| Born in Montreal in 1958, Luba Kowalchyk took vocal lessons as a child, as well as guitar, piano, and flute lessons by the time she was a teenager. Her earliest public performances were doing traditional folk songs across the country at various Ukrainian festivals and weddings, all the while listening to the pop artists of the day, including Etta James and Aretha Franklin.|
Always dreaming of being a pop star, she assembled a band in 1978 which featured a revolving door of musicians, but eventually settled with future husband and drummer Peter Marunzak, guitarists Mark Lyman and John Nestorowich, bassist Mike Zwonok, and Doug Short on keyboards. They began playing the area’s club scene, peforming pop and new wave covers while writing their own original material. The band was noticed by Tony Green, who owned TGO Records, and signed them to a record deal. With Green handling production, they cut CHAIN REACTION in early 1980 with distribution from Parlophone/Capitol EMI. Predominately a new wave sound, the record received minimal fanfare outside Montreal, despite featuring early indications of her ability to weave stories of a personal nature into a broad appeal, including the title track, “Stay,” “Lovers In The Night,” “Have A Heart,” and “Seems Like A Dream.”
Manager Paul Levesque signed her personally to a new deal, and persuaded Capitol-EMI to take a chance on the act in ’82. The label executives, however, insisted they no longer be a ‘band’ under the name of Luba. Rather, they wanted to promote her as a single artist. Short was replaced on keyboards by future producer Pierre Marchand, and Michael Bell replaced Nestorowich on guitars. The band was taken to Grant Avenue Studio in Montreal, where they recorded enough songs for a full length album. But the label’s brass insisted on a four-song EP be released. Her eponymous EP was released later that year, which saw “Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry,” backed by “Raven’s Eyes,” become a hit across the greater Montreal area, but didn’t crack the national charts, nor did the second single – “Scarlet Letter.”
Even with the limited radio exposure and the several short tours across the country that followed, Capitol was encouraged enough to give the go-ahead for a full length follow up album. Returning to Grant Avenue, they were introduced to producer Daniel Lanois. They recorded SECRETS AND SINS in October of ’83, but the label’s US office insisted the record be remixed in New York, which was handled by Jim Boyer. It finally saw the light of day on the record store shelves the following spring. A remixed version of “Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry” became a hit on both the airwaves, as well as the video becoming a staple on the still young Much Music, peaking at #23 on the Canadian charts. “Let It Go” reached #32, and the third single, “Storm Before The Calm” reached #37. The title track and “Sacrificial Heart” were also released as singles by the spring of ’85, but neither cracked the top 40. She won a Juno that summer Best Female Vocalist.
For the next project, Lyman was replaced on guitars by Alain Coutoure. The band was taken to Le Studio in Morin Heights, Quebec with producer Pierre Bazinet. They began recording in November 1985. The result was BETWEEN THE EARTH AND SKY, released the following spring. Unlike its predecessors, the new record was written entirely by herself, and over the next year and a half, five singles were released. The smash hit “How Many (Rivers To Cross)” was produced by Narada Michael Walden, featured a sax solo by Kenny G, and led the onslaught on the airwaves. It reached #14 on the charts and made the finals at the 1985 World Popular Song Festival in Tokyo. “Innocent (With An Explanation),” “Strength In Numbers,” and “Act Of Mercy” all followed, but failed to crack the top #40. While on tour promoting the album, the band’s tour bus was involved in a serious highway collision, nearly killing several members of her band. Luba herself was not on the bus at the time. 1985 also saw her venture into animated television, when she performed several songs for the Canadian cartoon series, The Raccoons. Several of these songs were later re-recorded for later episodes by Lisa Lougheed, who played the role of Lisa Raccoon.
Following the bus incident, Luba and the band slipped out of the limelight to reflect on the close call and on life in general. Meanwhile, two songs were featured in the movie “9 1/2 Weeks” in 1987. “The Best Is Yet To Come” became the film’s love theme, and “Let It Go” accompanied the end credits. In an effort to take advantage of the added exposure, particularly south of the border, Captiol issued a greatest hits compilation in their OVER SIXTY MINUTES WITH series. Along with “The Best Is Yet To Come,” it also featured a remixed version of “Let It Go,” and a cover of the Percy Sledge classic “When A Man Loves A Woman,” which became her highest charting single at #6 that November. The following year, she captured her third straight Juno Award for Best Female Artist.
She also changed management companies in an effort to get better exposure in the US, and was now being handled by and was now being handled by Michael Lembo in New York and Mike Gormley in LA. Seven different studios were used over a year and a half before her next album, ALL OR NOTHING, was released in the fall of ’89, which gave production credits to Joe Ciccarrelli, Jimmy Vivino, and Mike Campbell (Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers guitarist). Along with Marunzak, whom she was now married to, the new band included Jeff Smallwood on guitars and Michael Corrivo handling the keyboards and synthesizers. Over a dozen session players were also used in the recordings, including Vivino, Campbell, and Paul Shaffer of Late Night With David Letterman and Saturday Night Live fame, who cameo’d on “As Good As It Gets.” The welcome back she received was three singles, including the lead off “Giving Away A Miracle,” about a woman’s decision to give her baby up for adoption, which reached #9 on the Canadian charts. The upbeat “Little Salvation” followed, reaching #11, and “No More Words,” which peaked at #33. A cross-Canada tour was followed by several dates in the US.
An acoustic, live-in-the-studio show in Toronto was recorded and released as LIVE ON TOUR the following year, which featured Marunzak, Smallwood, Corrivo, Dorian Sherwood on percussion, bassist Rick Byer, and Michael Breen on guitars. But still failing to crack the American market, Capitol released her from her contract before the end of the year.
Still without a major deal in 1991, Luba split with husband and drummer Peter Marunzak, and then disappeared from the public eye all together for the rest of the decade. Living in the Caribbean, she resurfaced in May of 2000 with her first collection of new material in over a decade. FROM THE BITTER TO THE SWEET was the first outing for her own Azure Music label with distribution from Maple Music. The album was met by critical favour, albeit a somewhat restrained offering – coming from an artist who made her name by not holding back in the studio. A video was shot to accompany the release of the first single, “Is She A Lot Like Me,” which cracked the top 30. This was followed by “Let Me Be The One,” which failed to chart. Before the year was up, she was featured on the TV program called An Evening With The Stars, which included a concert performance of both new and old material.
After a series of engagements across the country, she again slipped out of the limelight. Later in the decade, she moved full-time to the Caribbean, and also saw several of her songs featured on Canadian Idol.