This week’s Monday Morning Music post and my conversation with the local radio station’s music director got me to thinking about how a lot of people don’t know about rock bands whose members are all women or majority women. And really, the more I thought about it, the cliché is still true that the majority of women who make it big in the music business, or get into the music business at all, are singers who don’t play an instrument.
So, the original point of this post was to make a list of bands and artists that aren’t part of that cliché, because, no matter how good singers and the standard white women with acoustic guitars are, they’re still playing by the rules that say that women can only do these things. These other things? No, no, no.
And that still is the point of this post, but once I actually started looking into all the all-women bands that there are or have been, I was pleased to have it proved to me again that there are a hell of a lot of them, and if you don’t know any of these bands, you’re just not going out of your way to hear anything new or didn’t get out much back in the day.
I’m at fault, myself. My go-to original all-woman band is Fanny. I saw them on Sonny & Cher when I was a kid and think June Milllington is awesome. But I’d never heard of the Ace of Cups until yesterday ( and Goldie and the Gingerbreads today) and had forgotten that Suzi Quatro was around with The Pleasure Seekers long before her fifteen minutes of fame in the 1970s as Leather Tuscadero.
And there have been so many more. See, that’s the cool thing of looking into all this, is that there is all this history here, connections, influences, roots, and it belongs to us. You just have to look for it. So, this one post has now morphed into at least three.
Today we’ll go way back to the early 1960s and look at our foremothers and foresisters. Part two (and maybe part three) will involve bands from a little closer in (late 1970s-1990s), and the last part(s) will focus on contemporary women and their bands. I would love to read your thoughts and suggestions on any of this. And given how wordy this post got, I may have to split the series up further. We’ll see how things go.
First up, Goldie and the Gingerbreads.
This band was the first all-woman band to sign with a major record label: Decca in the UK and Atlantic in the US. The quartet (Ginger Bianco, Margo Lewis, Carol MacDonald and Goldie Zelkowitz (who changed her name to Genya Ravan)) toured extensively throughout the US and Canada, the UK, and Europe, and their single “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” reached the 25th spot in the 1965 UK single charts. Sadly, Herman’s Hermits released their version in the US two weeks before G&TG’s record came out on this side of the pond, so they didn’t get the radio support they might have otherwise.
Things kind of went downhill from there with the band breaking up in 1967-68. Ravan went on to form Ten Wheel Drive and is now a DJ with Little Steven’s Underground Garage. The remaining band members went on to form the all-woman jazz band Isis.
Here are Goldie & the Gingerbreads performing “Let Me Hear Your Heartbeat” on Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s show, “Not Only… But Also…. with an intro from a ridiculously young Peter Cook.
Then there are the Quatro Sisters.
The Quatro Sisters are Suzi, Arlene, Patti, and Nancy Quatro from Detroit. As teenagers, they watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and Patti decided they could be a rock group, too. They started out as the Pleasure Seekers. Various non-family members were also in the band, including Darline Arnone, who plays drums in the video below. The Pleasure Seekers played and toured until 1969 (releasing two singles, one on Mercury) when they changed direction, taking the new name Cradle, and making heavier tracks with a more metally sound. They toured seriously for the next two years, their last stop in Vietnam.
Not a bad run for a band that only released two singles. Sister Suzi, though, she left Cradle in 1971, heading to the UK where she hit it big with more than a dozen hit singles there and in Australia. Folks in the US didn’t really notice her until she took on the role of Leather Tuscadero in the TV show Happy Days (yes, she was my favorite character). Thanks to those appearances, her song “Stumblin’ In” got to #4 in the US charts. (Not one of my fave songs, I have to admit. You couldn’t get away from it and it’s just so sappy.)
Patti Quatro went on to play guitar in Fanny (see below) and, according to an interview she gave in 2011, now runs a travel business with her husband in Texas. Nancy owns a restaurant, also in Texas, and Arlene “retired early and raised a family,” including her daughter, the actor Sherilyn Fenn. Suzi still lives in the UK where she performs and DJs for the BBC.
So, now a slew of videos. First up we have the Pleasure Seekers performing the Four Tops’ song “Reach Out.” The film is obviously ancient (1968) and Suzi Quatro (the singer) is nearly unrecognizable (to me anyway). Yeah, it’s kind of goofy, but those were the days.
Cradle with their track “Soothsayer.”
Even though when Suzi Quatro made it big, she was always the only woman in any band in which she played, I still want you to see her. She was such an influence on so many of the rockin’ women still to come, and this is how most of us remember her, not as the longhaired hippy/Motown girl (no disrespect intended). Here she is doing “Devil Gate Drive.” Influence on Joan Jett? Pretty freakin’ obvious, isn’t it?
Another band from the ’60s is The Ace of Cups.
These women were a San Francisco psychedelic group (Mary Gannon (bass), Marla Hunt (organ, piano), Denise Kaufman (guitar, harmonica), Mary Ellen Simpson (lead guitar), and Diane Vitalich (drums)), debuting in 1967. They opened for Jimi Hendryx for a free Golden Gate Park show that summer. They opened for a lot of folks, including the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Muddy Waters. They didn’t land a record deal and didn’t release any music until 2003 when Ace Records put out It’s Bad for You But Buy It!, a CD of “rehearsals, demos, TV soundstages, and in-concert tapes,” but they were thought highly of by a lot of folks in the biz (at least out in SF).
Video of these folks is scarce. Here they are in the film West Pole performing “Simplicity.” It’s a shame the filmmaking was so hippyish and you can’t really see the band, but hey, it was 1968 in San Francisco. Neat song, though.
So, what about Fanny?
Well, they were the most successful of these early bands, being the first to release an album on a major label (Warner Brothers) and having two Top 40 hits (“Charity Ball” and “Butter Boy”). They ended up releasing five albums before they disbanded in 1975. Another cool thing? The band wasn’t all-white. June and Jean Millington are Philippine-Americans. They formed what became Fanny in high school with June on guitar, Jean on bass, and Alice de Buhr on drums. Nickey Barclay, who previously played keyboards with Joe Cocker, joined them later.
June Millington left the band after Fanny’s last album with Warner Brothers and Patti Quatro replaced her. The band recorded one more album with Casablanca and then dissolved.
Named “the hottest female guitar player in the music industry” by Guitar Player in its 40th anniversary book, June Millington now lives in Massachusetts and, with her longtime partner Ann Hackler, founded the Institute for the Musical Arts in Goshen. These are the folks that started up the rock ‘n’ roll band camp summer programs for girls and women. Jean did studio work for a while, raised a family, and is now an herbalist, besides still playing with her sister. They released Play Like a Girl in 2011.
Here’s Fanny on that 1971 Sonny & Cher show, with “Charity Ball.”
And here are the Millingtons in 2009. That’s June’s son on drums. Love the guitar and bass work on this track.
Next post, we start with the Runaways. You’ve been warned. 😉 And a little help: if you know any all-woman bands that aren’t also all-white, please let me know in the comments. Google and my crappy memory are failing me on this, and I don’t want this series to come across as all-white-girls-on-parade-except-for-two if I can help it.