Gary James' Interview With
Genya Ravan

She's the former lead singer for The Escorts, Goldie And The Gingerbreads and Ten Wheel Drive. She toured with The Stones, The Yardbirds, Manfred Mann and The Kinks. She was the first female producer to be hired by a major label. (RCA) We are talking about the one, the only, Genya Ravan.

Q - Genya, you have a radio show on the Sirius Radio Network called Goldie's Garage.

A - Goldie's Garage and Chicks And Broads. I have two shows. I work with Little Steven's Underground Garage.

Q - On Goldie's Garage you play demos of unsigned garage bands?

A - Yes.

Q - You're trying to find the next "big thing" in Rock?

A - I think I'm doing more for... I'm trying to inspire new bands. To hear themselves on the radio is important because I remember how it was for me when I had Goldie And The Gingerbreads. It was important for me to hear myself on radio. I wanted to do that more for inspiration 'cause today it's such a locked business. There's no place to show your wares. And so, I wanted to inspire bands to continue to play, continue to send me stuff, continue to rehearse and continue to jam and work with other players instead of working by yourself electronically. It really is more for inspiration for the bands to continue. Now, I don't just put any demo on. It still has to have a good enough sound. It has to sound serious. It can't be a living room scratch guitar. You know what I'm saying?

Q - I guess bands have to have a little money behind them.

A - Well, yes and no. I have an Mbox and I do everything here in my house. So today you do have resources to work out of your house, to be in a basement with another musician and to work it out. I know a lot of bands are doing that.

Q - And we're talking not only the bands coming up, but established bands as well.

A - Yeah. they are. The young bands could go to a club, do a gig and put it down and if the mix is good enough, they get on.

Q - If there's a club to play at.

A - Well, there you go. This is like ridiculous what's going on today.

Q - We know the drinking age has been raised from 18 to 21.

A - Right.

Q - We know that the D.W.I laws are tougher than ever.

A - Yeah.

Q - We know that the "No Smoking" law really killed things.

A - It killed a lot of stuff, yeah.

Q - So, if you're in a band today and you want to play five or six nights a week...

A - You gotta fight for it! Listen, that's how CBGBs started. You gotta find a place to play. Ask around. When I first started, I didn't go right to a club. I worked in bowling alleys. I sang in bowling alleys.

Q - With or without a band?

A - With my band. What I'm saying is that I went in there to get hired, I said "You could use some music." Nothing can get handed to you. It didn't get handed to me. I had to work very hard for what I got. If you're looking to get a major record deal, forget it 'cause the record companies all ate each other up. It's like the more we know, the stupider we got. It's that way with everything. Now we have like nine million laws. The no smoking, no drinking 'til you're 21. No driving, no using the phone, all of these rules! It's not necessarily bad ones, but they should leave that up to the people, don't you think?

Q - So much of it is when you get right down to it, common sense.

A - It is common sense. I'm not gonna take a broken glass and drink out of it.

Q - A few people have spoiled it for everybody else.

A - Absolutely, and they always do. It's the ones that don't have a problem that wind up suffering for a lot of stuff. Me personally, I'm glad nobody smokes next to the table when I eat. It used to bother me even when I was a smoker.

Q - You were a smoker?

A - Heavy duty smoker. Did you ever read my book?

Q - I did not.

A - You would've had a lot more questions for me had you read it.

Q - And then if I knew the answers to the questions in advance, I probably wouldn't be asking them.

A - (laughs) You wouldn't need me. I was definitely a heavy duty smoker and a drinker and a coke user. I've been in recovery for twenty years.

Q - I don't understand how a singer can smoke.

A - I just kept telling everybody the smoke gave me my sound. I believed it. I had a habit. What can I tell you? It's not easy to break.

Q - You're not a smoker today, are you?

A - Oh, no. Not for twenty years. I had lung cancer, directly from smoking. When I wasn't smoking I was singing in night clubs with smoke. So basically I was smoking twenty-four hours a day. When you think about it, it's not just your own bad habit, you're spreading your bad habit to your children, to your pets, everything. When I quit smoking I didn't realize how dirty my windows were and my house was. It was just filled with that yellow... and that goes into your lungs.

Q - But you're alright today?

A - Yeah. Knock on wood. I'm cancer free. I'm in remission and have been.

Q - So, no more drinking and smoking for Genya Ravan.

