Saturday, April 12, 2008

Renee Geyer - At Her Very Best

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Geyer's singing career began in the early 1970s as a vocalist with Dry Red though she soon left for the more accomplished jazz-rock band Sun. The group released one album before Geyer departed in 1972. She next joined Mother Earth whose R & B/soul music style was more in keeping with the style Renee wanted to pursue.

RCA, who had released Sun's album, then signed Renee to a solo contract; however, when it came time to record her first solo album, Renee, already showing signs of her self proclaimed "Difficult Woman" tag, insisted that Mother Earth back her on the album. This first release mainly consisted of R & B/Soul cover versions of overseas hits but Renee and the band nonetheless excelled, stamping them as their own in most cases.

Her follow-up album It's A Man's Man's World was released in 1974 and became Renee's first charting record. The title track, her classic rendition of the James Brown hit from 1965, also became her first hit single. She then formed her own band, Sanctuary, to promote the album. At the time Renee had become disenchanted with RCA and their refusal to let her record more original material. She was prepared to wait out her contract if necessary but Australia's up and coming and most respected independent Mushroom Records, were able to strike a deal where they would record her and RCA would release the albums and singles with a Mushroom logo stamped on the label.

The arrangement led to what some believe is the finest soul album ever released in Australia, Ready To Deal. By this stage Sanctuary, who co-wrote most of the material for the album with Renee, was renamed "The Renee Geyer Band" which was the credit on the album cover. It spawned another of Renee's signature songs "Heading In The Right Direction" which reached the Aussie top twenty in 1976.
Shortly after Deal's release, Renee signed a recording contract with Polydor Records as a solo artist. Before departing for the US however, the Renee Geyer Band released the live album Really Really Love You, recorded at the band's farewell concert at Melbourne's Dallas Brooks Hall.

Renee's first US-recorded album Moving Along was produced by famed Motown Records producer Frank Wilson and saw her own musicians supplemented by members of Stevie Wonder's band, as well as Ray Parker Jr. and other noted US session musicians. Released in late 1976, it provided her with her biggest Australian hit to date with the single "Stares and Whispers". It also attracted considerable attention in the United States when radio stations began playing several of the album's tracks, in particular a re-recorded version of her Australian hit "Heading In The Right Direction" which was issued as the first US & UK Single. Renee's new label was aware that her vocal style had led many listeners to incorrectly assume that she was black, and they urged her to keep a low profile until her popularity had grown, even suggesting that the American release of the album should not include her photograph. Known for her uncompromising and direct personal manner, Geyer refused to allow this deception and insisted on marketing the album complete with a cover photograph of what she later referred to as "my big pink face". With the album's release, interest in Geyer subsided in the United States, an event that Geyer would later blame on her headstrong decision in regard to her marketing. The album garnered Renee a great deal of respect within the recording industry and for several years she worked in Los Angeles as a session vocalist.

Meanwhile, back in Australia, RCA/Mushroom released At Her Very Best, a collection of Geyer's first three albums. The comp also contained the original versions of some songs that were re-produced and re-recorded for her Moving Along album including the non-LP 1976, Band version of "Be There In The Morning".

[Sidebar: I kinda need a late pass for this one. I first got hip to Renee Geyer a few years back while listening to a replay of Gilles Peterson's BBC Radio show. He played the cut "Be There In The Morning" and I was instantly intrigued. Why had I never heard of this woman before? Why haven’t I seen her records in the field? More importantly, what would I have to do to get my hands on this song??? He mentioned that we, the listeners, could probably find the record in Australia... DAMN!! I did some research and hunting around and found the track appeared on her stateside debut album produced by former Motown hit-maker Frank Wilson. I got lucky and nabbed a copy of the LP only to find it was a completely different recording than the one Gilles played!!! DAMN AGAIN!!! After buying a few collections along with a good portion of her catalog I still couldn't find the song he played. I even went so far as to reach out to Renee herself hoping to shed some light on the matter. One of her people said they didn't know of a different version existing and said they’d ask her and get back to me... they never did. Months later, I came across an Aussie-only 45 of the song with different production credits and the song was credited to "The Renee Geyer Band". I took a shot and grabbed it. Glad I did, the search was finally over. Years later, I found out the song was also featured on the equally hard-to-find 1977 At Her Very Best LP which I now share with you.]

