Friday, January 1, 2021

Genya Ravan: An urban treasure

I was a little familiar with the name Genya Ravan back in 1978. I remembered her as the lead singer on a record by Ten Wheel Drive I had heard sometime earlier in the decade. More recently, she turned up doing background vocals on Lou Reed's excellent 1978 album, Street Hassle.

The first I knew Urban Desire existed, I saw it in a record store and noticed in the credits a guest vocal appearance by Reed. That was enough convincing for me to take it home for a spin.

It was a great impulse buy, possibly my last of the LP era. I played this balls-to-the-wall record constantly for months. Four decades on, I still turn to this when I'm in a mood for some good loud kick-ass back-to-basics rock and roll. Urban Desire is the Gingerbread formerly known as Goldie bringing her early-1960s girl-group/doo-wop/r&b sensibilities into the post-punk, new-wave era.

Ravan at the time was hanging out at the New York punk club CBGB mentoring and producing records for some of the unsigned bands who appeared there. Possibly her greatest success during that time was boosting the Dead Boys into punk prominence. She also produced a solo album by Ronnie Spector around that time. She self-produced Urban Desire and a sequel, And I Mean It, which I also liked a lot.

I treasured those two albums, and they were not released on CD for years. They were available when I discovered streaming technology a decade or so ago, so I got my fix there. But all of a sudden one day in 2017, I noticed they were gone from Spotify. And I still could not locate them on CD except for expensive import copies. In a panic, I fired off an email to Genya, remembering that she did respond to a fanboy message I sent her a few years earlier. She got back to me within an hour, telling me that her catalog was out of circulation because she was arranging to acquire publishing rights. They'll be back soon, she told me. I waited for a few months before they did turn back up on the streaming services, where they are available now.

The former Genyusha Zelkovicz:
Genyusha became Goldie Zelkowitz when she, her parents and a sister arrived in the United States as Holocaust refugees from Poland in 1947, when she was 7. In 1963, she formed Goldie and the Gingerbreads, the first all-female rock band signed by a major record label (Atco Records). That band had a minor hit in 1965 with "Can't You Hear My Heart Beat." Goldie soon after changed her name to Genya Ravan and helped form Ten Wheel Drive, which recorded three albums and achieved some success between 1969 and 1971. She has released several albums as a solo artist sporadically since 1972, turning most of her focus to producing and managing as the punk scene emerged in New York in the mid-1970s.

More Genya: Ravan published an autobiography, Lollipop Lounge: Memoirs of a Rock and Roll Refugee, in 2003 and staged it as an off-Broadway musical, Rock and Roll Refugee, in 2016. For several years, she has hosted a couple of alternating Friday-night shows on Little Steven's Underground Garage on SiriusXM. She uses Goldie's Garage to give exposure to the up-and-comers she continues to champion. Chicks and Broads, her other show, is exactly what the title implies. I'm not sure what exactly the schedule is for those shows, and I can't locate it anywhere. I just know that one or the other show usually follows Drew Carey's weekly Friday Night Freakout.

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