Script for May 2008, QMH
Cris Williamson - Olivia / If It Weren't For the Music (1991)
Yes, if it weren't for the music. This is JD Doyle and you're listening to Queer Music Heritage, a part of Queer Voices on KPFT. And this show will focus on one particular area of music that was perhaps the most important in the history of the music of our culture. I'm talking about the music of Olivia Records. And while that label did not produce the very first openly lesbian recordings, it certainly took that door and opened it wide, and put the genre of Women's Music on the map.
I chose the opening songs for this show very carefully, and some of you may have recognized the voice of Cris Williamson. Those songs are not among her classics but I think they are significant. Cris performed both of those songs on her 1991 album "Live In Concert, a Circle of Friends." I started with a song she wrote with obvious connotations, called "Olivia," and went from that into one called "If It Weren't For the Music." That song was on the very first Olivia recording, a 45 rpm record released in 1974, that featured Cris on one side and Meg Christian on the other.
The story of the idea for Olivia Records is well known, but I'll retell it very briefly for our younger listeners. It started in Washington DC, when a group of radical lesbians had been discussing the desire to form some sort of institution that was politically conscious but could also pay people, because volunteers were constantly burning out. After a Cris Williamson concert Meg Christian invited Cris to do a radio interview. She and Ginny Berson did the interview and the discussion got to how hard it was for women to record in the music industry, and how they needed more opportunities. Cris suggested, very off-the-cuff, "Gee, maybe you all should start a women's record company." And that was that. Ten members formed a collective and spent the first year organizing and by 1974 they decided that to do it right they had to move to the West Coast. Five of them made the move, Meg Christian, Ginny Berson, Jennifer Woodhul, Kate Winter and Judy Dlugacz. Judy, the only remaining member, continues to be President, although Olivia is a very different company now.
Of course there's a lot more to tell but my goal for this show is to focus on the music, and to share with you not just the music of Meg and Cris, but of every artist who recorded on the Olivia Label. There were so many who just do not get the attention, and credit for their contributions. For those of you who want more details on the history, well, you can find it on my website, where I've added an extensive Olivia Records Discography, showing photos of every recording, with track listings, and more. Of course that's at QueerMusicHeritage.com.
On to more music. The first album released on Olivia Records, in 1974, was by Meg Christian and was called "I Know You Know." I couldn't resist choosing from it one of her classics, "Ode to a Gym Teacher."
Meg Christian - Ode to a Gym Teacher (1974)
Unfortunately there is not time on this show to share with you complete versions of the songs, not if I want to cover all the artists. But I'll make you a deal, if you go my website you can hear an extended version of this show, with complete songs and some extras.
Again, you just heard Meg Christian. From 1974 to 1983, when she left the music industry, she recorded five albums, and they are among the best of the label.
By far the largest selling, and most known, album on Olivia was of course "The Changer and the Changed." It was the second Olivia album and was released in 1975, and it went on to become one of the largest selling independently produced records of all time. That album anchored the role of Cris Williamson on the label and in the genre of Women's Music. From the album, here's the track "Song of the Soul."
Cris Williamson - Song of the Soul (1974)
"Song of the Soul," by Cris Williamson. I'm going to throw a little data at you. The output of Olivia Records can be broken down into three groups: between 1974 and 1993, 49 records were actually released on the label; 10 records, by mostly non-Olivia artists, were distributed by the label; and between 1983 and 1990, Olivia had a subsidiary, called Second Wave Records, for their more rock output. Nine albums were released on that label. So, of the actual records on Olivia, counting 45s and albums, Cris Williamson had 16 of those 49, illustrating her commanding presence.
I'm going to insert some more trivia. Ever wonder how Olivia Records got its name? Well, it came from a 1949 pulp novel by Dorothy Bussy. It's heroine, Olivia, fell in love with her headmistress at a French boarding school. The book was later made into a very forgettable movie.
In 1976 Olivia recorded its first departure from acoustic folk, in the form of an electric rock band from San Francisco. Its members called themselves and their album BeBe K'Roche and my favorite track from it is "Kahlua Mama."