A - Like I said, I'm in recovery. That means no drinking, drugging or smoking. What I do get is headaches from having my halo on so tight. (laughs)

Q - What's this radio show about that you do with Little Steven?

A - I work under his wing of Underground Garage. He's got quite a few DJs. They're all artists and I'm one of them. So Goldies Garage is for all un-signed bands get a shot at the radio waves here and Chicks And Broads is all about female musicians, singers. Two hours of Rock's women, from Tina Turner to Blondie.

Q - Now, only a woman could have a show called Chicks And Broads. If I had it, I would probably be called a sexist, wouldn't I?

A - Yes, you would. (laughs) A chick is a chick and a broad is a broad. Then there's divas. I call it my G-spot; girls, garage demos.

Q - Tomatoes.

A - Tomatoes. (laughs) I like that. I gotta remember tomatoes.

Q - It's too bad you have to pay to listen to Sirius Radio. Everybody's got their hand out.

A - I know. I know exactly what you mean. It's not the greatest time to be paying for radio. The thing is, it's just music all the way. It's kind of like getting your best songs off of a record and putting 'em all on an i-Pod.

Q - It sounds great because commercial radio is so bad.

A - Oh, it's awful.

Q - So besides the radio show, you're still writing and recording?

A - I'm writing and recording and in the process of actually doing a CD. I did one last year (2010) and I have a single out now that actually got to be the song of the week on Little Steven's show. It's called "Do You Know What I Mean", the old one. I'm finally writing again. What I'm doing is writing songs for my book. My book is called Lollipop Lounge. It's of course my memoirs. So, it's almost a score, but it's all about the chapters of my life, every song. I have a song called "Me And My Yo-Yo". Yo-Yo was my dog many years ago and a very important part for me. And also I'm writing about coming to the United States. I have a song called "Lady Of The Harbor". Another title, "Stoop To High Heaven", which is when I was told I had cancer. So, I'm writing songs because I believe my book will become a film and I want to have songs for each part of the film.

Q - According to Rolling Stone's Encyclopedia Of Rock, your career began in a Brooklyn lounge when you walked onstage and began singing with Richard Perry's band, The Escorts.

A - Correct.

Q - Were you singing before that?

A - Only in the streets and bathrooms and showers. I knew I liked my voice. I remember when I would sing with the radio, my girlfriends would say "You have a great voice Goldie." I basically have what you'd call balls. I went into a club. I heard them doing songs I knew and I just immediately went over to the stage and pulled on somebody's jacket. I think it was Ritchie, and said "I wanna sing! I wanna sing!" (laughs) And that's how it happened. And the next thing you know, they're firing their singer and calling me and asking if I want to record with them.

Q - You gave them a number one record with "Somewhere".

A - Yes, "Somewhere" from West Side Story.

Q - I want to say how lucky you were, but you were out there trying to make it happen.

A - You know what? You keep throwing the dice and something happens. I do say that's lucky being in the right place at the right time. I always say it takes more than one person to make a success. Number one is the song. It's the musicians. It's the singer. It's the manager. It's the right time for the people. It takes so much to make something happen. Now, I want you to know that song that I did with The Escorts, when we did it that won as The Worst Record Of The Week in Detroit. They had a contest for the worst record of the week and then it became number one.

Q - What went through your mind when that happened?

A - Ritchie was in college. He called me from Ann Arbor, Michigan. I had no idea what charts were. I had no idea what a key was. I had no idea about any of this stuff. I was a refugee growing up trying to make a living. At that point I was doing cheesecake modeling, making very good money.

Q - You were a Pin-Up Girl?

A - Yeah. I was a Pin-Up Girl. I was making like a hundred bucks an hour. It was just like, ridiculous.

Q - Back in the '60s?

A - Yeah. Early '60s.

Q - Were you a high school graduate at that time?

A - Oh, no. Are you kidding? I left school when I was sixteen. I couldn't stand school.

Q - You couldn't? What didn't you like about it?

A - It felt like prison. I was on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and it was a tough neighborhood. I just didn't like it. I didn't like it all. All I ever saw was fights and teachers getting beat up. It was a scary place to be.

Q - It sounds like nobody got an education at that school.

A - They did. I didn't. (laughs) I didn't like authority either. I was getting plenty of that at home.

