THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
Linda Boyd Kavars
“For a Cowgirl from Iowa, I’ve Had a Pretty Big Life.”
Linda Boyd Kavars, August, 2020
Hello, my name is Linda Boyd Kavars. I was born in 1941 in Mason City, Iowa. Mason City, which is River City—in Meredith Wilsons Music Man. It’s halfway between Des Moines and Minneapolis. It was pretty much an idyllic childhood. I was born right after the Depression. I was the first granddaughter in the family, and it was quite an extended family. I had six uncles and aunts in that town in addition to my grandparents on both sides, so I was pretty spoiled and a pretty precocious little child. But very secure.
I think I came out of the womb questioning authority. My mother told me that by the time I was three years old, she stopped telling me what to do because it didn’t do any good anyway. I always had a mind of my own and followed my own path. FDR was God in the Boyd family. He saved us through the Depression. My grandfather planted trees to make a living.
Life in that town really was idyllic in retrospect. I didn’t even know about racial problems until I left Iowa in the ’60s. All of that kind of stuff was kept from “the kids”. I was pretty much free to go where I wanted when I wanted. We could do so in those days. I spent most of my childhood playing outside, riding horses; being a cowgirl! I was usually on a horse or a bike, until I got a car. I was always sort of a loner, but I was popular. I wanted to be a cowboy for the first half of my life. It seems I grew up to be a cowgirl!
When I was three years old, I rode my trike to the next farm— about a mile or two down the road— where my father was keeping some sheep. I let all the sheep out and brought them back to our farm. My mother got a phone call saying, “I just saw your little girl riding down the road with a herd of sheep.” I got them all home. I was three years old and nothing surprised my mom. I was always doing the unexpected. I always felt a little different, but I didn’t really find out how different I was until I came out many years later.
Clear Lake was 10 miles west of us and where we spent our teenage summers on the beach and weekends at the Surf Ballroom. I saw Buddy Holly there the night that he was killed. As I said, a pretty idyllic life. I had a car from the time I was 14, so I pretty much had the opportunity of independence. I loved sports but couldn’t play competitively in school because the town was too big, so I always had athletic boyfriends that could play sports. That’s the way I did it, vicariously, plus I could play ball with them because I was pretty good.
I did what most people in Iowa did at that time. I got married after high school (to a star athlete) and had two children. It wasn’t until seven years later that I realized I was gay. I should have known my whole entire life, but somehow I stuffed it. Well, anyway, because of that, I ended up being put into a mental hospital. This was 1967 in Iowa and I got put into a mental hospital. There’s a whole story behind that, but I’m not going to tell that now. This is to talk about my life as a feminist; I’m sure that had something to do with it.
Before then I had read Betty Friedan’s book. I was aware that there were a few little things happening for women, but not quite tuned in yet. It was about that time Alice de Buhr came to me and asked me if I would manage her band. She had a trio called The Women. What did I know about managing a band? She said, “Well, you know all the Greeks and the Greeks own all the clubs.” She was right… I was married to a Greek. I thought it sounded interesting and I went to hear them.
There were three high school girls. Marsha played the keyboards with one hand and the electric bass with the other, did the lights with her feet and sang lead. She was pretty talented. Nancy played guitar and Alice on the drums. They were really quite good. I got them a couple of jobs and it just kept growing, expanding. We started traveling a bit and by the second year, I went to my first rock concert: The Turtles and the Buffalo Springfield. I found out that the road manager for the Turtles was from Iowa, so I started talking to him. Next thing I knew we were talking about The Women opening for The Turtles on their summer tour.
It was a very exciting time… and it was also the time that I got involved with Alice. My husband found out and told their parents… that was the end of my band and I ended up in the mental hospital. That’s a whole other story you’re going to have to read the book for. It was one of the darkest times of my life. I was so depressed I could hardly get out of bed. I had no idea who I was or where I was going. I had no idea where Alice was.