Polydor felt there was enough interest in the US for a second album, again recorded with Frank Wilson but this time Renee was not entirely happy either with the mix or the support from the record company. So she negotiated a release from her contract but managed to bring the album tapes home to Australia where it was remixed and released as Winner. Though Renee herself, perhaps a little unfairly, says it should have been called "Loser" as much of the material was not up to standard. She toured the country promoting it but neither the album nor the two singles released from it enjoyed the same success as her previous releases.

In 1979, Renee teamed up with Australian guitarist Kevin Borich to record her next release, Blues License. The album was made up of straight blues material and featured backing from Borich's band Express and other Aussie notables of the genre.

In 1980, now finally free of her original RCA contract, Renee signed directly with Mushroom Records in Australia and they released her next album So Lucky, as well as re-issuing all her previous albums on the Mushroom label. The album was slight departure from the soul style she'd been so closely identified with and added a slightly tougher, more rootsy Rock/R&B style, while incorporating a bit of Salsa and Reggae. The single "Say I Love You" became the biggest hit of her career when it reached number 5 on the Australian singles charts. It also spawned two further Australian hits and was issued in the US on the Portrait Records label.

By this time, Renee was at the peak of her Australian popularity and headlined Mushroom's 10th Anniversary Concert celebration, the "Mushroom Evolution Concert" in 1982. The following year she released a second live album Renee Live, which produced the hit with "Goin' Back" a remake of the Dusty Springfield tune featuring male vocals by Glenn Shorrock.

Back in the US, Renee formed the band Easy Pieces with Hamish Stuart and Steve Ferrone, both former members of The Average White Band. They signed to A&M Records and the band's self-titled album was released in 1988 to excellent reviews, but the label changed distributors just as it was released. Therefore music stores couldn't order copies in, and with no copies on the shelves unfortunately the Easy Pieces album sank without a trace.

Geyer continued as an in-demand session vocalist working with artists like Sting, Joe Cocker, Neil Diamond, Julio Iglesias, Buddy Guy and longtime friend Bonnie Raitt. She headed back to Australia in 1993 to record songs for the ABC-TV mini series "The Seven Deadly Sins." While there, she met one of Australia's most respected songwriters, Paul Kelly, who offered to produce and help write a new album for her. Difficult Woman, would be Geyer's first solo studio album in 9 years and was heralded as one of her very best. While the LP wasn't a hit at the time, the renewed respect and exposure it brought Renee encouraged her to move back to Australia permanently. She later named her autobiography "Confessions of a Difficult Woman" nodding to the album.

Following the release of the Difficult Woman, Geyer then spent time re-establishing herself on the live circuit. She then re-signed with Mushroom Records for a new single which was included on the excellent retrospective The Best of Renee Geyer 1973-1998. The album served to introduce Renee to a new, younger audience due to a bonus disc included with initial copies. The disc featured some of her earlier singles and album tracks, remixed by some of the best up and coming DJs at the time.

The compilation's success led to the recording of her next full length project, Sweet Life. Renee was surrounded by the cream of Australian musicians, the album showed that she was also at the very peak of her exceptional vocal abilities and sold respectably well. The album is also noteworthy for containing many original Geyer-cowrites. However it was to be her last for Mushroom as the company was sold soon after.

In 2001 Australian label, Rajon issued the retrospective 3-Disc set The Great Renee Geyer. Since then, has continued released a steady stream of releases with her latest effort to date being 2007's Dedicated.

Source: edited & tweaked from Wikipedia

At Her Very Best has never officially been issued on CD, but if you're looking for your own vinyl copy, you can sometimes find one here or here.

Featured cut: "Be There In The Morning"

Listen to the full album here.


soulbrotha said...

Wow, that sample track is beautiful! Where has this woman been all my life! Thank you!

Simon666 said...

hi there, thanks for this.
I've posted Renee Geyer's album "Ready To Deal" at my new blog here :

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