‘There’s something really magic about the fact that the King and the Queen left the building on the same day,” says author and veteran radio personality Meredith Ochs. She’s talking about Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley, both of whom died on Aug. 16 (though 41 years apart).
Ochs is the author of the upcoming Rock-and-Roll Woman: The 50 Fiercest Female Rockers (Sterling), which profiles and/or interviews everyone from Sister Rosetta Tharpe to Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes.
Those fierce women are the bookends in Ochs’ labor of love, which she says was inspired, in part, by the scores of interviews and commentary pieces she’s done over the years for Sirius and National Public Radio. Tharpe is first on the list because, as Ochs says of the guitarist-singer from the 1930s–’40s, “You can make the argument that she invented rock. She sure did set the template for rock moves!”
Ochs’ book is arranged chronologically, she says, and after Thorpe, she covers Big Mama Thornton, Wanda Jackson and then Aretha. The criteria for inclusion: they had to have some kind of impact or influence on rock and roll.
Aretha? “Her influence is almost incalculable,” Ochs says. “She influenced everyone from Janis Joplin to Amy Winehouse” and beyond—Annie Lennox, Susan Tedeschi, Bonnie Raitt and countless others have all sipped from the slippers of the Queen of Soul. “Even someone like Christina Aguilera—she’s not in the book and she’s not a rock and roll woman—but you can put Aretha’s influence through to pop, rock, R&B and the blues.”
Ochs lives in Hoboken and has been interviewing musicians and celebrities for decades; she recently left Sirius after a 12-year run at the online radio giant. She had tons of interviews in the can already and did some new ones that are exclusive to the book.
“It also seemed strange to me,” she says, “that a lot of stuff was happening in entertainment with women, the pay gap in Hollywood, and while there are more women musicians, there’s not a lot of women played on the radio.”
Since her death earlier this month at age 76, Aretha’s been getting a lot of airplay on North Bay radio stations. Ochs didn’t interview Franklin expressly for the book, but recounts meeting and talking to her at a cancer benefit for a New Jersey healthcare provider in 2012 (Franklin died of pancreatic cancer). “She never talked about the fact that she had cancer,” says Ochs. “She never talked about her illness, but she did a lot of charitable work.”
Ochs says she brought a friend to the benefit concert, whose mother had died from breast cancer. “It was a very small, private event,” she says, as she recalls her encounter with the Queen of Soul. “She talked about why she was there.”
The event was one she’ll never forget, says Ochs: “Being in her presence . . . it was just awesome,” she recalls. “There was, like, this golden glow about her.”
‘Rock-and-Roll Woman: The 50 Fiercest Female Rockers,’ will be in bookstores Oct. 23. Pre-orders are now available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble online.