THE STORY OF WOMEN IN ROCK: The Seventies (Part 1)

Over the years, women have fought very hard for their rights. Not only for their social or sexual rights. And believe me, when I say, that women have earned their place in the (hard) rock and (heavy) metal scene. In every way, you will notice that women slowly became an important part in the heavy metal music. Examples? There are tons of them, but let’s start with a little history lesson here, so you can see how things developed over the years. Our time table is cut into four pieces: the seventies, eighties, nineties and the new millenium. Let’s start at the very beginning....

This is not meant to be a complete overview of what happened in those early years. It’s an overview of how I see the development of women in the metal scene. So I may have forgotten some names here, or added some names that other people may not find that important. All together it will give a good overview of what happened though……

I don’t want to say, that it was easy for female musicians to be accepted in the scene. Rock and roll in the fifties was stricktly for male artists. And in the sixties, it didn’t get any better. Although RONNIE SPECTOR of THE RONNETTES was one of the first ladies, who jumped on the barricades for equal rights of women. And I do believe there wouldn’t have been any female singers, if JANIS JOPLIN hadn’t showed them that women can be accepted. As long as you’re talented enough, people will have to accept you, even if you have a slimy green skin, purple tentacles, one eye and yellow claws. Janis simply slammed the doors wide open for the ladies I will be mentioning hereafter, like her Scottish soul mate MAGGIE BELL, who listened very well to her big example.

However, things got really serious in the very early seventies, when all female bands like FANNY and BIRTHA got in the picture. They mixed funk with rock, and they knew how to play an instrument. And I think that FANNY can be seen as the first real hard rock band, that existed of female members only. June and Jean Millington were sisters, and they had a dream to fullfill. Their dream was to form the first all-female rock band in the world, and they succeeded. They both started their career in 1965, in a band called THE SVELTS. But the music of this band can not be categorised as hard rock or metal at all. They sounded much more like THE BEACH BOYS, in their early days of existence. In the late sixties, FANNY was born. They recorded five solid rock albums and a handful of singles. In 1998, ex-DAVID BOWIE guitarplayer EARL SLICK, who is also the husband of FANNY member Jean Millington, released a live CD called “Fanny Live” on his own Slick Music label. If you listen to this CD, it will be obvious that FANNY was one of the hottest band in the scene at that time. It was 1975, when FANNY disbanded. Their story was over, but they paved the way to success for many bands to follow, THE RUNAWAYS being one of the most well known bands that started their career in the mid-seventies. Many people believe, that THE RUNAWAYS were the first hard rock or heavy metal band around. But I must deny that for one good reason. THE RUNAWAYS were a band formed by KIM FOWLEY.

This band of four good looking, hard rocking girls was his idea. He planned the whole career of these young girls. They just played the music. While FANNY was the idea of the band members themselves, as we could see in the first sentences of this chapter about women in metal. But to be honest, THE RUNAWAYS were by far one of the biggest influences of most of the female metal bands, that followed their example. And their album “Live In Japan” bears some of the bands best moments. Who doesn’t remember the names of the band members? People, who also started a great successful solo career after the band split up in ‘79. Sandy West on drums, Cherie Currie on vocals, Jackie Fox on bass, Joan Jett on guitar and Lita Ford on guitar. Five ladies, who knew very well how good rock music should sound. These ladies had one huge example, a girl that had enormous success in England with her rock and roll foot stomping music. Yes, I am talking about SUZI QUATRO of course, who is still active in the music scene. From that time on, the door of serious success slowly opened for the female rockers.

What was this situation like in our own country? Not unimportant, because also in The Netherlands things started to move slowly in the early seventies. Two names come to mind, when talking about the rock scene back in those days. First of all, SHOCKING BLUE was a band with great impact in the development of female singers in the rock business. Mariska Veres and her band were responsible for the very successful single “Venus”, which became a number one hit in America. The song was even covered in the eighties by a Swedish metal band called CRYSTAL PRIDE, and SHOCKING BLUE became a name that are well known in the whole wide world. When I tell you, that IKE AND TINA TURNER were supporting them during their USA tour, you’ll get the picture of how important they were, and what a fame they accomplished with this one only hit single. The other example was EARTH AND FIRE. Heavy metal didn’t exist yet. But if you listen to the progressive music of this band in the very early seventies, you know they must have been a very important link in the music history of Holland. Jerney Kaagman was their female vocalist, and because of her, a lot of women started to gain recognition.

She had the perfect voice for the progressive music of the Koerts brothers, who came up with pretty exciting and experimental songs for those days. Maybe we can even come up with a third name for those of you, who are open-minded for more music styles. I am talking about Tineke Schoemaker, who is still the goddess of the Dutch blues rock sound for me. Even after all those years, I’ve never heard someone with so much passion and love for music. Reason enough to mention her name in this overview. BARRELHOUSE recorded some very good albums, that showed a lot of resemblance to the Southern rock music of bands like early PAT TRAVERS for example. And for those days, it was pretty heavy shit, I can tell you that much.

Okay, now we’ve talked about the big names in the Dutch scene. But also in other parts of the world there were some very interesting things happening. In Seattle, in the year 1972, two other sisters (was it after the example of the Millington sisters maybe??) started a band called HEART. They will become very huge all over the world, and their first albums show the talents of these ladies already in the very first phase.