BeBe K'Roche - Kahlua Mama (1976)
In 1976 there was another departure for Olivia, as it released a spoken-word poetry album, called "Where Would I Be Without You - The Poetry of Pat Parker and Judy Grahn." One side of the album was devoted to each poet. I've got a sample by each for you, starting with "A History of Lesbianism" by Judy Grahn.
Grahn - A History of Lesbianism (1976)
I took the liberty of putting some music behind that, and as "Mooncircles," the first album by Kay Gardner was distributed by Olivia, I used her song "Inner Mood II," and it featured Meg Christian on guitar.
And I'll let Pat Parker introduce her poem. She's talking about Anita Bryant.
Pat Parker - For Straight Folks Who Don't Mind Gays But Wish They Weren't So Blatant (1976)
I really like
that one, and again, by Pat Parker, it was called "For Straight
Folks Who Don't Mind Gays But Wish They Weren't So Blatant."
That poem would still work well today, but that was 1976 and three
years later Olivia had one more spoken-word release, this time a comedy
album. And they couldn't have found a performer more outspoken than
That was from Robin Tyler's album "Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Groom." Besides her comedy career Robin has been very involved in GLBT politics and several of the Marches on Washington, though not without a degree of controversy.
We're up to 1977 now and I want to include a song I really like from Meg Christian's album from that year, "Face the Music." It's the title track.
Meg Christian - Face the Music (1977)
This next artist was not only important to Olivia Records for her music but was also a writer and producer. Teresa Trull had two albums on Olivia itself and two on the Second Wave label. From her 1977 album "The Ways a Woman Can Be" I've chosen the song "Woman-Loving Women."
Teresa Trull - Woman-Loving Women (1977)
I want to jump ahead just for a moment to share with you another Teresa Trull song. It's from her 1980 album "Let It Be Known" and is called "Every Woman." It was written by Bernice Johnson Reagon, of the group Sweet Honey in the Rock, who is the mother of Toshi Reagon. Linda Tillery helps on the backups.
Teresa Trull - Every Woman (1980)
As I said, Teresa Trull is also known for her work as a producer, for such artists as Cris Williamson, Lucie Blue Tremblay, Deidre McCalla and Romanovsky & Phillips.
Women's Music Collective - Gay and Proud (1977)
Those two songs are typical of the very Out nature of what would become a landmark album for Olivia Records, and for our music in general. The Berkeley Women's Music Collective brought us "Gay and Proud" and Sue Fink sang about those "Leaping Lesbians." They both come from the 1977 album "Lesbian Concentrate." And that album is historic because it was the first various artists lesbian album. Remember this was 1977, the height of orange juice queen Anita Bryant's campaign against us. And this LP was in direct response. The cover of the album even shows an orange juice can, labelled "A Lesbianthology, 100% Undiluted."
Among the gems on the album was one written especially for the project by Mary Watkins, and was sung by Linda Tillery. It was called "Don't Pray For Me."
Tillery - Don't Pray For Me (1977)
Linda Tillery can be found on the album credits on many, many albums, offering background vocals, and she's appeared on television, and more recently has been releasing records with the group she founded, The Cultural Heritage Choir. And I went from Linda Tillery to Gwen Avery. The song "Sugar Mama" was released as a 45 by Olivia and she appeared on the "Lesbian Concentrate," album. An album of her own was announced in Olivia press releases, but somehow it just never happened. That's a pity, as she is very talented and finally, in 2002, she independently released her debut album, called "Sugar Mama."
There's one more artist I haven't played yet on this show, who contributed to "Lesbian Concentrate." That's Mary Watkins. Her work leans more towards jazz and she's just as likely to record instrumental piano pieces, but she definitely can sing, as you'll see with her song "No Hiding Place."
Mary Watkins - No Hiding Place (1977)
Mary Watkins released her own solo album, called "Something Moving," on Olivia in 1978. That album was produced by June Millington and June participated on a variety of Olivia albums right from the beginning. In 1981 she released her own album, called "Heartsong," and it included "Heaven Loves a Stranger."
June Millington - Heaven Loves a Stranger (1981)
For those of you who don't know, I'll mention just a couple of June Millington's accomplishments. In the late 60s and early 70s she was a member of Fanny, arguably the first all girl rock band to be signed to a major label, and besides being critically acclaimed they were therefore a strong influence on women bands that followed them. And more recently June's been performing with the act, The Slammin Babes. In 1986 she and her partner Ann Hackler formed IMA, the Institute for the Musical Arts, a non-profit teaching, performing and recording facility dedicated to supporting women in music. They do good work indeed.
