You Never Heard of Fanny?

It’s not really possible to talk about women in rock without bringing up my band, Fanny, but people do. Even the newly opened “Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power” exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland barely mentions Fanny–the first all-woman band to record entire albums for a major label and gain international credibility. Even David Bowie said of us (in Rolling Stone, January, 2000),

They were one of the finest fucking rock bands of their time  … They were extraordinary. They wrote everything, they played like motherfuckers … They are as important as anyone else who’s ever been, ever.

It was so hard to get to where we did in the first place, carving out precious territory for others, and then to be rubbed out of the picture as well? It’s about time the male-dominated rock industry gave us the props we deserve.

We were painting our music on cave walls for a decade, beginning in the mid-60s, and it was a full-time job. I remember my sister Jean’s first song on electric bass–The Beau Brummel’s “Laugh, Laugh”–which we rehearsed with our first all-girl band, the Svelts, in our drummer’s living room in Sacramento, Calif. We’d gone from playing ukuleles as kids in the Philippines to taking up acoustic guitars after arriving in the US in ’61, and then into electric guitar, bass and drums by 1965. I say cave walls because where were all the other women rock musicians in 1965? It was awfully dark in that cave. We didn’t know about Goldie & the Gingerbreads or other all-girl bands starting up and doing it for themselves. No peers, no mentors, no women’s centers, no support anywhere. As far as we knew, we were making it up. Jean and I sort of had an imperative from above–we just knew we had to play live and electric. I don’t think either one of us could have done it alone. We figured it out, and faced the world together.

So that’s what we did, learning songs off the radio, along with a drummer and a guitarist who sang. We’d learn a song during the week, sometimes sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night to rehearse, and we’d be playing it at an Air Force base or a frat party that weekend. Was it hard? Hell yeah. Girls weren’t supposed to go electric, so the resistance was incredible at first. Was it fun? You bet. And we kept up our grades at school, so were leading successful double lives: Philippine American girls by day, budding rockers at night. Except we didn’t do rock as much as we did girl-group songs and Motown. So that meant “He’s So Fine” and “Heatwave”, with a little of “The Night Before” and “You Really Got Me” thrown in. Plus “Stop! In the Name of Love”. If people danced to it, we did it.

They were all great songs to cut your teeth on and learn compositionally (okay, “You Really Got Me” only has two chords, but “Wild Thing”, which we also performed, has four). But don’t get me wrong–we never considered getting down and dirty like girls did just a decade later. That came gradually, because we weren’t supposed to do any of it at all. The frame wasn’t there. The frame at the time was: Can you play like a guy? So we learned how to play like guys. That was important, and meant more for the generations to come than they will ever know.

We got a bit of that “dirt” when Addie Clement joined the band on lead guitar, followed a bit later by Alice de Buhr, a drummer from Iowa. Addie took the bus to rehearse with us at our parent’s house in Sacramento until she got a motorcycle and toodled around in that. Rock ‘n roll! Now we could do “Hold On I’m Coming” and Somebody to Love. Alice made your socks rock. And that is the quartet that made it to Hollywood to sign a deal at Reprise Records, with Richard Perry as producer, under the name Wild Honey in 1969. We morphed into Fanny later that year when Addie left and I took over the lead guitar slot.

We were a full-on band. We knew how to play and lay down a groove and harmonize, and how to book gigs and set up all our own gear. In fact, we came down to L.A. from Sacramento with our own PA system, settling into Hedy Lamar‘s former mansion on Marmont Lane just off Sunset Boulevard, eventually naming it “Fanny Hill” and transforming the basement into a comfortable rehearsal space with rugs, groovy lights and a lava lamp. And then we got down to work again, focused on writing our own songs and getting better as players. There was a lot of competition. Guitar players, especially, were like gunslingers, spitting out guitar riffs like bullets, and I stepped right into that. It was totally hot and heavy. I didn’t so much love the competitiveness of the scene as much as I loved learning, and fortunately there were enough guys who became great friends and were willing to  teach me a thing or two. I think they got a kick out of it. Me? I got a lifetime of lessons.

