Script for June 24, 2002, QMH:
I'm going to start off tonight's show with one of the earliest openly gay 45s, it's from 1973 and there's no subtlety in the lyrics, this is a very gay song. I just discovered this record, and what's more interesting, at least to me, is that the artist is someone I had already heard of. In fact I bet most of you have heard this artist .here's a little bit of his huge hit from 1965, that reached #3 on the BillBoard charts..
Jewel Akens-birds and the bees (1965, clip)
That was Jewel Akens, with his only hit, "the birds and the bees." The record I found by him, from 1973, was advertised in The Advocate at the time as "the first gay rock single 45. Until I found that ad, which you can see a picture of on my website, I had never heard of the record or any mention of him being gay, and my research has uncovered nothing additional on it, so the record is all we have to go by. Here is Jewel Akens singing "he's good for me"
Jewel Akens-he's good for me (1973)
I'm going to follow up Jewel Akens with another artist primarily known for his work in the 60s, Neil Sedaka. Now, Neil Sedaka is not gay, but the two songs I'm going to play, sung by Sedaka, are of interest because he and his writing partner Howard Greenfield wrote them to be recorded by women. They were prolific writers, not only for hits by Sedaka, but also for others, and, as was often done in those days, they would record demos of the songs, in order to interest producers in recording them. Since the demos were never intended to be marketed, Sedaka sung them regardless of the gender of the intended singer. So, here is one called "my best friend barbara," from 1963. It was never a hit, although Connie Francis recorded it on one of her albums. And, I'm following it with a song Connie Francis did make a hit out of, which you should recognize immediately.
Sedaka-my best friend barbara (1963)
Gee, I wish I could have heard songs like that on the radio in the 60's, it might have made things easier. That song of course was "where the boys are," a huge hit for Connie Francis in 1961. An additional footnote to this segment is that Neil Sedaka has been a strong supporter of the organization Amfar, the American Foundation for AIDS research, because his writing partner Howard Greenfield died of AIDS, in 1986.
The next group I'm featuring was one of the earliest all women rock bands. They were called Isis, after the Egyptian goddess. They brought a kind of jazz rock latin style of music, that was big and bold. The band was founded in 1973 by Carol MacDonald and Ginger Bianco, and they went on to release three albums between 1974 and 1977. The personnel on these albums varied but MacDonald & Bianco were the constant forces. Carol MacDonald was the lead singer and writer for the group. She and Ginger Bianco had a long history together. They were both members of the 60s girl group Goldie & the Gingerbreads. Now, the term girl group isn't really the right for Goldie & the Gingerbreads, as they played their own instruments. In fact, when they were signed to Atlantic Records in 1964, they became the first all-female band to be signed to a major label. Their manager quickly whisked them off to England, where they recorded a handful of singles, one of which reached #25 there. Here's a bit of that song.
Goldie & the Gingerbreads-can't you hear my heart beat (1965)
That song was "can you hear my heart beat" and ironically an American group made it a hit in England, and an English group, Herman's Hermits, had the big hit with it over here. Now, I haven't forgotten that I was telling you about the group Isis, but I want to go back for one more piece of trivia in the recording career of Carol MacDonald. Even before Goldie & the Gingerbreads, she had recorded a record that made the radio. It was definitely not a hit, and it was under the name Carol Shaw, in 1963, and was called "jimmy boy" full of sappy teen angst. Here's a clip of it.
Carol Shaw-jimmy boy (1963)
After "jimmy boy" and her years with Goldie & the Gingerbreads, Carol MacDonald wanted to be able to express herself with Isis, and that certainly was the case. Their first album contained a song openly about the love between two women, and the album included a lyric sheet, just in case you weren't sure what you heard. And the cover of the album featured the group nude, with their bodies painted chrome metallic, so the album was a bold statement, inside and out. They were probably too bold for the mainstream music industry to accept. MacDonald was later quoted with saying, "I had too many years in the closet. I did that with Goldie & the Gingerbreads. It drove me crazy, I hated it. Isis may have made it if I hadn't come out." Isis was sometimes compared to the group Blood, Sweat & Tears, and here's a short clip of a song of that style.
Isis-waiting for the sonrise (1974)
That was called "Waiting For The Sonrise," from their first Isis album, just called "Isis." But the song from that album that interests me more was the one that caused a bit of controversy, due to it's woman to woman lyrics. Here is that Out song, called "she loves me"
Isis-she loves me (1974)
Again, that was "she loves me" by Isis. Time to take a break for this message.
QMH ID-Ann Reed
Ann Reed: Thank you, thank you, it's good to be back.