Q - What did you do with yourself after you dropped out? Did you go from club to club trying to sing?

A - No. No. It's a long story. I got married to get out of my house, to someone my parents obviously loved. I couldn't stand him. I never consummated the marriage. That's all in my book. The singing didn't happen until a long time after that. It was an absolute accident.

Q - For how long?

A - Well, I was sixteen. Four years later.

Q - You were keeping up with what was being played on the radio?

A - What was being played on the radio was what I loved, which was the Doo Wop stuff, the Etta James stuff. It was the '60s music. What I didn't like was White music. I didn't like The Beatles, anything White.

Q - This group of yours, Goldie And The Gingerbreads, this was first all-girl band where everyone played their own instruments.

A - Correct.

Q - Where in 1962 could you find girls who could do that?

A - You didn't. And after us, there was a female Beatles, but it was happening. Listen, you're never the only one to think of something. It was very difficult trying to keep... trying to find a girl's band. Ginger was the first person I found. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but when we went to Germany and we worked The Star Club, there was a female band in Germany called The Livabirds. They were probably from Liverpool (England). They wanted to use that word Liverpool.

Q - And "birds" is slang for girls to the British.

A - Yes.

Q - But it was difficult for you to put a band together made up of girls in New York City in 1962, wasn't it?

A - Oh, horrible. It was a nightmare. It's in my book. (laughs)

Q - Like I said, if I read it, I wouldn't be asking the question.

A - I know. But I spent so much time putting it together and now you're asking me. (laughs)

Q - I just interviewed an all-female group called Lez Zeppelin that play all Led Zeppelin music. That's incredible!

A - Of course it is. Today it's like, "yeah, why not?" But in the '60s? Where you gonna find anything but a piano player? I mean, who would go to their parents and go "Ma, I wanna play drums!" (laughs)

Q - I remember it was a big deal when Karen Carpenter, in 1970, made her debut on The Ed Sullivan Show.

A - Yes.

Q - You never saw a girl playing drums.

A - No, you didn't. Here's one for you, this is before I was a singer. I went to see a Murray The K show in Brooklyn and out comes this chick who I play today, may she rest in peace. Her name was Lillian Briggs. She had a big hit with "I Want You To Be My Baby". I went to see her because of that song and what do you think she plays in the middle of her song? A solo on trombone. Trombone! It freaked me out! (laughs) I'll never forget that. I think that's when the seed was planted for me.

Q - So you ran home and said "I gotta take trombone lessons!"

A - No. (laughs) I had no idea I was gonna do anything onstage.

Q - Before your toured England with all of the happening British acts of the day, did you hear anything about what was going on over there?

A - Yeah. That's why I went there. The other girls didn't want to go. I wanted to go.

Q - What year would that have been?

A - '64. That was when it was all happening in England. At that time we were an exchange for a lot of the English bands. That was politics. That was what was done. When we went over to England, Herman's Hermits came over here (America). We came back here, Herman's Hermits had to go back. It was like an exchange. If we made money there, somebody would make money here. That's the way it was worked out. So, we were exchanges for a lot of the major English bands when we were there. We lived there for two years.

Q - Carnaby Street and everything was going on.

A - That was the perfect time to be there.

Q - You were living in London?

A - Yeah. That's where we were. But that's where we were accepted. They loved us. Here in the States, it was like we were freaks. The only way to make it at that point was to go to Europe, but we wanted to make it in the States via London. Of course that didn't work out. We got the same song as Herman's Hermits. They had a hit with it in the States. We had a hit with it in Europe, but we wanted it the other way around. ("Can't You Hear My Heartbeat")

Q - Why did that happen that way? Did Herman's Hermits get better promotion?

A - They got better promotion. We were with a label in England. We weren't with a label here to put it out at the time. And by the time Atlantic Records was ready to put it out, they (Herman's Hermits) were climbing up the charts. It was senseless.

Q - What was it like to tour with the original Stones?

A - It was a lot of fun. We had a very good time. They learned a lot from us, not vice-a-versa 'cause they loved American bands, obviously. They did all American music. Their covers were all American covers at that time. And, matter of fact, so many years later they did one of our songs that we did onstage, "Harlem Shuffle". We did that on the tour. They remembered it. They used to stand on the stage every night, right by the curtain and watch us.

Q - Did you spend any time with Brian Jones?