By 1969 we’d already played with Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Youngbloods and the Turtles at fairs and private parties, and auditioned at the Fillmore West with The Doors. We were accustomed to long jams and churning out five sets a night at clubs with go-go dancers shimmying in cages hung from the ceiling–believe it!–but LA thrust us into a whole other milieu. This was record-making with sunshine and palm trees and movie lots. But we were ready for it. We’d already done our four years (six, if you count the years Jean and I spent doing acoustic gigs, starting in junior high school), and we dug in like every day was our last. We met others and jammed ferociously, hung out in studios and learned about yoga and mantras. Our first big gig as Fanny (Addie had left; keyboardist Nicky Barclay was in) was at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium with The Kinks and Procol Harum. An interesting thing started to happen: From being sort of dismissed as a novelty in the beginning, audiences and fellow bands (all men) went from disbelief to being outright fans, falling in love with us. We had to work hard to make that happen at every city, every concert we played, but it happened like clockwork. We were changing a mindset, and knew we were opening doors for “girl” bands yet to come.

Reprise Records released our first album and we hit the road, doing gigs with many other top acts of the era. Our second album cover was shot by Candice Bergen. We recorded with Barbra Streisand, playing together in an L.A. studio while she sang live with us right in the same room. Our third album was recorded at the Beatles’ Apple Studio, and we pretty much learned to live life on the road.

Does it make you tired just to think of it? And how is it you didn’t know about us? I don’t have the answers to that, but thankfully you know more than you did a minute ago.

All this is important his(and her)storically, as the Svelts/Wild Honey/Fanny started playing during the Vietnam War, when society was really, really changing. We all responded to the constant changes, and it was exciting. We were feminists, although we didn’t know it right away, but I found out all about it when Cris Williamson asked me to play on her landmark album The Changer and the Changed in 1975. (I’d quit Fanny in 1973, unfortunately, unable to take all the pressures and change of image into more “glam” rock).

That, and touring with Cris just when “women’s music” was bursting onto the scene, gave me an instant tutorial  into feminism and the courage of women who were taking control of their lives. That attitude of freedom and self-determination, so very much like rock ‘n roll in my experience, combined in the mid-1980s with my co-founding the Institute for the Musical Arts (IMA), a nonprofit dedicated to women and girls in music. Jean and I felt very much alone in our own little boat, but now we can tell other girls that they are building on a legacy, they have company, they have support and mentors. We have recording studios and we do four Rock and Roll Girl’s Camps each summer, the last being Recording Camp. So all the work we put into building careers in music since 1965 has paid off, and we’re passing it along to YOU.

But I’d still like more recognition for Fanny–a lot more.

Photos courtesy of June Millington. Top: Jean (left) and June back in the day; middle left to right: Jean, Nicky, June and Alice (Fanny); bottom, Jean (left) and June today.

Comments

  1. wrapped up in books says:

    June, thanks so much for writing this post. I’m ashamed to say that until about five minutes ago, I’d never heard of Fanny, but I can confidently say after listening to a few of your tunes online that David Bowie was (as usual) correct: you do, indeed, play like motherfuckers!

    And best of luck with your Play Like a Girl project. I wish I’d known about it earlier so that I could have kick(started) in a few bucks!

    • June Millington says:

      hi!

      you can write me anytime at fabjune@aol.com and anyone can contribute anytime to “Play Like a Girl”. We’re launching at the Highline Ballroom in NYC on August 17th and will be trying to provide as many girls as we can with tickets (your contributions go to that and tour support) to see us play, allowing us to be in-time role models, something near and dear to my heart. We’ll play as long as we can!

      June

      (our second gig so far is at Monroe Hall in Santa Rosa, CA on Sept 24 ~ both are all-ages venues)

      • Hey (again) June — nice piece! Needs a li’l tid-bit or 2 ~ the 1st, an FYI I think YOU’LL enjoy.

