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To Renee Geyer, U.S Is the R&B; Singer’s Land of Opportunity

Times Staff Writer

There’s a daydream some people entertain when they reach the middle of life: Wouldn’t it be nice to make a change, a fresh start, yet do it in such a way that all your hard-won experience still applies?

Renee Geyer has a chance to do exactly that.

Starting in her teens, Geyer carved out a career in her native Australia singing soul and funk music. With 14 albums dating back to 1972, she became a well-known figure on the Australian music scene. Three of her albums were released in the United States, but Geyer didn’t tour here and her work went almost unnoticed.

Two years ago, Geyer moved to this country to make a new start--but without changing her dusky, full-throated singing style. Now she is emerging as one of the two singers fronting Easy Pieces, a new pop-R&B; band that also includes smooth-voiced singer Hamish Stuart and drummer Steve Ferrone, both veterans of the Average White Band, the Scottish funk group that had a string of hits in the mid-'70s. Geyer’s Australian track record helped her win a place in the band, but to American audiences she will be a newcomer.

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With Stuart in England helping Paul McCartney record an album, and Ferrone on the road in Eric Clapton’s touring band, Geyer said, it will be a couple of months before Easy Pieces starts playing live shows to push its just-released debut album.

To stay busy, Geyer has gotten together a band of Los Angeles musicians just for the sake of getting on stage and having some fun singing old soul hits. Geyer said her show Saturday night at Club Postnuclear in Laguna Beach will be only her third headlining performance in the United States.

“I have the chance to clean the slate and start again. It’s like being born again,” Geyer, 35, said this week in a phone interview from her home in West Hollywood. “A lot of Australians say to me, ‘Renee, you were so big in Australia. Isn’t it weird that nobody knows you? Isn’t that going backward?’ ”

But Geyer sees her move to America as a long-delayed step forward, as well as a chance to apply some lessons she says she had to learn the hard way during her Australian career--such as the importance of maintaining good relations with her record company and the media.

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Australia wasn’t the likeliest platform for an R&B; career, and Geyer didn’t come from the likeliest background for a hard-edged soul wailer.

“Someone played me an Aretha Franklin album when I was very young, and that changed my life,” Geyer said. “I knew I didn’t want to do anything else.”

So Geyer became, as she puts it, “a Hungarian Jew from Down Under who sings more like a black person.” It wasn’t exactly what her parents, who ran a kosher catering business in Sydney, had in mind. “They thought I’d get over it like the flu or something. I never did. I think they’d still like me to get a real job and get married and have kids.”

In Australia, Geyer said, she was tagged as an uninhibited performer with a temperamental streak when it came to the non-performing aspects of the music business. “I used to be called ‘Raunchy Renee’ in Australia. It’s not what I would have envisioned for myself. It just happened.”

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Geyer said she moved to the United States for a time in the late ‘70s. “I was just starting to get comfortable, and then one of the records I’d done went to No. 1 in Australia, and I was out of here on the next plane” to capitalize on its success.

In 1986, having just lost her recording contract, Geyer decided that if she was going to go through the effort of making a new start, she might as well do it where the opportunity for an R&B; singer was greatest.

“I did one last tour, took all the money from that, and came over here.” After a year in New York City that included work as a backup singer for Joe Cocker, Geyer moved to Los Angeles to join Easy Pieces. She also has sung backup vocals on Sting’s “We’ll Be Together” and on Toni Childs’ album “Union.”

John McClain, head of urban music for A&M; Records, was the matchmaker who put Geyer’s name forward last year when Hamish Stuart was forming Easy Pieces.

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McClain “has always had faith in me as an artist, and he always said, ‘You should be here (in America),’ ” Geyer said. “I called him and he said, ‘Are you really here? Do you really mean it this time?’

“I said, ‘I’m really here. This is my shot.’ ”


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