Born Cynthia Frantz in Philadelphia, Gloria’s family relocated to Atlanta, Boston and eventually Detroit. As a teenager, Gloria bailed out of an education at the Detroit Free School and headed west to California. She attended a small alternative high school in Berkeley which fostered a burgeoning local music scene. As the daughter of a Dutch-born civil rights activist father and thespian-inclined mother, it was perhaps inevitable that Cynthia would be drawn towards public performance.
There was much pre-punk underground activity around Berkeley at this time, with Matthew Kaufmann’s local Beserkley label being a principle catalyst. Gloria’s musical peer group included members of Beserkley bands Earthquake, the Rubinoos, and the Greg Kihn Band, plus Tower Of Power, Santana and Psycotic Pineapple. Among Gloria’s extra-curricular activities was a spot of speaker cabinet building for Santana, and refurbishment of Commander Cody’s bus.
Gloria worked for the Musician’s Switchboard helping local acts to complete line-ups and arrange gigs. As a result if this, she managed to find herself a backup singing position with a band playing in the Amapola Show at the Mabuhay Gardens. The venue was later to become the prime venue for SF punk and new wave, but at this time was still a Filipino supper club putting on mainstream easy listening acts. Gloria sang harmonies on covers of popular songs by Captain & Teneel and the Supreme and so on for a couple of nights until she was demoted to lip-syncing.
Gloria was not to be disheartened in her search for fame, however, and a year later her lucky break came when she was invited onto the Dick Bright Show (Dick Bright and His Sounds of Delight), a key part of the San Francisco music scene. The late night TV show was a spoof on the famed Johnny Carson’s Tonight show. Local jazz singer Pamela Polland failed to make a show one week, and Dick Bright called on David Seabury of Psycotic Pineapple to suggest a substitute. Dick was looking for someone brave enough to take the stage but who couldn’t sing. Up stepped Cynthia’s creation “Gloria Balsam” to sing “The Way We Were” with a twenty-piece orchestra.
“Balsam’s show… is a one-woman triumph” S F Examiner, 8th September 1978
Gloria was an instant hit and was featured in the local press as a highlight of the show. She subsequently performed at local events and sang with Psycotic Pineapple, and eventually had her own show at the Mabuhay.
She struck up a friendship with Mabuhay music producer Dirk Dirksen who asked Gloria to help out with his production company. This led to Gloria recording the legendary Fluffy single at Tewksbury Sound Recorders in Richmond, California. The song was written for her by Tewksbury engineer Richard van Dorn and Davey Sayles.
So, “Fluffy” backed by a cover of the Sammy Cahn-Jimmy van Heusen standard “Rockin’ High Hopes” was recorded with a bunch of friends, including TV Dunbar of the Rubinoos and members of Psycotic Pineapple. But Gloria still needed to find a way of paying for the pressing and packaging. This is where things get really strange, even for San Francisco.
One bright spring day in 1978, Gloria was performing with Psycotic Pineapple at an outdoor event at the Berkeley Campus of the University of California, opening for Talking Heads. As she sang White rabbit, the high notes reverberating around the valley and into the stratosphere, the magical sounds entranced one Jeff Finder, sitting some distance away in the hills. Jeff ran to his car and tuned into the local college radio to identify the artist creating these unearthly sounds. Fortune smiled on Gloria that day. Jeff was heir to a Californian newspaper and was happy to put up the finance required to issue Gloria’s single.
One thousand copies of Fluffy were issued in spring 1980 on the Richmond label, many copies finding their way to alternative radio stations as a result of Dirk Dirksen’s connections. Richmond was created by Dan Alexander, producer of the Motels’ records, as an outlet for local bands on a restricted budget. The single gained airplay in Boston and New York and a few copies even made it to the UK. Gloria’s moment of stardom came when Dr. Demento featured “Fluffy” on Rhino’s “World’s Worst Records.”
Gloria opened at the Mabuhay for Devo, the Jim Carrol Band, Dead Kennedys, the Cramps, the Offs and many others.
“A comedienne extraordinaire and scintillating songstress… her skirts sometimes mini, but her talent always maxi” Rock Scene, Vol.9 No.1, January 1981
After a single for Pynotic in 1978, Gloria’s friends the Psycotic Pineapple issued a single (the classic 60s garage-inspired I wanna wanna wanna wanna get rid of you backed by a cover of the Droogs’ Ahead of My Time) and a great album (Where’s The Party?) on the Richmond label which was also financed by Jeff Finder.
In 1981 Cynthia/Gloria moved east to New York and spent some years involved in performance art before finally returning to college and law school.
Cynthia now works as a juvenile defender in Vermont. Her Fluffy single still gets regular airplay, especially in the US on college radio and is a sought-after record. She has tapes of some of her live performances and other studio recordings, including the 60s-inspired The Flower Children, which she hopes one day to have issued on CD.
Edited by gbreit on 6 Jul 2008, 05:00
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