Welcome back. This is Queer Music Heritage and I'm continuing with the music of Olivia Records.
In 1983 Olivia decided to branch out, just a bit, and they started a subsidiary they called Second Wave Records. The music of Olivia had been perceived as soft, acoustic music, no matter what they did, so a subsidiary would allow them to showcase more styles of music. One of the first albums on the new label was called "Unexpected" and it was by Teresa Trull and Barbara Higbie. While we've heard Teresa already on this show, we've not heard Barbara, so from the album he's a track they both sing on, "High and Dry."
Teresa Trull & Barbara Higbie - High and Dry (1983)
Also on the Second Wave label was a women's music icon, Tret Fure. Tret released three albums on the label, and from the first one, "Terminal Hold," comes the song "As If By the Wind."
Tret Fure - As If By the Wind (1983)
Also in 1984 Olivia released what is arguably the biggest departure from their style of all, one aimed at the dance market. Alicia Bridges had had a huge hit a few years earlier with "I Love the Nighlife" and she approached Olivia Records with an album project.
Alicia Bridges - This Girl Don't Care (1984)
That song was "This Girl Don't Care" and the album was called "Hocus Pocus," but the magic was very mixed. While it charted on the dance charts it ultimately lost money, and perhaps it was just a genre Olivia should not tackle.
1984 was a hard time for Olivia Records for another very big reason. Meg Christian decided to leave the music business. She had become a practitioner of Sidda Yoga and moved to one of their spiritual communities. And of course since she had been a founding member of Olivia, one of their most devoted workers and a solid sales artist, this all made the future uncertain. As a footnote, Meg has resurfaced in recent years. She's recorded a couple of spiritual music tapes in the 90s and in 2003 joined an Olivia Cruise for their 30th anniversary celebration, and has participated in several of their cruises since, including this year's 35th anniversary.
So what happened musically to Olivia Records after Meg left? Well, two wonderful artists joined the label. In 1985 Deidre McCalla released her first of three albums on Olivia, called "Don't Doubt It." All three albums were produced by Teresa Trull. I got to interview Deidre in 2004 and during my research for that I found this quote about her that I quite like: It's been said that Deidre McCalla's special brand of urban acoustic pop/folk is delivered with an honest, open heart, a celebration of the power and diversity of the human spirit. And I certainly can't disagree with that. In a more playful vein, from her first Olivia album is the song "Would You Like To Dance."
Deidre McCalla - Would You Like To Dance (1985)
From 1985, Deidre McCalla and "Would You Like To Dance."
Oh, I can't leave it go at that. I've got to play one more Deidre McCalla song. And it's the title track from her 1992 album, "Everyday Heroes & Heroines."
Deidre McCalla - Everyday Heroes & Heroines (1992)
And in 1986 Canadian artist Lucie Blue Tremblay joined Olivia and over the next six years released three albums. She has many wonderful songs but my favorite appeared on that first album, and is called "So Lucky."
Lucie Blue Tremblay - So Lucky (1986)
Ah, that's so nice, from her self-titled album "Lucie Blue Tremblay."
As I'm including the Second Wave label as part of this story, I'm going next to Diane Davidson. She had released a couple of albums in the early 70s but got a chance to get her music out there again in 1988, with the album "Breaking All the Rules." Here is her song "Trouble Again."
I mentioned that Tret Fure had three albums on the Second Wave label, "Terminal Hold" in 1984, "Edges of the Heart" in 1986, and in 1990, "Time Turns the Moon." From that last one is the song "The Girls All Dance."
Tret Fure - The Girls All Dance (1990)
I'm going next to Dianne Davidson. She had released a couple of albums in the early 70s but got a chance to get her music out there again in 1988, with the album "Breaking All the Rules." Here is her song "Trouble Again."