My whole life was falling apart. My reputation in the town was crumbling. My mom knew it and told me I couldn’t stay there and suggested I go to my cousins in California. She would care for the kids until I got settled, so I began making plans to leave. As fate would have it, Alice and I met up again and we made plans to go west together. Our mantra was: “We are going to be the first all-girl band to make it!”
We left Iowa in August of 1967 and went to Sacramento to my cousins house. We got odd jobs like cleaning apartment houses and selling vacuums door to door. We did whatever we could to make a living and to rent a little house. And we begin putting up ads looking for bands.
Alice auditioned for a band called The Svelts, which was June Millington and Jean Millington and Addie. We had finally found our band! Through many changes, we got rid of June and Jean at one point. So, it was Alice, Addie and I and we put together a band called Wild Honey and took it on the road. That group didn’t work out. So, when Jeanie was free again we got her back. She really wanted us to hire her sister, June. So, we did. Wild Honey was Addie, Alice, June, and Jean. I was doing all the booking and picking out the tunes that they played. We were getting very well known in the Bay Area.
By this time, we had moved to the Bay Area in San Francisco and were starting to do concerts instead of clubs. We rented a storefront in San Jose and rehearsed all the time. We opened at the San Jose Fairgrounds for Creedence Clearwater when it was a big, big band. We had a studio where we were recording and when I was finally satisfied with the demo tapes, I went down to L.A. to try to get the band a deal. We were going to be the very first all-female band to be part of a major label.
I went down to L.A. in April of 1969. There was a pretty big feminist movement going on then, but it hadn’t really caught on. I was involved only by working with women and doing what nobody had ever done before. It was quite a struggle. Johnny Rivers had started a label of his own, and I had a meeting set up with his PR guy. My appointment was 11:30 and I sat there waiting for what seemed like forever. I saw Johnny Rivers go to lunch and I sat there until he came back. He looked at me and asked if I’d been helped. I explained I was supposed to have a meeting with his PR guy. He apologized and invited me into his office and listened to the tape.
He said it was pretty good, but not what he was looking for. But he said he would put me in touch with a lawyer friend who might be able to help me. I had knocked on a lot of doors and pretty much the whole thing was just nobody wanted to sign a girl’s band. They were very concerned about what would happen if someone got married and pregnant. I would explain: this band will never break up; we do everything together. So, he sent me to this attorney, Mutt Cohen, brother of Herb Cohen who managed Frank Zappa, Linda Ronstadt, Tom Waits and others. Herb Cohen would become my mentor of sorts. I played the tape for Mutt and he said the same things everybody else did: an all-girl band was just too risky.
So, I grabbed my tape and before I walked out, I said to him through tears, “You’re going to be so sorry, this is the best band that ever lived anywhere and you’re going to be so sorry.” I slammed the door and went down to the elevators. I’m thinking, I have to go back home and tell the girls I failed. As I’m waiting for the elevator, Mutt’s secretary came down and said, “He wants you to come back in.” I went back and he said, “If they’re half as good as you say they are, I think we can do something.”
Herb set up a couple showcases and invited all the record companies and in return he wanted half of the publishing. We made a deal, came down that May, and we killed. After the fifteen-minute thing at the Troubadour we had almost ten offers the next morning. That was pretty frigging exciting.
We moved into a big house in the hills that had belonged to Hedy Lamarr which Herbie helped me find and he fronted us the money. I thought we were on top of the world. That was my first foray in the big time…into the world of sharks. Richard Perry, the producer we had chosen, began asking me for half of the publishing. I told him, half went to the Cohens and the other half belonged to the girls. He tried to tell me the girls didn’t need it because they would have the writer’s share. I knew better and besides he was a staff producer at Warner Brothers and wasn’t entitled to it. When he knew I. Wouldn’t give in, he went to work on Addie. He told her she was the star of the group and made lots of promises but Addie turned him down too. He then began seducing the girls with lots of weed and coke, inviting them to recording sessions and letting them sing background. We were in the big time for sure. I got to hear Laura Nyro in the studio and met David Geffen!
