Rock's First Lady | Music | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Rock's First Lady 

Last Updated: 08/13/2013 3:38 pm

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Back in New York, she worked for a time with jazz drummer Les DeMerle before shedding the name Goldie Zelkowitz to become Genya Ravan. With the new name came a new manager, who in the fall of 1968 hooked her up with a pair of aspiring New Jersey songwriters, keyboardist Michael Zager and guitarist Aram Schefrin. At first she wasn’t sure what to make of the Stephen Sondheim-schooled duo’s more artful music, but after being assured she could have her way with their songs she took the chance and ran with it, injecting her uniquely raw soul and blues feel into the tunes. Motivated by the first Blood, Sweat and Tears LP, the trio soon swelled to become a 10-piece with a full horn section and took a name to match its full, powerful sound—Ten Wheel Drive.

At the time, FM radio was coming into its own as a more progressive, underground alternative to AM’s bubblegum-pop direction, and for most FM programmers Ten Wheel Drive was the perfect band at the perfect time. “We didn’t chart on AM, but the FM DJ’s played the hell out of us,” says Ravan. “Ten Wheel Drive was very much a hip, underground band. We played the Fillmore East all the time.” The group was also a regular on bills with Sly & The Family Stone, Pink Floyd, the Allman Brothers, Steppenwolf, Led Zeppelin, and the like, headlined at Carnegie Hall twice, and made three press-pleasing albums for Polydor from 1968 to 1971. Comparisons to Janis Joplin have followed Ravan ever since; the two were casual friends and even jammed together once at New York club Steve Paul’s Scene.

“Horn bands were the thing at the time so we got a lot of work,” says Saugerties trumpeter Steve Satten, who performed with the group and played on its second release, 1970’s Brief Replies. “Genya was very striking, a very dynamic performer. When she got hold of [a musical idea], she just really rocked it.” But three solid years of constant gigging without the commercial success to match—along with an ill-advised affair between Ravan and the married Schefrin—eventually forced Ten Wheel Drive off the road, and the band split in 1972.

Taking the plunge into a solo career, Ravan made three albums with unsympathetic producers for as many labels that failed to chart and lived for a time in Los Angeles. But after a few years of “Hollyweirdness,” she was back in New York, where, frustrated by her previous studio handlers’ insensitivity, she began to take more of an interest in what happened on the other side of the control-room glass. It was while dating an engineer at storied Manhattan studio Media Sound that Ravan decided to try her hand at production, then still a domain absolutely verboten to females. “I practically lived at Media Sound,” she recalls. “I hung out at sessions by Kool & The Gang and other bands and really learned a lot about how to make records sound good.” Word got around about her newfound talents, and small demo jobs started to come her way. Before long she’d signed a production contract with RCA, which proudly touted her as “rock’s only woman producer.”

A regular patron of the city’s early punk scene, Ravan frequented CBGB and befriended the legendary club’s now departed owner, Hilly Kristal, who directed bands he felt were studio-ready to her. One such outfit was Cleveland transplants the Dead Boys, for whom Ravan produced the band’s 1977 debut, Young, Loud, and Snotty. A ferocious, life-affirming record that perfectly reflects its title, the disc easily rivals the era’s acknowledged benchmark, the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, for sheer wall-of-guitars power. “That’s a really special record,” Ravan beams. “Though when [the band members] first came in, I screamed about the ‘shock-value’ swastikas they’d put on their drums until they felt stupid and got rid of them. With my background, I didn’t appreciate that stuff at all. But they were just kids then, didn’t know any better.”

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