A - Oh, a lot with him. I loved him. He had such a crush on Ginger. Ginger was beautiful. Mick and I had a little fling too and we were happy girls. But we played our asses off, believe me. There was nothing namby pamby or frilly about us from note one.

Q - You could have been Mrs. Mick Jagger.

A - He would have been Mr. Genya Raven. (laughs) I would not want to be a Mrs. Jagger, thank you. I'll take his money, but that's about it. He's not my type.

Q - How were The Kinks to tour with?

A - That was a fabulous group to tour with. I loved the brothers (Ray and Dave Davies). I loved the whole band. We all had a good time. It was like a lot of singing together in buses. It was a nice feeling. It was growing up in music for me.

Q - What kind of venues were you performing in?

A - Theatres, which Goldie And The Gingerbreads were not used to. We were just not used to having a very big audience. We came from the club scene, where there was a real personal touch to it.

Q - Did you ever cross paths with The Beatles?

A - Sure. The Beatles got us our very first TV show, but also with Roger Cook and Dudley Moore. They had a show. There was a whole thing in all the papers of like who really discovered Goldie And The Gingerbreads? The Beatles said they did. They Stones said they did. The Animals said they did. Of course it was The Animals.

Q - You never toured with The Beatles, did you?

A - No.

Q - Did you ever socialize with The Beatles?

A - Yeah, well with Ringo and Harry Nilsson. They used to go out and have Indian food. They turned me on to Indian food.

Q - That was in Europe?

A - Yeah, and a couple of parties with George Harrison. John used to hang out with one our girlfriends that were on the block. I didn't hang out with him, but Carol, my guitar player did. She used to hang out with Stevie, the girl who Lennon was seeing at the time.

Q - Did you cross paths with Brian Epstein?

A - I don't think so, but I don't know. I'm really bad with that kind of stuff. Unless I had a real conversation with somebody, I don't remember.

Q - You were the first female producer hired by RCA.

A - Yes.

Q - How were you treated at RCA?

A - I'll tell you, there was this guy, Mike Bernica, who was the head of A&R at RCA at the time that totally respected me. Totally believed in me. My only complaint ever about having any real chauvinism is, it's very difficult to get into record companies unless you're known, when you're a female. As luck had it, they knew who I was. It was after Ten Wheel Drive. They knew who I was. They knew that I had already done a few of my own albums as a producer and they said fine. They never questioned me. That's not saying that other people in that area would not question me 'til the end. But I lucked out 'cause again Mike Bernica was good to me. I was even able to have an outside group signed to them, which was amazing to even have that happen. Even though it was a time of good and plenty, you still had to prove yourself to get signed, especially to RCA. That's the big boys. They signed my group to produce them. They were called Rosie, a really good group. Then I went on to do a lot of stuff with Joe Bett, which is a part of Motown. But, you know what? They threw me only women. That was the only problem. That's what I was feeling. "Why are you only giving me chicks?" "We feel like you'll be able to control them better." That's just not true.

Q - RCA did a great job for solo acts like Elton John, John Denver and David Bowie. For groups, with maybe the exception of Jefferson Airplane, not such a good job.

A - I gotta tell you, I had a t-shirt made for when I had a record company that said Who do I fuck to get off this label? and that was specifically said to RCA by me because my "Urban Desire" and "I Mean It" albums were the best I'd ever done. 20th Century Fox sold my rights to RCA 'cause they got defunct. There I am, the label I had most stayed away from, never even tried to sign there, winds up having my fabulous stuff. I was doing an interview, Robert Klein Hour with Frank Zappa, myself and I don't know who else it was. I'll never forget, I'm there in RCA studios during the interview and I remember looking over at somebody and by then I was pretty soused, pretty drunk, and I turned around and said to some A&R guy "Who do I fuck to get off this label?" (laughs) Well, that stuck with me. That became my t-shirt for my own record label, Polish Records. I tell you, I could've made a living just selling t-shirts. I would've been a wealthy woman. Plus, I sent little jock straps that said Support Polish Records to every DJ. They loved it! They absolutely loved it.

Q - You were ahead of your time!

A - Totally. That's not always a good thing. But I've always been ahead of my time. It's not good 'cause you're pretty much out there all alone. I found the key is not to be ahead of everyone, but a step behind. (laughs)

© Gary James. All rights reserved.