so many female musicians performing now–unlike the ’70s and ’80s–the audiences now are very receptive.”

Cheap Perfume still have a hold over their former “boy groupies” as well. Zuko, who is a musician himself, recently got to play a gig with them, and had this to say about their set, “When the girls took the stage after midnight, it all came back to me – the raw energy, even as a trio- Bunny’s straight ahead locomotive guitar (she also handled lead vocals), Susie’s stylistic bass lines, and Brenda’s powerful backbeat (that girl packs a wallop!). They did a few of the songs I remembered – hell, I sang along! Cheap Perfume played the way I’ve always liked it – fast, loud, kinda sloppy R&R, and no encores, dammit. Ok, they’re cute, too!!!”

The group will be playing gigs at NYC venues such as Siberia and Don Hills, during May and June of this year [2007], and have also started to work on their long overdue album. Drummer Brenda Martinez says, “We are currently working in the studio recording some new and older material. So, we will be releasing more music…we will keep everyone up to date on our MySpace page. We weren’t able to record all that we wanted in the ’70s and ’80s…which is something to look forward to now because recording has changed and improved so much…we are really excited!”

Even though the closing of CBGB was quite a blow for the band, Bunny feels as if, “…Rock N’ Roll never dies and we believe the spirit of CBGB and the New York punk scene will always live on and that is proven if you give a listen to some more recent Punk bands out there that have kept that spirit alive. Hopefully everyone will help keep it alive by supporting Cheap Perfume and all the other bands that are keeping that message out there.”

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