In late August, I got fired. I came back from a weekend away and they said they didn’t need me anymore. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a contract. My world ended. I was involved with Addie by this time, which is part of the reason the band fell apart. But I’m telling you about my time in the music business. They changed the name to Fanny. It took a year to replace Addie who had quit because she didn’t like the way it was going. They told her she was forbidden to stay with me…or even talk to me and she knew Richard was trying to get the publishing and blah, blah, blah. Anyway, she quit.
I was pretty depressed for a while and then I went back to school. I thought I’d be an entertainment attorney. In the meantime, somebody else approached me with a band called Chunky, Novi and Ernie. Chunky rented a room from the house that Addie and I had. We found a house in the Valley with a tennis court and a pool and we had musicians in and out all of the time. I spent the next twenty years in the music business. I signed Chunky, Novi and Ernie to Warner Brothers. Chunky became Lauren Wood.
I worked with a lot of women’s bands, women’s groups. That’s basically what I was as a feminist. In the meantime, the Women’s Center in L.A. was being built, but I didn’t get too involved in that because my thing was being out there. I was the only woman that had an act on Warner Brothers. Of course, that didn’t work to my advantage either, because they chewed me up and spit me out. I’m in the big leagues and I’m just this little girl from Iowa, but I held my own.
I made a living for twenty years out there. I had lots of exciting things. I got Addie an audition with the Rolling Stones. I went to Linda Ronstadt’s birthday party. I met all four Beatles, separately. I worked with many top producers and was in the studio when many hits were recorded: like Stevie Nicks on her first Fleetwood Mac LP. I co-produced a Blues LP with Willie Dixson in Chicago, co-produced the music for a movie (Starhops), and I was backstage at many big shows. By the early 80s, it all changed. It was now run by MBA’s and it wasn’t even about talent so much anymore. It was all about numbers and bottom lines. The days of developing an artist were over and it wasn’t fun anymore.
Also, by this time I was drinking too much, I needed to change. And as fate would have it, about that time, I got a letter from Kate Millet inviting me to come spend the summer at her farm in upstate New York. Three hundred dollars is what I had to pay for room and board for the summer. It sounded wonderful and I decided it was time for me to go. I went there and that summer changed my whole entire life. I suddenly realized what feminism was about. And that began my life as an activist.
I have to backtrack …Not certain what year it was…73 or 74. I got a call from two women in Washington, Ginny Berson and Meg Christain, who wanted to start an all woman record label and wondered if I was interested. Of course I was and had been thinking about it. They drove out to LA, unpacked all of their stuff into our house, as they planned to stay a couple days. They told me that if I really was serious about this, I wouldn’t be using Ted Templeman to produce Chunky, Novi, and Ernie, I would use a woman. Now this was a very esoteric group that Frank Zappa, Peter Asher and Ted Templeman, all three of them wanted to produce and that’s the only way you could get a deal for a group like that. I tried to explain it doesn’t work that way. But as we talked further, I realized how far away we were from each other because they were talking about completely all women, women everywhere. No men, starting all over, completely separatist. They didn’t even want men to come to their shows.
It wasn’t my idea of what the music business was about, so that didn’t work out. They packed up their stuff and left as quickly as they came. They did well: Olivia Records went on and did well for what it was as opposed to a major label. I tried to get a deal for Cris Williamson, but she was loyal to Olivia and that was a good move because she was sort of like the star of Olivia. She’s still going and she’s a wonderful person with a wonderful voice. I really could have put her on a major label if she had let me. I did produce a few of her New York shows throughout the years.
In the early ’80s, I went east to spent the summer at Kate Milletts farm. I of women met all sorts from the feminist movement. Phyllis Chesler was there, Barbara Love, lots of people who became a part of my circle of friends. But anyway, it was such a great experience. I had started videotaping then and did this video of Kate. As I went home, I kept thinking I’m not so sure I want to be in the music business anymore. I’m not having any fun and drinking too much. My relationship is falling apart; it’s been really up and down. She was running all over on me and it wasn’t good.