You've been at these festivals before?
I haven't been to the festival before, but I've done about two or three shows, and it's been a while since I've been back to Houston, so it's kind of nice.
and you brought a whole table full of CDs]
(laughs) it's the Ann Reed Mall.
how many CDs do you have?
I've done 12 recordings. I have I think 6 or 7 titles in CD now, maybe 7 or 8, I'm not sure, but [looks like more over there] yeah, I know, well, I can't keep track of them either. And we're doing a holiday CD where I'm doing some instrumentals of Christmas carols and things like that. That'll be the next one.
To someone who has not heard your style, how would you describe it?
Well, you know, those labels are always hard because I do a variety of styles. I'm always classified as being a folk artist. At one time we were referring to my music as acoustic eclectic because it did span a lot of different styles. It spans folk and jazz and blues and incorporates a little bit of everything. So it's very hard to put a label on it.
Is there any song that you've written that you're the most proud of?
Well, I always say that for a songwriter you're really lucky if you write a song and it goes out and has a life without you, where it just makes friends, and "Heroes" has done that for me. Also "Every Long Journey" has done that for me, where people are writing to me, I have kids writing to me about "Heroes" and stuff, so that's very rewarding, very nice.
Great. I'd love you to tell me about "Power Tools."
Well, I have several people in my life who have this affinity for hardware stores and power tools and my manager is one of them. She always has some kind of tool on her Christmas list. And we always have to have her cut a picture of one out so that we know what she's talking about. We went up to this gig in Alaska. They've got like the world's largest hardware store up there. She almost went into a coma. It was unbelievable. So, got back, talked to our hardware store who were sort of upset with us, sort of like we cheated on them. We went to a different hardware store. And they said, "You know, you don't have any hardware songs." And I thought, oh, old dopey me, what have I been writing about? But, came up with that and I kind of thought "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" needed to be rewritten anyway, so, it was a good use of it.
Ann Reed-power tools (1997)
That's my favorite song of hers. That was "power tools" by Ann Reed, and it can be found on her 1997 album called "Timing Is Everything."
Yvonne Perea Interview
There was another artist I interviewed at the Houston Woman's Festival. She's Yvonne Perea, from Long Beach, California. Again, we had the crowd noise to contend with, but I think you'd get the idea
Where are you from Yvonne?
I'm from Anaheim, California, but I live in Long Beach now.
What's the name of your new CD?
Well, the newest one is "Tomorrow's Day," and we're working on one that has "Hide" on it, and a few other new songs. Got about five of them recorded so far.
When do you think it will be out?
I'm hoping six months, hoping, hoping, hoping. It's difficult. You have to find investers, and sell your other CDs to pay them back. [and to make sure it's not just a vanity project] Yeah, exactly, exactly.
How would you describe your style to someone who's never heard it, how would you do that?
I would say probably folky blues, like acoustic folky blues. I don't really like to call it pop. I don't think it's pop. I'd say folky blues.
Who's your audience?
Who's my audience? Anyone who will listen (laughs). I feel like when I write I try to get a message across to people, and who knows what it would be at the time I'm writing, but anybody and everybody who will listen.
Tell us about the song "Hide"
"Hide," In wrote "Hide" when I was frustrated with a lot of people who judge gay and lesbian couples for holding hands or "Hide" is about people who feel they have to hide something about themselves. And I wrote it based on not only my own experiences of judgement, but just seeing how gays and lesbians are treated and it's just not right. Nobody should have to hide anything about themselves. It's such an important song, definitely one of them.
How is that song received when you perform it live?
Very well, very very well [they get it] they get it, yes, they get it, definitely, yeah.
Yvonne Perea-hide (2000)
That was Yvonne Perea with her song, "Hide," an excellent song for lesbian and gay pride month. Her debut album is called "Tomorrow's Day." I want to share one more song by her. Here's "my love is divine.
Yvonne Perea-my love is divine
Again, that was Yvonne Perea.
Next up I want to dig into our queer disco history. In 1975 a 45 rpm record was released on a label called Gaiee Records that's "gaiee" spelled g-a-i-e-e, and the label was a subsidiary of Motown Records. The artist's name was Valentino and the song was called "I Was Born This Way." And with this release Valentino became probably the first artist to come out of the closet in a song. There's no confusing the song's lyrics. They include the lines "I'm happy, I'm carefree and I'm gay, yes, I'm gay, taint no fault, tis a fact I was born this way."
