As a child of immigrants, Genya grew up in New York and says that she learnt to speak english from the radio. From 1962 till 1967 Genya “Goldie” Zelkowitz fronted the all female sixties band, Goldie and The Gingerbreads. These were very early days for women starting out in the male dominated pop arena, and unlike fledgling boy bands, women were largely seen as just a novelty act, despite their level of musicianship, “They thought we didn’t know how to play – until we started to play”. Goldie and the Gingerbreads classic line-up was Genya on vocals, Ginger Bianco on drums, Carol McDonald and Margo Lewis.
Their early story kind of reminds us a little of The Slits, particularly when you consider that the band was formed after the singer and the drummer ran into each other at a music club, and decided to form an all female rock and roll band. At that time Genya was singing in a band called The Escorts, and Ginger was cutting her drumming teeth in a variety of bands. The two Gs settled on a new band name, one that played with their matching first letters. They adopted ‘Goldie’ as it was the name used for Genya by her mother, and ‘Gingerbreads’ because it was an extension of Ginger’s name. Finding other musicians though, was not as straightforward as it might have been for The Slits who could just wander into the next squat or gig, like it was for Ari and Palmolive.
Female musicians were very thin on the ground in the early 1960s, especially guitarists. Margo Lewis was eventually recruited on keyboards and the new band set off with Chubby Checker on his 1962 tour of Europe. By 1963 they found and recruited guitarist Carol MacDonald who became the fourth permanent member, and the completed line-up released a version of the Bill Haley song “Skinnie Vinnie” which appeared on US label Spokane Records in 1964.
That same year, Goldie and the Gingerbreads played at a party for the Warhol Superstar, Baby Jane Holzer. The “Mods and Rockers Ball” as it became known, attracted some of the highest profile guests and attendees including members of The Rolling Stones, and the chairman of Atlantic records who wasted no time in offering them a deal. They were the first all female band to sign a major record deal.
Playing a show at at the Wagon Wheel Club they were spotted by Eric Burdon and Hilton Valentine of The Animals who invited them to London. After a four week voyage Goldie and the Gingerbreads arrived in the UK, and opened shows for The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Hollies, The Kinks and The Yardbirds .
Girl bands were as rare as a white tigers back then, and simply including one on a bill as an opening act seemed to be the only idea anyone ever had. Truth was no one really knew what to do with girl bands back then; it was hard to know if they should be treated as a singular novelty act, or whether they were actually really really good!
From all accounts Goldie and the Gingerbreads were more than competent musicians. According to Small Faces keyboard player Ian McLagan, Margo Lewis handled her Hammond B3 organ “like she was on fire.” Respected by their fellow male musicians, their debut English single, “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat,” was produced by Alan Price, and they appeared on Peter Cook’s satirical television show ‘Not Only But Also’ as the musical guests. They had no shortage of established stars supporting them, but the record buying public may not have been so ready for girl beatles.
Bad-timing saw their “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” released at almost the same time as a version of the song was also released by Herman’s Hermits; ironically the US band had the hit in England while the Herman’s went onto chart in the US. Goldie’s version reached 25 in the UK singles chart.
This is usually the point in the story that we report that the band splits up, its members disappear, back onto civvy street, never to be heard of again. But in the Gingerbread’s case the best is still to come…especially for Genya…
After forming the successful jazz rock hippy band Ten Wheel Drive, who were billed on the original Woodstock posters, Genya became more interested and involved with the recording and production side of things. Back in her hometown of NYC and already a regular at mid 1970s CBGBs, Genya Ravan was there in the early days of punk. Genya, the same Genya with who’d charmed and grooved with her own hit bands, put her studio hat on, grabbed punk by its badged lapels and produced the first LP by The Dead Boys “Young Loud and Snotty”.
In the comet tail of punk, Genya went onto work with artists including Lou Reed where she contributed backing vocals on Street Hassle (1978), as well as recording songs with Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson. Genya is still involved in music, hosting radio shows on Little Steven’s Underground Garage channel on Sirius/XM. Her memoir ‘Lollipop Lounge: Memoirs of a Rock and Roll Refugee’ was published by Billboard Books in 2004.
Remaining members Ginger and Carol went on to form the nucleus of the jazz fusion band ISIS, and keyboard whizz Margo went onto play keyboards with and manage Bo Diddley for the last ten years of his life. She still manages his estate.
So much for a one-trick novelty act.
Goldie and the Gingerbreads also feature on this fabulous compilation from Ace Records, ‘Girls with Guitars Know Why’ HERE
You can find Genya’s website HERE
or follow her on Twitter @Genyaravan