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Ravan was interviewed at the Stereo Society
Streaming audio of Genya's answers can be heard by clicking on the player after each question.
..and your second language is English. How come you sound like an R&B singer?
Thats a very good question. When I came to the US, I couldnt speak a word of English. I was very young, and my father had a candy store/deli. He had hired a black man who I wound up calling Uncle Louie. Uncle Louie bought me my very first radio. I used to listen to the Cat Man on a New Jersey station, and all they played was black fifties music. Then Uncle Louie bought me a record player, and my very first record was by Etta James. I really learned to speak English through music! Once I was rehearsing with Ornette Coleman, and he asked me where I was from. I said, Im from Poland, and he goes, Now it makes sense. What are you talking about? I asked. He goes, Well, I know you dont read music, but you have great ears because they became sponges when you were a kid. You were in a country where they were not speaking your native tongue, and you told me you learned how to speak English through music. Of course you were going to sound black!
thats partly where my R&B came from. But I think its deeper
than that. Its more of a soul thing than it is a mimicking thing.
And when Ornette said that I realized, damn, hes right, my ears
were sponges. Not many people are born with rhythm, but I was. So, even
if I learned to speak English through music, my rhythm was still there.
I was wondering whether you were starting to think in English at the same time you were really starting to sing.
Its very possible, but I started to sing way, way later. I was singing
along with music, but I wasnt a singer until much later. I never
took myself that seriously until so many people said to me, Wow,
you sound good. You ought to sing. Jumping up on stage is a whole
other story. I was very fortunate with the way I came into the business,
but I was thinking in English faster than speaking it. I was seven years
old when I got here and I wanted very much to fit in.
But you were on stage in your teens .
Yes, and I already
knew how to speak English. I know some people think I have an accent
now especially English people -
Mike Thorne! - but I never did! Do you want to know how I started to
sing? It was an absolute accident.
they finish the song, he waves me over and says, Come on up! I
jump up on stage, and
he goes, What do you want to sing? I
said, Stupid Cupid [by Connie
Francis]. He asks, What
key? and I said, What?! I thought he was asking for
my keys! I had no idea songs came in keys! Does that tell you anything?!
I still didnt take singing seriously because I was doing 'cheesecake
modeling'. For those who dont know what that is, its
semi-nude modeling but you dont show any privates. I was making
$100 hours an hour thats not bad for back then (or even now!).
I did take my top off, but I always wore bikini panties, and I had a body
to kill for. I had breasts that stood up forever! It was kind of like
singing. When I heard myself sing, I didnt want to stop; when I
saw my body, I thought Id show it off! Anyway, Richard asks for
my number, and I thought, Oh, shit, but I said, Yeah,
Ill give you my number. I really thought, This guys
coming on to me, and hed be the last guy that I would have a scene
with! Besides, believe it or not, I was still a virgin. I was very
That sounds like a total fairy story.
It does, but its
How do you think its different today? What struggles do you see new singers facing now?
Im out of it. I watch these shows, How to be a Rock Star
and Edens Crush and how they get these girls and put together
these bands, and its become such a big business. Thats what
it is: its a business. When I was doing it, I wasnt doing
it for the business. I was doing it because that was the way for me to
make a living. Today there is such pressure: Im twenty-six,
and Im getting to be too old to be in the business. And the
business end of the things has people eating each other up. There are
no small record companies, only big conglomerates. Its run by the
dollar. Its not run by the heart, it is not run by the soul, it
is not run by talent. And I have to tell you, Britney Spears, to me, is
very talented. Shes excellent. Im glad to see that, but I
see a lot of this stuff happening around me, and its all about business.
Its changed tremendously.
There doesnt seem to be an easy entry anymore.
No, no. I used to work
in bowling alleys. You could hear me between strikes! We had a microphone
that came out of an amp. Today you have to be able to afford it to go
on the road. You have to have a roadie, vans, an accountant, a lawyer,
a manager, an agent. You have to have a roadie for your roadie, you know?
Its ridiculous! The bigger Goldie and the Gingerbreads
got, the more we couldnt afford to stay together. How do you like
that one? When we didnt have hit records, we came home. We didnt
have roadies. I was the supervisor, everybody else would load the U-haul,
then we would go to a gig and stay there three or four weeks. We couldnt
have done one-niters. We couldnt have moved! We had two Leslie speakers
and a Hammond organ, and we moved things ourselves. We used to play air
force bases where we made a fortune well, a fortune for us. But,
no, we didnt get a house in Beverly Hills overlooking the ocean
like everybodys doing today.
You went through a few years of Goldie and the Gingerbreads on this economical basis and then you promptly formed a ten-piece band. What were the logistics then?I left Goldie and the Gingerbreads when I felt like I came to a musical halt. I wanted more, I wanted to experiment musically. I joined a quartet where I met the Brecker Brothers [Michael (saxophones) and Randy (trumpet), one of the foremost New York session players of all time]. There was a drummer called Lester Morell, god bless him. He turned me on to all the jazz people. Les was a phenomenal drummer.