        My cousins took me to the (original) Woodstock for my 13th b’day. (“It’s just a LITTLE outdoor rock concert, Auntie. I’ll take care of her…”[Was all Wdstock was xpected 2 be! When word came of the hiway gridlock [& my mother regained consciousness]we were LONG gone :-D )

        Among my 100+ questions for my “cool” hippy cousins, 2 were stand-outs–

        “How come everyone’s actin’ so goofy; dancin in the rain naked & rollin’ around in the mud?” (Not want’g to xplain acid to a 13 y.o., w/o miss’g a beat she said, “Coz they’re *happy* I guess~~ooh, look! There’s Janis Joplin,” & deftly changed the topic!

        The other, after Jefferson Airplane finished *their* set, I asked a question she COULDN’T answer (but did so, shorlty after we returned).

        “How come, ‘cept for Janis Joplin & Grace Slick, the only things they let ‘girls’ do is play tambourine & sing back-up vocals?” & the world went silent, despite the surrounding tumult..

        Stunned by her “kid” cousin’s question, w/ fire in her eyes she said, “I–don’t–KNOW…but I sure as hell am gonna find out!”

        Don’t remember exactly when or where, but she took me to see Fanny some time after.

        Am gonna post this & come back w/ a msg for the “girls” and “ladies” out there…

  2. Hi, just a quick correction. Fanny IS in the Women Who Rock exhibit at the RnR Hall of Fame. It’s not a big tribute, but they are mentioned. I was there last week.

    • Rachel~ a quick correction to your correction… the 2nd sentence says, “…even the ‘R&R H.o.F’ in Cleveland *barely* mentions Fanny — the 1st all-woman band to record entire albums…”

  3. Also, fanny fu**ing rules. And the fact that you never got your dues is a crime!

  4. jo-ann giordano says:

    it’s about time someone sets the record straight [no pun intended]! these are the godmothers of women’s rock…”attention must be paid.”!

  5. Go June!!!

  6. Great article, June. Maybe if enough of us write to the rock museum they’ll wake up.

    Here’s another article about Fanny. I wrote it although it’s attributed to “staff.”

    http://www.afterellen.com/music/2008/7/fanny

  7. Induction into the R&R Hall of Fame is LONG overdue!!!!

    It’s also a shame that the band’s first four albums aren’t out (individually!) on CD…this is something that has to be rectified!

    Still one of my favorite bands…..35+ years after their last release! Love ya, June!

  8. Anastasia Pantsios says:

    June, you are in the Rock Hall — maybe not upstairs in the Women Who Rock show, except in passing. But there is a picture of you downstairs in the main hall in the photo gallery where my photography show, “Girls on Film: 40 Years of Women in Rock,” is now hanging. It was taken at Cleveland’s Public Hall, I believe in 1971.

  9. Scooter Lesley says:

    Wake up…Hall of Shame! Fanny was the first all female Rock band that was on an even playing field with the guys. In my many years in Radio, I granted Fanny tons of airplay, and the listeners couldn’t get enough! June, Jean, Alice, Nicole, Patti, and Brie…I love You All!

    Retired AOR Radio Programmer,
    Scooter Lesley.

  10. Larry C. says:

    June,
    Enjoyed the article. I have ALWAYS said that Fanny never got the props that they deserved. I can’t begin to tell you how many people I’ve turned on to your music since I first heard you in 1971. Last year I bought the boxed set because all 4 of my vinyl albums are showing wear. I still play them though because ANALOG ROCKS!! I got a chance to meet you and Jean backstage at the Salisbury Beach concert that is pictured elsewhere on your website. One of your roadies sat with me during the concert and invited me back afterward. It was for the Mother’s Pride tour. Got a couple of souvineers too. (Your play list on a long green memo sheet “From the Desk of Mark Hammerman”) and Jean was nice enough to autograph one of the publicity “stickers” with the album cover on it (To Larry with love, Fanny…Jean Yolanda). A great memory of an even greater band. One that has rocked my shoes off for as long as I care to admit! God bless and thanks for the music and the memories.
    Regards,
    Larry

