A few months ago we featured some rare footage of Australia’s soul icon Renee Geyer in her younger days when she fronted the band Mother Earth in the early 70s. You can see it here. With Renee playing some more rare shows, we move a little bit further down the track and look at some classic tracks from her early solo years.
Renee was still with Mother Earth when she signed a solo deal with RCA Records (who had previously released the sole album by her previous group, the progressive jazz-rock group Sun) in 1972, but she insisted that Mother Earth accompany her on her album. That album, Renee Geyer, featured Mother Earth members Jim Kelly (guitar), John Proud (drums) and Mark Punch (guitar, vocals) along with other musicians, and was produced by Gus McNeil at ATA Studios in Sydney and released in September 1973.
Renee Geyer is the lost album in Renee’s solo cannon – it’s never been re-released. True, it’s not as sophisticated as her subsequent work, but it has some fine moments. The album consists primarily of covers of American soul hits like the perennial “Do Right Woman” and the more recent Chi-Lites hit “Oh Girl”, renamed “Oh Boy” (and featuring some nice harmonica by Chris Blanchflower of producer Gus McNeil’s other clients Country Radio). Amongst the slightly more eclectic selections were a version of Van Morrison’s “Moondance”, a 1963 Anthony Newly song “There’s No Such Thing As Love” (which had recently been covered by Thelma Houston), and, perhaps best of all, “Mascara Blue”, a song written by the maverick Australian singer/writer Gulliver Smith of Company Caine fame. Company Caine - Co. Caine (get it?) – who were also clients of Gus McNeil - were a fairly deranged bunch, but Gully could write killer soul numbers, and Renee’s “Mascara Blue” is an unacknowledged gem.
Renee formally left Mother Earth after the first album to pursue her solo career. She released her second album in August 1974, featuring noted musicians Phil Manning and Barry "Big Goose" Sullivan from Chain, and Tim Gaze from Tamam Shud and Ariel. With the album’s title track, a cover of the 1965 James Brown Hit “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World”, she had her first hit.
For the next album, Renee brought back ex-Mother Earth guitarist Mark Punch and began a long working relationship with keyboard wiz Mal Logan of Healing Force and Chain. Ready To Deal was released in late 1975 and became her most successful to date. The album included a great opener in “Sweet Love”, and the tune that would become one of Renee’s signatures, “Heading In The Right Direction”, co-written by Punch and also recorded in the same year by another Punch band the Johnny Rocco Band.
Renee ventured to the US – she would spend most of the next few years there – to record her next album. Moving Along was released in May 1977, and produced by Motown producer Frank Wilson. US session players, including pre-fame Ray Parker Jr, augmented Mal Logan and Barry Sullivan. The album reached #11 in Australia but sadly stalled in the States. A re-recorded “Heading In The Right Direction” was her first US single; Australia got another future Geyer signature tune “Stares and Whispers”.
Later in ’77, on a return to Australia, Renee recorded the non-album single “Restless Years”, the theme song for a popular teen soapie The Restless Years. Only a minor hit, it will be well remembered by anyone who watched the show.
Renee’s last album of the ‘70s was a turn away from the contemporary soul sound she had been exploring. Blues License was a collaboration with blues guitar king and band the Kevin Borich Express, with extra contributions from Mal Logan, Mark Punch, another former Chain member Tim Piper, and jazz vocalist Kerrie Biddell. As typified by this burning cover of BB King’s “The Thrill Is Gone”, Blues License was an album of hard blues.
Next time we’ll move with Renee into the ‘80s.
Renee’s upcoming shows:
Sunday 29th July 2018 - Publican, Mornington, Vic
Saturday 22nd September 2018 - Mitchell Creek Rock ‘N’ Blues Fest, Qld
Wednesday 26th September 2018 - Camelot Lounge, Marrickville NSW
Thursday 27th September 2018 - Camelot Lounge, Marrickville NSW
Friday 28th September 2018 - Bowral Bowling Club, NSW
Saturday 20th October 2018 - Marysville Jazz and Blues Festival, Vic