In today's Wall Street Journal (go here), I write about June and Jean Millington, two of the hippest and most seasoned female hard-rockers around. That's guitarist June on the right and her bassist sister Jean. Did I mention that June is 63 and Jean is 62? Think these two gals are retired weekend wannabes? Think again. They were founding members of Fanny, which in 1969 became the first and most successful all-female hard-rock band. Both are jaw-dropping instrumentalists, as evidenced by their gig Wednesday night at New York's Highline Ballroom. Their new album, Play Like a Girl, is out today, and it's solid on every level.
But before I go on, here's June and Jean's background...
And here's Fanny's recording of the Beatles' Hey Bulldog in 1972...
Like jazz, rock did not have one long, seamless evolution. Rock 'n' roll, as it was known in the 1950s, came to a screeching halt in 1959, when Congress began to investigate payola's influence on radio. When the hearings were completed in 1960, two changes in the music occurred.
First, pop-rock emerged as a byproduct of an industry urgently trying to sweeten its sour image by tapping into new, young and idealistic Brill Building songwriters. Second, radio was forced to change how it chose records to play on the air. New standards were set up to limit the influence of liquor, girls, cars, favors and bags of cash.
But by early 1967, rock musicians, particularly on the West Coast, began rebelling against the formulaic way in which pop-rock was processed for the 45-rpm. By this time, a new generation of singer-songwriters was emerging, and the 12-inch album was a much more ideal format to house all of the original compositions than the three-minute single.
Female rock bands—meaning women who sang while they played instruments—had been around since the early 1960s. But they largely recorded singles that were bundled together onto LPs. Not until Fanny—June and Jean Millington's band in 1969—were women taken seriously as hard rockers and rock composers.
Both June and Jean are extraordinary instrumentalists—so exceptional that they were lauded by just about every major rocker and guitarist of the period, including David Bowie and the Beatles.
The Millingtons' new album has plenty of punch. They're joined by a range of musicians, including drummer Lee Madeloni [pictured], Jean's son from her marriage to Earl Slick, David Bowie's guitarist in the 1970s.
This is rock—without the noise or male theatrics. There's deep blues and finger-popping R&B in here. And Buddhist funk. And a bunch of other stuff. But don't call it pop. The music is hard rock, pure and simple. It just happens to be played by women who love what they do.