RON ROMANOVSKY was born and raised in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he enjoyed a miserable childhood. At the age of 12 he began writing full-length novels as a way of coping with his boredom and the growing harassment he faced at school, where he was labeled ‘queer’ very early on. At 15 he learned three chords on the guitar and began composing songs. Soon he moved on to 4 and 5-chord songs and took up piano as well. (“I was a terrible student. I was more inspired by Phil Ochs than Chopin so instead of practicing waltzes I wrote satirical songs with catchy titles like ‘Ignorant People ‘ and ‘Don’t Believe The Bullshit’. My piano teacher was not impressed.“) His friends, however, were impressed, and soon he began to dream of a recording and performing career, though he had no idea how to pull it off.
He did know that he would first have to overcome the limitations of his white, heterosexual, middle-class background, and so, after high school, he came out to his family and moved to San Francisco with only a few hundred dollars in his pocket. (“I had never held a job and had no idea how I was going to support myself. but starvation seemed a minor risk after what I’d already been through.“) A few weeks after leaving Pittsburgh he not only had a job (“My years of being a novelist finally paid off– I could type 80 WPM!“) but his own apartment as well, where he spent endless hours listening to music (Janis Ian, Joni Mitchell. Joan Armatrading, Joan Baez, and other female vocalists whose names began with J) and refining his songwriting skills. He also began performing whenever possible at Coffeehouses such as the Mustard Seed, the Owl& Monkey Cafe and The Other Cafe. At a loss for how not to be just another “sensitive singer/songwriter”, and inspired by the women’s music movement, he noticed a conspicuous absence of gay men singing songs relevant to their lives. As a result he began writing songs from a more personal perspective (“Confessions Of A Male Secretary” and “Pee Shy” among them). Thus, as he came out, so did his music, infused with the political humor that has become an R&P trademark.
PAUL PHILLIPS was destined to be an entertainer. The son of show business parents (his father was a Baptist preacher, his mother a high school teacher) Paul sang four-part harmonies with his family in nursing homes and hospitals when he was only 6 years old. His solo stage debut at the age of 7 was a harbinger of things to come. (“I had my lines down perfectly for my role as Little Jack Horner. On the night of the performance I confidently sang ‘He put in his thumb and pulled out a plum and said…Mrs. Cherry, there’s Scotch tape on this thing!’ The audience roared. And I was hooked.“) Although he showed great promise as a baton twirler and cheerleader, music was Paul’s passion, and after high school he continued his studies at Billy Graham’s alma mater, Wheaton College.
When he came out at the end of his freshman year, few people were surprised by his revelation. (“My mother tried to feign shock and dismay, but I easily saw through her histrionics.“) Two years later Paul dropped out of school after the Men’s Glee Club refused to let him go on their European Tour because he wasn’t “manly enough” citing his long hair, his flair for fashion, and his needle-pointing during Chapel services among their reasons. Relinquishing all hopes of a career in music he moved to Bloomington, Indiana where he became politically active alter he was thrown out of a bar for dancing with another man. A discrimination case followed but ended in a stalemate. Disillusioned. he moved to Manhattan and then to San Francisco, where he met Ron by chance in Golden Gate Park one summer day. Six months later they began performing together as Romanovsky & Phillips.
Photograph of Ron and Paul; in front of the US Supreme Court during a protest over the Bowers v Hardwick decision, 1986.
Photograph courtesy of Billy Green