Song of the Week – Pioneering 70s All Women Bands


I wanted to write a post about some influential, all women rock bands but I was having a hard time getting started. Where would I begin? Who would I include? More importantly, who would I leave out? The more I thought about it, the bigger the project became. To tackle the subject thoroughly, I would have to write a book!

OK, so here’s what I’m gonna do – I’ll focus on pioneering, all women bands of the 70s. So don’t go crazy because I don’t mention earlier woman rock artists like Wanda Jackson, Janis Martin, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Grace Slick (not all women “bands” anyway) or all of the early 60s girl groups (perhaps all women, but usually just singers). And while it’s tempting to include the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously), were they really a band or just a novelty side project Frank Zappa put together for a bunch of his more interesting groupies? Genya Ravan’s Goldie & The Gingerbreads almost qualify, but they’re from the 60s – anyway, more on that later.

And even though I’m focusing on the 70s, I won’t be discussing folk acts like Kate & Anna McGarrigle (though they’re worthy of a SotW), women in or fronting rock bands like Patti Smith, Pat Benatar, Bonnie Raitt, the Wilson sisters (Heart), Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads) and so many more. And I’m not talking about The Go-Gos or the Bangles – they’re too popular and were 80s bands anyway.

So who’s left? How about Fanny, Isis and The Runaways.

Fanny consisted of sisters June and Jean Millington, Alice De Buhr and Nickey Barclay. They were the first self-contained, all women rock band to get a major label deal. They signed with Reprise and it wasn’t based on the novelty of being an all women group. These chicks (sorry for the sexist adjective, but it fits here) wrote their own songs and could really play. Lowell George (no slouch of a musician) used to hang out at their rehearsal studio.

“Seven Roads” is the closer on their 1970 debut album.  It opens with a very cool Hammond organ intro and a heavy guitar riff. Primal tom-toms enter for the chorus. Enough room is left for heavy guitar and organ solos.

Isis was an all women band that formed out of the ashes of the earlier mentioned Goldie & The Gingerbreads. Former Gingrbreads guitarist Carol McDonald and drummer Ginger Bianco formed an 8 piece horn rock band and released their first album in 1974 on the Buddah label. But major success eluded the band, partly because they had a pretty eclectic repertoire that was hard to pin down; and partly because they promoted overtly gay themes at a time when that didn’t play outside of New York and San Francisco. (Their debut album cover had the band standing naked but covered in silver paint and one of their songs was called “She Loves Me.”)

The Shadow Morton produced “April Fool” is my choice to represent the band. (Morton also produced the mini operas by another girl group from the 60s – The Shangri-Las.) “April Fool” has that big, bluesy, horn rock sound. But it is also driven by infectiously funky, Latin percussion beats. It is so cool, that the drum break was sampled by De La Soul and used on their song “Big Mouf.”

The Runaways were an L.A. based, teenaged, all-female group whose career was launched by manager/producer Kim Fowley. There were personnel changes throughout their history, but the core lineup was Sandy West (drums), Joan Jett (guitar/vocals), Lita Ford (lead guitar), Cherie Currie (lead vocals) and Jackie Fox (bass). The band’s heavy mascara, street tough image converged with the burgeoning punk movement of the late 70s, landing them in the category of a female version of The Ramones (though in reality they were closer to a female version of Aerosmith).

“You Drive Me Wild” was penned by Jett and was on the band’s first album release in 1976. It sounds like it might have been inspired by T-Rex. Jett took the lead vocal on this one. I’m not sure who played the stinging guitar solo, but I assume it was Ford.

It is also interesting how these bands were interconnected in ways beyond the obvious. Kim Fowley was also an early supporter of Fanny and June Millington played guitar the Isis’ second album, Ain’t No Backin’ Up Now.

Enjoy… until next week.