At first Renée Geyer was stage shy and found it difficult to face the audience but persevered and after many hours of hard work overcame her nerves to become a credible soul performer. Renée changed bands until she joined an ambitious jazz fusion group called, Sun. They recorded one album called Sun ’72, but the singer soon parted to join Mother Earth, which was a bluesier outfit and the band started top tour.
RCA had offered Renée a contract as a solo singer but when it came to recording her first album Renée, the singer was insistent members of Mother Earth would provide the studio backing.
Brave and loyal as this was, she soon gained a reputation in the business as a difficult artist. Never the less her talent was acknowledged and by the time of her second album, she was working with the cream of Melbourne’s sessions musicians. The title track of her new solo album was James Brown’s, ‘It's A Man's Man's World’ (produced by Tweed Harris). In 1974 it was released and became a chart success.
She formed her own band called Sanctuary and they toured Australia. Renée felt constrained with RCA because the company refused to release her original material, preferring her cover versions. Mushroom Records were keen to sign an Australian act struck a deal with RCA where they would record her and RCA would release the albums and singles with a Mushroom logo stamped on the label. The next album, arguably considered to be the best example of Australian Soul, was called Ready To Deal. Most of the material was written by Renée and the band. They renamed themselves, The Renée Geyer Band. ‘Heading In The Right Direction’ was released as a single and sold well in Australian and New Zealand to become a hit in 1976.
The Renée Geyer Band was an outstanding live act and attempts were made to capture this on a live album recorded at Dallas Brooks Hall, Melbourne. It was called Really Really Love You, and represented a farewell to their Australasian fans because Renée wanted to work in the US.
In 1977 she went to LA to work on her next solo project with Frank Wilson (Motown Records). The album was Movin' Along and Renee worked in the studio with Ray Parker Jr, members of the Stevie Wonder’s band as well as other notable session musicians. The album gave her biggest success in Australasia but did less well in the States.
Part of the problem was she sounded black but was a white artist. The single “Stares And Whispers” was earmarked to become a major US hit on black music radio but when Rene refused to take the record company’s advice, not to have her face on the record’s cover, radio programmers refused to give it airplay.
Her stubbornness not to be misrepresented may have adversely affected her commercials success in the US but her action won her much respect from her fellow musicians who kept her going by employing her as a session singer. Renée carried on working between American and Australia and had a major hit in 1981 with the single ‘Say I love you,’ from her So Lucky album.
In 1980 she signed with Mushroom Records and recorded another US album with the Bump Band (Bonnie Raitt’s support group). ‘So lucky’ was produced by Rob Fraboni and contained more gutsy r&b material inter spaced with reggae and salsa.
In 1983 Renée was back in Australia and recorded another live album which produced a superb version of Dusty Springfield’ ‘Going back, ’ sang as a duet with Glenn Shorrock (Little River Band).
She eventually decided to settle in LA and joined Easy Pieces with Hamish Stuart and Steve Ferrone, former members of the Average White Band. They recorded one album which met critical acclaim but nothing commercial came from the venture.
Renée left the band and continued as a session singer working with Sting (We'll Be Together), Toni Childs (Don't Walk Away), Joe Cocker (Unchain my heart), Neil Diamond, Buddy Guy, Julio Iglesias, Jackson Brown, Bonnie Raitt among many others.
She diversified her career and appeared on Broadway before touring as a session singer with major acts including Joe Cocker and Chaka Khan. In 1993 Paul Kelly asked Renée to sing “Foggy Highway,” and was so knocked out with her rendition he produced her next album, called “Difficult Woman”.
Paul Kelly and Joe Camilleri (Black Sorrows) went on to produce Renée’s 1999 album, Sweet Life.
Renee continues to record and perform and although she is sadly the least celebrated of Australian greats, she certainly was one of the best. Renée has written her autobiography entitled Confessions of a Difficult Woman (Harper Collins).
Worth a listen:
Born under a bad sign (1973)
It’s A Man’s Man’s World (1974)
Turn On The Lights (1975)
Heading in the Right Direction (1976)
Stares And Whispers (1977)
Say I love you (1981)
Going back duet with Glenn Shorrack (1983)
Foggy Highway (1993)
Difficult Woman (1994)