Other names that may have been of any importance are Joyce ‘Baby Jane’ Kennedy of MOTHERS FINEST, a band that mixes folk and soul with hard rock. She is also a lady, that has accomplished a lot for women in the heavy metal scene. Maybe even more because she is a black lady, so as a matter of fact she had two disadvantages that blocked her career moves. I am glad there were ladies like her though. She was so consistent and driven, that nobody could stop her. She was one of the people, proving that women earned their place in the scene and could not be stopped anymore.

Grace Sick of JEFFERSON AIRPLANE (later JEFFERSON STARSHIP and STARSHIP) is another fine example of a woman, that earns deep respect. Already in the late sixties, she performed at the well known Woodstock festival and played in front of over 500,000 people!!! There aren’t much ladies - besides JANIS JOPLIN of course – who can say the same thing. JEFFERSON AIRPLANE had some excellent hit singles like “White Rabbit”, “Volunteers” and “Somebody To Love”, that stood the test of time perfectly. Woodstock happened in the late sixties, but the band JEFFERSON AIRPLANE continued in the seventies under the name of JEFFERSON STARSHIP. Another nice example of ladies, who earn deeply respect are Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks of FLEETWOOD MAC. Definitely worth mentioning here, ‘cause the borders of the metal weren’t set yet.

In our upcoming issues we will strickly focus ourselves on heavy metal and only use the real metal ladies as a reference. In the seventies, everybody was still searching for a specific direction. Love, peace and freedom were more common words than in our days of hatred, war, disrespect, tight rules and imprisonment.

In the punk movement we saw BLONDIE do some good things. Frontlady Debbie Harry (the band was named after her blonde hair!) still earns deep respect, and many of the female (fronted) punk bands of today are following her example. Maybe we also need to mention PATTI SMITH here, who also meant a lot for the female punk rockers in the seventies. Last but not least, there’s also a name that I wanted to mention here, and who can not really be missed in this story. She was not considered a rock or metal lady maybe, but her music, way of dancing, songs and singing have been a very big inspiration for all the bands that we know today. For me, she will always remain untouchable, and she is definitely one of the best examples of high skilled vocalists and musicians.

But I would rather refer to her as an ‘artisan’ instead. She was so far ahead of her competitors that only thirty years later, hundreds of ‘so called’ heavy metal bands are exploring and discovering her music. Well, better late than never, I would say. I am talking about KATE BUSH here. Discovered by PINK FLOYD guitar player David Gilmour, who financed all her demos and provided her with many ideas for her well known shows, songs, video clips and musical ideas. Many times you’ll see her name pop up in the many reviews I wrote about gothic metal bands like WITHIN TEMPTATION, AFTER FOREVER, EPICA, etc. I think I’ve justified her name in this article by this example. Where would the gothic metal scene have been without this lady, who sadly ended her very successful career so abruptly to become a proud mother?!?? But when exactly did the metal movement start off then? I think that in the very late seventies, things were changing pretty radically. There is no exact date set of course when heavy metal got really introduced to the listeners. But in 1978, there was definitely something cooking in the UK. Something that would change the world immensly, in my humble opinion. The NWOBHM started to get the right shape. And there was one all-female band there, when it all started to roll.

I am talking about PAINTED LADY, who most of you will probably know better by the name of GIRLSCHOOL. They first started out with Kathy Valentine (who joined THE GO-GO’S, when the bandname changed to GIRLSCHOOL) Kim McAuliffe and Enid Williams. First, the band played a lot of covers of bands like THE ROLLING STONES and AC/DC, but when they released their first single “Take It All Away” / “It Could Be Better”, with new team members Kelly Johnson and Denise Dufort, things became pretty heavy and serious. So when we’re speaking about rock music, we mention names like THE RUNAWAYS or FANNY. When I mention heavy metal music, I think that GIRLSCHOOL will be the first name to pop up. And oddly enough, they were one of the very few female bands from the NWOBHM scene, too. What a pity! They toured with MOTÖRHEAD in the UK, and wild animal TED NUGENT took them on tour on the continent as well. They played in Holland, and the fans were so excited, that they actually taped this gig over here in Apeldoorn, and in the very early eighties the band was bootlegged on the well known “Live In Apeldoorn” LP. When the seventies slowly turned into the eighties, things started to change real quickly....

It all became very serious, when talking about the real heavy metal acts. But when you take a good look at all these names, you will hopefully come to one conclusion. In comparision to the names you will see in the column of the eighties, the names you’ll read here are the real leaders in the scene. Any other band that came in the eighties, nineties or after the year 2000, can somehow relate to these names. Names of bands that will always be mentioned, even now when we’re thirty year further in the musical evolution. A lot of the names in the next chapter can be related to being the ‘real metal’ bands. But some bands were only interesting in the rich underground scene, or in the (short) time, they existed. The names of the bands from the seventies however will remain timeless, mainly because they meant so much for the musical evolution of women in rock and metal. I think, that everybody will agree with me on this. So in the next issue we will be talking about the real metal stuff only. But never forget, that they all actually fit in the mould, created by the bands that did their thing in the seventies. The story continues....

copyright: METAL MAIDENS 2004
written by: Toine van Poorten

This story was published in Metal Maidens #37.

-->Go To: "WOMEN IN ROCK: The eighties (Part 2)"