An unlikely twist to this story is that the song was written by a straight woman. Her name was Bunny Jones. In an interview in the Advocate in 1975 she stated that before entering the music business she owned several beauty salons in Harlem, and that most of her employees were gay. Through becoming friends with them she became aware of their suppression as gay people. She spotted Valentino, whose real name is Charles Harris while he was in a Long Island theatre doing a revival of "Hair." She quickly convinced him to record the song, and then managed to get Motown Records interested in releasing it. However, it did not become the huge disco hit they dreamed of, probably since Motown did little to promote it, and it faded quietly. As a footnote, Motown apparantly changed their minds a couple years later and put out the record again, this time with a singer named Carl Bean, but it too did not catch on. You can see photos of Valentino and his record, and Bunny Jones at my website, along with all the other artists you've heard on tonight's show. That's at www.queermusicheritage.com. So, here is "I was born this way" by Valentino.
Valentino-I was born this way (1975)
Anne Engel Interview
The last artist I'm featuring this evening is one I met through my association with the organization Outmusic. That group is based out of New York City, and is a network of GLBT artists, producers, media people, and just plain fans, who believe in the music and want to help support it. While the group started in New York, it now includes members from all over. A few months ago I was scanning its website and noticed a new artist listed. Her name is Anne Engel, and she lives in southern California. I'd not heard of her, but went to her website and listened to a couple sound clips from her album, and I was hooked. I contacted her, and arranged to get her CD, and she told me that a couple weeks later she'd be in Houston, performing at a coffee house. Well, I immediately asked for an interview when she got here, and you'll hear clips from that.
Anne, how would you describe you musical style to someone who's never heard it?
I tend to describe my stuff as acoustic rock. Kind of like in the Melissa Etheridge vein, it has a lot of different styles within it. It's good stuff.
Who's your audience?
Well, the audience I prefer to play for is gay and lesbians, because especially the women, I love playing for the women, women's clubs. My audience is usually people that like the lyrics and the emotional content of a song.
Is it important for you to be out as an artist?
Yes, I used to come out while I was actually performing, especially when I would do "Please Please Please" or, "A Good Thing" is a song I actually wrote when I just came out, and it talks about all love being a good thing, and that's how I introduce it. Nowadays, I don't come out as often, but some of my songs are out, and that kind of comes out for me.
Who are your musical influences?
I am a huge Stevie Nicks fan. I saw them singing, I think it was the "Tusk Tour" and I just fell in love with her, and I was amazed that women were writing such great songs, and that's what encouraged me to start writing music. And sometimes I think that's what helped me be a lesbian as well.
When did you start writing?
Probably when I was about 18 years old, so, a little while ago
How do you write a song?
My words and my music come at the same time, I usually pick up the guitar, start fiddling with it, usually I, many times I am in an emotional state already. It's much easier for me to write when things are not going well. So, I have that kind of energy behind it, and it just kind of comes together, usually at the same time.
Your lyrics seem to comment on relationships from all sides, in, out, wanting in, wanting out, would you care to comment on that?
(laughs) yeah, I do tend to write a lot of relationship tunes. A lot of them came at the time when I was coming out. And everybody knows what a rough time that is. The song "Let It Happen" I wrote I actually had a boyfriend at the time, but I was surrounded by lesbian women and playing in a lesbian bar, and I knew where my roots were, and it was happening. And I actually wrote that song "Let It Happen" and was playing it for this girl that I really liked, and I think she got the hint on that one.
Here is "Let It Happen"
Of what song that you've written are you the most proud?
I think I'm the most proud of "The Ride." That is kind of a true story song and a lot of people can relate to that song. It's about co-dependency and how sometimes in a relationship with somebody if you can't help them and you can't see them, watch them going down hill then, it's sometimes best to take that step back, you know, save yourself and hopefully they'll save themselves
Engel-the ride (2000)
So, before I ask Anne to tell about the closing song, I want to thank you all for tuning in to the show, and I want to thank Ann Reed, Yvonne Perea, and Anne Engel for their interview comments. If you have questions or comments about any of the music I've featured, please write to me. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices on KPFT in Houston, and I'll be back on the 4th Monday of next month with another installment of Queer Music Heritage.
Annie, I'm wondering about the song "Please Please Please"
(laughs) well, "Please Please Please" was actually written a long time ago, and I don't know if that was as much of a I think that was more of a tongue in cheek kind of song. I just needed some humor in some of my sets, and you know how things go (laughs) I don't think I can say too much about "Please Please Please."
How does it go over live?
Oh, the ladies love it, it goes over really well. People laugh, they like how it turns around and twists and I have a good time with that song.
Anne Engel-please please please (2000)