Well, I wound up getting some charts made - I had no idea what charts were. He asked me if I had charts, and I said, I went to the doctor and nobody told me I had any. Im not kidding you - it took a while for me to find out what keys were. I didnt know any of this! So, anyway, I got a couple of charts. I met Bill Takas and I met the Brecker Brothers through Lester, and we did quite a few lounge acts (well, that was because I had a crush on him but I did love singing!). I did Alfie, I did What Now, My Love. I started to do almost a Vegas- thing with him. This is right after Goldie and the Gingerbreads. Then I thought, You know what? I miss my rock-n-roll.
Then it happened. I said, I just heard a group called Blood, Sweat and Tears with Al Kooper in it not with David Clayton-Thomas because, between us, I loved David Clayton-Thomas, but I loved Blood, Sweat and Tears when Al Kooper was in it. That was my favorite album because it was a little on the punky side. It was still a little sloppy, there wasnt all that glitz and I liked it that way. And, that then started me thinking, Wow, an R&B section with horn, jazz, a little of the mix
One thing led to another and my two partners, Mike Zager and Aram Schefrin, were looking for a singer. We had just connected through Sid Bernstein and Billy Fields. Billy was going to work with me as a solo, and then he said to me, There are two guys from Jersey that are pretty talented, and theyre looking for a singer, Genya. And, I said, Well, I dont know, I have to hear the material, and they ought to hear me sing, too. So they came to one of my off-the-wall gigs and I met Aram and Mike. We were sitting at the Bitter End [long-persisting New York club, still in business], and we came up with our name, Ten Wheel Drive. I got Bill Takas, and a couple of the horn players, and put the band together. They were all very nervous about playing the Fillmore because we were together maybe a week and I said, Dont worry about it, just play, man. Just play. That started us.
So you went from the sublime to the ridiculous when you went from Ten Wheel Drive to the CBGB scene in the mid-seventies?
Oh, my god, yes! After Ten Wheel Drive, I heard about the punk scene, and I needed to check that out. You know, like anything else, you need to do a little studying before you know what you want to do, and music is so vast. You can play a certain kind of opera for me, and I will love it. So thats why, when people say, what kind of music do you like, I cant be pinpointed that way. I just cant. Ask me what my favorites are, and Ill tell you my favorite artists. R&B will always be my #1, but I love all kinds of music.
I hear theres a scene happening at CBGBs, and a friend
of mine takes me
down there. I hear these basement bands, and Im
loving it because, dont forget, I just came from this very
terrifically polished band to, like you said, the ridiculous. Im
down there at CBGBs, and Im hearing intimate sound.
I love it! Then
I met Hilly
[Kristal] and he knew
who I was, and then I started to help. What they needed was a little
bit of my polish to a little bit of their punk. Basically what I did
was bring them somewhere in the middle where they sounded recordable.
So, I did demos with a very good group that you know, the Shirts [Thorne
produced their first two albums in the late seventies]. I did work with
The Miamis, Manster and, of course, the Dead Boys. I play that album [Young,
Loud and Snotty] and it is still one of the best punk albums.
not the only one that says that. I get a lot of e-mails about the Dead
Boys, and I had the privilege of working with Cheetah [Chrome, the lead
singer] not long ago with CBGB Records. Another group I found that I
absolutely loved was Dripping Goss. Theyre fabulous. Unfortunately
they broke up, but that was another group that I had put on CBGB Records.
It always seemed at the time that you had arrived somewhere you had always been trying to find when you were in the punk scene. It seemed to fit so well.
Absolutely! And, Ill tell you something: I have real simpatico with
the punk scene because Im an original punk. Had there been punk
bands around during my whole childhood, I would have been the prima donna
punk of my time. Youre looking at somebody who had black leather
jackets with her name in gold on the back, Harley-Davidsons, sneaking
cigarettes and being in gangs (my gang was the Furies). I wrote about
all of them in Urban Desire. You can hear it in Pedal to the
Metal. You can hear it in Jerrys Pigeons. Its
all about my whole childhood.
Goldie and the Gingerbreads were not really the sixties Spice Girls were they?
You can say that again
-- no, we werent. And Ill tell
you something: we blew their minds because we not only sang our asses
off, but we played. Do you realize I didnt have a bass player
through those tours? That Margot played the foot pedals on her Hammond
organ? That was our bass! When we toured with the Stones, all the bands
used to stand by the curtain with their mouths open. They couldnt
believe it, because we didnt just do Cant You Hear My
Heart Beat, we did Red Top, which was jazz. We did Moodys Mood
for Love, which was jazz. Then wed break into Shout and
then into What dI Say, and then into a soul sister song
and then wed do Wild is the Wind. My taste is jazz, rock,
and thats what we did. We didnt just happen to make it, we
worked. We didnt make it because we were girls, let me tell you.
Being a 'girl' has worked against you, I would guess.
worked against us in a lot of ways, but then we got paid more because
girls. So in a way it worked for us. We used to go into a club,
and wed hear, These broads, can they play? We worked
the Italian market for a long time. I heard youse broads was good.
You want some pasta? No, just pay us, man!