  11. Dan Sherrill says:

    June,

    I have loved your music since I heard of Fanny about 1970 when I began living in Korea. Now, my youngest daughter (Filipina) is in school in Guam, while I work in Okinawa, and we are sometimes at our house in Antipolo, Rizal, PI. I mention this only because I want to ask: Will you and Jean ever do any show here in the Pacific area, such as Manila, Naha, HongKong, Tokyo or Seoul? I think you would draw a huge audience here among us rock fans, and lots of Filipino people around here.

    thanks, Dan

  12. June,

    I do my very best to contribute to music herstory in German :-)
    http://www.l-talk.de/tag/fanny

    I love your music, I loved it from the very moment I came to realize there could be more than nursery rhymes and The Beatles in the air! And I love what you and Ann Hackler did for the community when you founded your Institute For The Musical Arts.

    It is always great to learn about your projects. Thank you so much … and if you should ever feel it could be helpful to spread the word in German, just let us know!

  13. I am a big Fanny-fan from way back…also liked April Lawton (Ramatam) and recently Tal Wilkenfeld (Aussie Girl Bassist) who played with Jeff Beck (although not a big Beck fan). Also, don’t know if you’re familiar with Ruth Underwood (Zappa’s band) – saw her play live back in the 70′s doing the Overnite Sensation album with FZ. An amazing musician – earlier the drummer from Hamilton Face Band. Her vibes-playing really distinguised the sound of what Zappa was doing in those days! During the concert there was a false start, and Zappa quipped,”Yes, it’s certainly a thrill playing in Ruth’s band!”, or something like that! What an awesome show!!

  14. eric hallink says:

    Great greats from the Netherlands

  15. Always loved Fanny. Saw them at Liberty Hall in Houston the first time, then went back the next night because they were so good. Also saw them at Fillmore South (Houston) and opening for Chicago at the Houston Coliseum. Didnt stay for Chicago! My friend Mark and i were such fans that Mark booked them at the University of Houston, and he and I went out to the airport and picked them up in my Dad’s car and took them to their hotel..June was a guitar influence on me. You can hear it at my stevenbeasley.com website.

  16. Jerry Jernigan says:

    GREAT ARTICLE !!!! You tell ‘em sweetie !! I’ve been raving about Fanny since ’71 & I’ll continue to sing your praises til I can sing no mo’.
    I truly love you ladies.
    Jerry

  17. I saw you when you opened for Leon Russell at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, New York. I hadn’t heard of you and had my doubts, but from the first chord, you had me hooked. Fanny was awesome, and I can’t imagine a better group to open for Leon. Listening to you play that night is one of my favorite memories of the 1970s. You really rocked! Thank you for writing about Fanny and opening the door for new fans.

  18. Nino Pelopida says:

    I came across ‘Fanny’ in the early 70′s and I thought they were fantastic! It’s now 2013 and I see no reason to change my opinion. I certainly haven’t come across any band as good (alright ‘Led Zepplin’ excused) It irritates me to hear the praise heaped on female musicians nowhere near as good as these girls while they are ignored. Mention ‘Fanny’ to English rock fans and most of them look blank. Their loss. Thank you ‘Fanny’ for all the pleasure you’ve given me, and still give me. Listening to you now! Take care, Nino Pelopida

  19. I’ve loved rock music since I was little and I’ve been a student of rock history ever since. Why have I never heard of Fanny ’til now? I happened upon a few YouTube clips and I was blown the f*** away.

  20. Back in the 70′s I especially liked Charity Ball and then Butter Boy……..on vinyl of course. I probably still have a couple of Fanny albums buried someplace. I might even have Charity Ball on cassette.

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