When I got back to California, I went to San Francisco State to see Gloria Steinem and I fell in love. She just put everything into the right words for me. After I saw her, I wrote a letter and I told her that I had done this videotape of Kate Millett that was really good and I was going to start this company called Great Dames Productions. I wanted to videotape all these second wave feminists, because I had a feeling already in the ’80s that the young people were just taking it all for granted. They didn’t realize what we had put into it. I wanted to document it all before they were gone.
Being on the farm in the East Coast with other feminists I realized how political it all was. I had not thought about feminism in that way before. I started hearing the stories about how they got The New York Times to change their want- ad hiring practices which affected the Help wanted pages over the whole United States. They made a lot of changes and I decided that that’s what I wanted to do, so I wrote this letter to Gloria and she thought it was a wonderful idea. She said to call her when I came to New York. I called Kate and asked if I could come back, and she said yes.
The summer of ’85, I went back to New York and I never returned to California. I started making videotapes. I sold real estate; I did whatever I had to do. I moved to Connecticut and started producing a lot of the women’s music because by that time, the stages were starting to dry up for the women. The feminist movement was starting to dry up a little and it was when AIDS came on the scene. So, I started producing concerts and fundraisers.
I produced a big show at the Palace in New Haven, Connecticut, with Holly Near, Kate Clinton, Ferron, and Novi from Chunky, Novi and Ernie. We made enough money that we bought a house in Connecticut for homeless AIDS patients. This was back before when doctors didn’t even want to treat people with AIDS. That was the beginning, so I produced a lot of shows. I managed Kate Millett’s farm for a couple of years, and we started doing feminist events there. That’s where I met JoAnne Myers (Dr. Jam). Kate was keynote speaker at Dr. Jam’s conference at Marist College and Kate brought her back to the farm and introduced her to me.
At that time, we were starting a non-profit for the farm and we had a very exclusive board of directors. We had Gloria Steinem, Barbara Love, Robin Morgan, Phyllis Chesler, Linda Clark, Dr. Jam. Right when it seemed like everything was working perfect, Kate had a manic bout. Kate Millett, which everybody probably knows is manic depressive. Well, that sort of got very uncomfortable and it didn’t work out.
I got involved with JoAnne and we bought a house in Kingston, NY. She was a board member at ERVK, a board member emeritus. So, I was very involved in that kind of stuff in the Valley. We were at the Cape one day and went to a play called Eleanor Roosevelt & Lorena Hickok, A Love Story. I was very taken with it. I thought if this was true, people should know about this! I talked to the actress and said I was interested in producing the play. So, for the next year I took this play on the road and we did lots of shows in Florida, Massachusetts, New York City, and here in Kingston.
When it played here in Kingston, a woman who lived across the street from the last place Hick had lived in Hyde Park called me and said that wasn’t true: Hick and Eleanor weren’t involved or lovers, but she was going to come see the play anyway. She saw the play and then after it, she was quite moved by it. She decided to find out where Hick was buried. She called me a couple of days later and found out nobody ever picked up Hick’s ashes. They stayed at this funeral home in Rhinebeck for twenty years and then were put into a pauper’s grave at the Rhinebeck cemetery.
So, I called up my friend Blanche Wiesen Cook— who wrote Eleanor Roosevelt Vol. 1, 2, and 3— and asked her to get involved and we raised money. I talked to the man at the cemetery and he knew approximately where he put those ashes. He gave us the space and said we could put up a memorial there. She had said in her will she wanted to be cremated and buried under a tree. That’s what we did. We bought a dogwood tree and put it in. We added a stone bench and then we got a plaque that said Lorena Hickok: A.P. Reporter, Author, Activist, and Friend of E.R. We got the grave marked. I produced Janis Ian show to raise the money for that and it is still there. I go there often, I take flowers, and I talk to Hick.
The United Press picked up the story and it went all over the United States. It felt so good to bring attention to this woman that was written out of history because of who she loved. And because it happened to be Eleanor Roosevelt, it was really a secret. I read all of the letters they wrote to each other. Eleanor wrote to her every day. And when you read those letters, there is little doubt. Blanche had done much research on it, too, so there really is no doubt.