But it was even harder to get people to take you seriously when you became one of the first female producers.
Absolutely, that too. Producer.
I almost had to beg RCA to produce, and one of my best lines when I brought
them a group called Rosie, which David Lasley was in (I love that album)
I said to Mike Barnicker, What
do you think Im going to do with the budget, buy myself a washing
machine? What are you guys afraid of with women?
Do you think its changed? You started producing in the mid-seventies? Do you think the misogyny of the record business in general has lessened now?
do. I know there are female producers out there. The thing is that
you hear a lot of female producers producing themselves. So, you have
to call them producers. There arent too many female producers out there
producing other people, but I was the first. I was the first in quite
a few things. You know that we got an award (the Pioneer Award) from Ahmet
Ertegun a couple of years ago
for being pioneers. Im
always a little ahead, which has not worked in my favor.
It never does.
No, it doesnt. Even Urban Desire the
radio stations were not playing hard rock women, but despite that the
album did very well.
Meanwhile, the whole structure of music production has changed around us again. Its almost as if that role is disappearing.
Youre right, the role is disappearing.
So do you think the strength is going back to the artists because so many producers, as we know, took a ride on artists coattails?Allan Schwartzbergthe [top New York session] drummer, once very tactfully put it in his brisk Brooklyn manner: a lot of producers have witnessed the creation of a great record.' In other words, they saw it, they didn't help it, but they would dine out on it.
So producers tended to get a bad name. Do you think that artists were pleased to take over with the possibilities given by home recording?
Producers getting a bad
they deserved it! In my career thats
why I started to produce myself. I always call it seduced
as opposed to produced. Ill give you an example: my
Jim Price and Joe Zaggarino record. It was a horror! I had no say on
my own record, I had no say in my own production. And thats the
way it was.
Are you really looking at the past through rose-tinted spectacles? Youre talking about those early days as if they were savagely business oriented, as well.
You mean my early, early days? You mean like Goldie and the Gingerbreads?
No, when you mentioned how production was to do with publishing, all the tie-ins and all the various ways of skimming.
was looking at it through rose-colored glasses, youre right.
I always see the best
in people. I never used to say, He tried to screw me,
not until way later. But as an artist I was definitely taken advantage
of, and today you have to be pretty smart to be in this business. I wasnt.
Ive been saying it through the whole interview: I was not business
savvy. I just had a group, and I wanted to sing. Period. Today thats
Youre putting out a CD now, on your own label.
And, Im doing it the old way.
And, it sounds like you have some unfinished business left as a singer.
Yes, I do. Actually, I
was very nervous about going back in and singing. Ill give you a quote from a musician: Genya, you didnt
drop a beat. I owe this one [my new CD] to my fans because there
would be no CD right now if it wasnt for my website. I get fan mail
every day from people who say theyve been looking for me forever.
They cant find my records! Today on eBay eight people were bidding
$27 for [the LP version of] Urban Desire. This has been going
on now almost daily, stuff coming in from Europe on me because they cant
find it here, and I thought, I want to do something for my fans.
I have an archive of songs that I think are really fabulous which I never
put out. Theres a story to every one of them.
All it is, is a piano with one guy that can hardly play and a sax solo from this guy playing his ass off. It didnt start that way. I got really mad at him and said, How can you play sax like that? Play it like you fucking mean it! . Whoa! Ah, youll edit that [profanity] out!
This is an adult site!
I said, Play it like you fucking mean it, and he gave the best solo. Youll hear it on the CD.
Its a long time since you sang, though. Has it been driving you nuts in the meantime? You made a very conscious decision to stop singing and work in production.
I did, but I have to tell you, every time I took on a not-so-good singer, I wanted to go, Not like that, schmuck, like this! and sing the whole album for them. It was very frustrating. I felt, like, here I am taking all my fucking experience and laying it into this lamebrain thatll never, ever,, have a release anyway, because . Yes, it was frustrating. I think you get the message.
So, welcome back.
Why, thank you.
What might be next?
I dont know. Im hoping to do something with you afterwards, too. We should mention that at some point back then you gave me a call and asked me to do a project with you, and that wound up on For Fans Only, too.
We cant hide anymore.
Well, should I tell the story about how we did this? You called me, you had an idea. It was 1987 this is all written in my CD and you said, Genya, why dont you pick a couple Beatles songs. And, I thought well, I love the Beatles, but you know, not a hundred percent, so Ill pick my favorite songs. And Dont Let Me Down is one of them. We did five songs, correct? We did Im a Woman, Im Down, Dont Let Me Down, You Cant Do That.
And Hey Bulldog, which was gently abandoned.
Yes, Bulldog we gently abandoned.
Thats maybe because I couldnt play the piano part.
But,Thorne, you played almost everything on that except the horns. You did play everything on that except whatThe Uptown Horns played. You were amazing, and I listened to it, and I thought, Oh, my god, I am putting this on this CD because today I play it for people and they love it. Dont Let Me Down came out sensational. [The rough mix from the sessions is on Genya's CD.]
Wed better send some people over to your site to buy it.
Yes, youd better do that!
Click HERE to go to Genya's site
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