Dianne Davidson - Trouble Again (1988)
Dianne Davidson. Back to the Olivia label itself, and in 1986 another Olivia artist appeared on a new album, Nancy Vogl. Now, you sort of heard her earlier on the show, because as a member of the Berkeley Women's Music Collective, she was on the song "Gay and Proud." That song appeared on the "Lesbian Concentrate" album, in 1977. That band's own album was not released on Olivia, but it was distributed by Olivia Records. During those years it was very hard for independent women artists to get their work out to the marketplace, so Olivia distributed a number of these albums, for folks like Woody Simmons, Casse Culver, Trish Nugent, Joanna Cazden, and Kay Gardner.
This would be a good time to mention a comment I wanted to make about the spirit of the label. Right from the beginning it operated as a collective, and on the liner notes you'll see them helping each other out on their albums, as musicians or backing vocalists. In some of the early album inserts they even recommended music by artists not at all related to Olivia, but contributors to the field of Women's Music. They didn't view it as promoting competitors, but as supporting friends.
And you may ask, where is Holly Near and Margie Adam? Many folks assume those two women's music icons also recorded for Olivia. Not so, they had their own labels, though they did do guess appearances on several Olivia releases.
But back to Nancy Vogl, in 1984 she released her debut solo album for Holly Near's Redwood label, but Olivia heard a demo of what would become her next album, "Fight Like the Dancer," and put the album out. From it is the song "I Don't Know Why." And it has a definite country flavor.
Nancy Vogl - I Don't Know Why (1986)
That was Nancy Vogl, and in the history of Olivia Records, we're in 1986, and there were ten more Olivia releases until it stopped producing music, in 1993. Three of those CDs were Best Of compilations and one was a Cris Williamson concert album. Cris' "Wolf Moon" album came out in 1987, followed by two more each by Deidre McCalla and Lucie Blue Tremblay. It seems fitting that the last album released was by Cris Williamson, this time with her then partner Tret Fure. That album was called "Postcards From Paradise," and perhaps that title more accurately reflects the new business Olivia was conducting. In 1990 it had its debut voyage as Olivia Cruise Lines, and what lesbian could resist cruises for women all over the world, with entertainment provided by the best of women's music. Their 35th Anniversary celebration cruises are already taking place.
So, this is the perfect time to play this next song. It's from "Transformations," the third Olivia album by Lucie Blue Tremblay and it pays homage to Olivia's new business.
Lucie Blue Tremblay - Sailing Away (1992)
"Sailing Away" by Lucie Blue Tremblay.
While I understand the music decisions facing Olivia and think their morphing from record label to premier cruise lines is remarkable, of course I miss the music. I think I've found the perfect way to end the show, and will tell you about that in a moment. But first I want to thank you all for listening. I've got a lot more information about Olivia Records on my site, along with a new Olivia Records Discography. I've been annoyed for years that there is not to be found on the internet anywhere, even on the Olivia website, a discograpy for the label, so I've taken care of that. And remember, you can hear an extended version of this show, with complete songs on my site as well. Of course that's at www.queermusicheritage.com. And, as always if you have questions or comments about any of the music I've featured, please write me. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices on KPFT in Houston.
For the internet version I'm going to squeeze in one more song, as I really think I should play a track from the very last album produced by Olivia Records. That album, from 1993, was "Postcards from Paradise," by Cris and Tret, and I chose the song "Living On."
Cris Williamson, Tret Fure & Michael Callen - Living On (1993)
That third vocalist on that track was Michael Callen.
Okay, obviously there is a lot of music from this label that I wish I could fit into this show, the quantity and quality of the work overall is amazing, but my goal was to share every artist with you, and I accomplished that. Hopefully it will whet your appetite to track down these artists. Now, for the closing music.
Over the years there have been a number of special concerts of Olivia artists, for example selling out Carnegie Hall several times. One that made it to vinyl was the 10th Anniversary Celebration, a 1983 event called "Meg & Cris at Carnegie Hall." It's a terrific album and it included a medley of some of their hits.
You'll hear by Meg "Turning It Over," "Sweet Darlin' Woman," "Ode to a Gym Teacher," and "The Rock Will Wear Away," Cris sings "Joanna," "If I Live (I'll Be Great)," "Sweet Woman," and closes with "Waterfall." Meg and Cris at Carnegie Hall.
Meg & Cris - Turning It Over / Joanna / Sweet Darlin' Woman / If I Live (I'll Be Great) / Ode to a Gym Teacher / Sweet Woman / The Rock Will Wear Away / Waterfall