Even when she was in the White House for a time, Lorena lived in the little sitting room off of the Lincoln Bedroom. As it turns out, that was Eleanor’s bedroom at that time. I got to go to the White House and visit the Lincoln Bedroom. My friend Virginia (Ginny) Appuzzo was managing the White House for Bill Clinton. When she resigned after the scandal, they gave her a going away party in the residence of the White House. They did that for people they really liked and obviously they really liked her.
JoAnne and I were lucky enough to be invited there. While everybody was working the room, I was down the hall in the Lincoln Bedroom trying to connect with Eleanor and Hick’s spirits. One of the memories I have is a picture in the Queen’s Room of Queen Noor and King Hussein of Jordan. It was a picture of them in the middle of the desert on a motorcycle, and it said To Bill and Hillary, We’ve done all we could do for peace and friendship. I felt so important being there. It was quite an experience.
Another experience that was very meaningful to me was that I actually got to tell Eleanor’s grandson about Hick. I said, “Since you were the one that was with her when she did the United Nations document, you must have known Hick.” He said, “Oh yeah, I did.” I knew it. I asked if he knew that no one ever picked up her ashes. He was genuinely shocked, and I got to tell him that she’s been taken care of and her grave has been marked. That was kind of a thrill too. Besides the thrill of meeting Hillary Clinton several times and then getting to talk to her several times.
I’m not even done yet— when I was like 60 I started a newsletter called The Scene that went out to the gay people in the Hudson Valley. We’ve been living here in this house for thirty years now. I had The Scene and then around 2002, I heard from this woman who sold ads for the Chronogram, which was a very popular local magazine. She wanted to start a gay magazine. She called me, we got together and, we started a magazine. It became InsideOut and it was all about pride.
I think the thing I was the most proud about was winning a national award— we won an Ozzie for design when we were up against magazines with much higher distribution. As soon as we put these magazines out, they were gone. Thirty five percent of our readership was straight and we were very proud of that. We raised the bar for publishing in the Hudson Valley; it was a very beautiful and popular magazine. We had great writers who wrote for almost nothing. They wrote for other magazines, but this was a work of love. Everybody was proud of what we were doing.
You can give the magazine credit for the gay and lesbian center that opened in Kingston in, I think, 2006. It encouraged these two women to start a Pride March in New Paltz. I lost the magazine when I shouldn’t have. I trusted the wrong person. We needed cash, we needed to expand. I trusted this man who turned out to not be trustworthy and he destroyed our magazine. So, I pretty much retired after that.
Nothing’s been able to keep my attention that long since then. I’ve sold my videos to archives, so they’re safe. I have my circle of friends. Life is a little bit different here. Dr. Jam is going strong. She’s a real ardent feminist and now yesterday, Kamala Harris was named the vice-presidential candidate of the United States. I am thinking of all of the work and the walls that we had to knock down. I didn’t go into detail about anything, but you can bet that the twenty years I spent in L.A. I worked hard.
You had to work hard, too. I had to face a lot of rejection because of being a woman. I learned everything the hard way. It’s been a good full life. I feel a little bit like Johnny Appleseed, that’s what I always felt in my life. I felt like I’ve gone around and spread little seeds and then they’ve grown. And as I’m getting ready to leave this world I’m hoping that Kamala Harris is going to be the first woman president of the United States and all of this work that we’ve done will not have been in vain. And that’s pretty much my story. For a little cowgirl from Iowa, I’ve had a pretty big life.
There’ll be stuff about me at Smith College, if anybody’s interested. I’ve written a lot of stories, documented a lot of stories, and have a lot of interesting stories. It’s been a big full life and the timing was perfect. I lived through the best of everything, the best times of everything. And now the world is changing. We’re running around in masks and who knows? I think I’m ready to leave, but it sure has been good. I only regret I wasn’t able to leave a better, safer world for my grandchildren.