Fanny – The Founding Sisters of Women who Rock

One of the most important female bands in American rock has been buried without a trace. And that is Fanny. They were one of the finest… rock bands of their time, in about 1973. They were extraordinary… they’re as important as anybody else who’s ever been, ever; it just wasn’t their time. Revivify Fanny. And I will feel that my work is done.
—-David Bowie,
Rolling Stone magazine interview, 1999

Sure, you know the Go-gos. And the Bangles. And Heart. But do you know Fanny? Wikipedia: “Fanny was an American all-female band, active in the early 1970’s. They were one of the first notable rock groups to be made up entirely of women, the third to sign with a major label, and the first to release an album on a major label (in 1970). They achieved two top 40 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and released five albums.”

For those of you who weren’t around, know that an all-female band entering the macho world of rock n’ roll in the early ’70’s was in its own way no less challenging than women becoming CEO’s or getting elected to office. It was just NOT the done thing and they were not initially taken seriously.

A little history: Sisters June and Jean Millington were born in the Philippines to an American naval officer and a Filipina socialite. The family moved to California in the early ’60’s. As much to fit in as anything else, the sisters took up music. Throughout the Sixties, they were in and out of largely female rock bands picking up drummer Alice de Burh along the way.

By 1969, now in a band called Wild Honey, it was go Hollywood or go home. As mentioned, no one in the record industry took them seriously, seeing them as a novelty act. As fate would have it, on what they assumed would be their last gig, they played an open mic night at LA’s Troubadour club. In the audience that night was a secretary of Warner Brothers’ producer Richard Perry, who had produced everyone from Harry Nilsson to Barbara Streisand to Carly Simon.

Perry, who for whatever reason was already seeking an all-girl band, liked what he heard. And after they found and brought on keyboard player Nickey Barclay, the band was set. (Barclay – as Nicole – was a member of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen touring group and appeared on both album and movie. She was initially ambivalent about being in an all-female band, having only played with male musicians.)

Once they got together, they realized the name Wild Honey wasn’t working for them. “Everyone felt that what was needed was a woman’s name,” a web site devoted to them says, “something short, memorable and at once feminine and bold.” After considering a series of suggestions the band settled on the name Fanny, and the rest was history.

June would later explain, “We really didn’t think of [the name Fanny] as a butt, a sexual term. We felt it was like a woman’s spirit watching over us.” In England, where the word “fanny” is a slang term for a woman’s vagina, the band were hailed as outrageous feminists. But they just saw themselves as musicians who wanted to make it.

In 1970, the band put out their eponymous album and the all-male rock press – snotty fuckheads that they were – were predictably dismissive. But the band had caught hold at places like the Troubadour and Whisky a Go Go and started to develop a following among local rockers who became their most avid supporters.

From their first album Fanny, a tasty, blusey number called “I Just Realized.” (Bonnie Bramlett would love this.) Nice slide here by June:

The band never really became a household name but they remained popular, touring the world and opening for some of the most macho head-banging groups of the day, such as Slade and Humble Pie. No less a personage than Todd Rundgren produced their fourth album. They even appeared once on the totally dopey Sonny and Cher variety show.

From their third album, Fanny Hill, this is “Borrowed Time:”

Fanny lasted until about the mid-70’s. June left the band and, interestingly, Patti Quatro – sister of rocker Suzi – joined for a while. Some version of Fanny lasted for a little while but the band was effectively over.

In 2005 June Millington received the Outmusic Heritage Award and in 2007 she, along with the other members of Fanny, received the Rockrgrl Women of Valor Award from magazine founder Carla DeSantis Black, Berklee College of Music and Rockrgrl magazine. (And how the fuck are they not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?)

If you like Joan Jett. Or the Go-go’s. The B-52’s. Or Sleater-Kinney. Or any of the riot grrl stuff, thank Fanny. They blew the doors down and blazed the trail.

6 thoughts on “Fanny – The Founding Sisters of Women who Rock

  1. Interesting about the documentary showing up. As to their music, I should say you may or may not find the greatness Bowie espoused. But they were an interesting, fun band. And as an amateur self-appointed music historian, I hate to see pioneers forgotten.

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  2. Thanks for the interesting post on Fanny. I have absolutely no recollection of Fanny in the 70’s or later when I was involved in the Feminist movement for a 10 year period starting in 1976. Philadelphia, during this time, was pretty much a macho city and the music played reflected this attitude. So I think I understand why I didn’t hear about this group when they first came out. It helped Fanny that they were on the West Coast as well. To put things in perspective of what was still happening on the East Coast in 1969 when Fanny started, I was still convincing woman they had a right to vote for who they chose even though their husbands didn’t want them to vote or told them how to vote.

    The Feminists did though revive a lot of women singers/musicians who were lost to the public in the earlier years. Not at anytime was the group Fanny ever mentioned. I really find that interesting. Maybe the group was too glamorous looking and fit every man’s dream (at that time) of what they were looking for in a woman? Also, for the Feminists, I doubt if the name of the group, Fanny, was an ideal name that espoused strength in women. I goggled Fanny and there were pages of backside information but no women’s rock group.:-) I had to put in ‘Fanny women’s rock group in the 70’s’ before they came up. For me, their music sounds a little dated, but it would’ve been pretty awesome to actually know about them when they first came out. Timing is everything though, eh?

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    1. You say you have no recollection. Nor, it seems, does anybody else. That’s *exactly* why I wanted to write about them. Musical pioneers, the ones with all the arrows in their back, often get forgotten. Part of my mission is to not let that happen, even if only in a small way.

      It’s interesting that this band’s rise coincides neatly with the ’70’s women’s movement. I knew of them because back in those days I was a much more avid follower of the music scene. (And, I might add, avid Rolling Stone reader.) So, to put it mildly, they were a bit of an anomaly. Music in general, and rock n’ roll in particular, is SO macho. As noted, it took a while for them to get any kind of respect or recognition at all. I give the Millingtons all the credit in the world for slogging along for a decade till they got somewhere. The odds on breaking into music – then or now – are damn near a million to one anyway without having to fight sexism.

      As to their glamour, that picture you see is I think from later on. This quote from a site about them so succinctly speaks to your point, it’s worth quoting in its entirety:

      “But the members of FANNY did not necessarily consider themselves to be feminists, at least not in the early days; they were musicians first and women second, dressing more like the guys, fighting to gain credibility in a man’s medium. Nickey Barclay later talked about the band’s physical image: “We did feel the pressure of having to prove ourselves. When we first started performing, we just went on stage wearing whatever we were wearing. It amounted to us apologizing for being women, shying away from any kind of glamour or attractiveness on stage.” The band’s look became more feminine and stylish once they had proved themselves through the hard grind of international touring.”

      http://www.fannyrocks.com/ where it says “Godmothers of Chick Rock.” 😀

      As to their music, yeah, somewhat dated. Were they a great band musically to the extent that Bowie said? I don’t know. I don’t their records convey that .I bet they kicked ass ‘live.’ But more to the point, they’re an *important* band. That’s why I’d nominate and promote them to the R n R Hall of Fame if I had that kind of clout.

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  3. I agree I think it is important for musicians like Fanny to get recognized and really appreciated your post on them. I am looking forward to many more posts on unrecognized musicians like Fanny. I, unlike you though, was not involved in researching music. Also, as a woman during these times up until I came in contact with Feminists, I didn’t know that many women were not supported or recognized for their music. I grew up listening to many great women vocalists, some who played instruments and some who did not, but never knew they were struggling for recognition. I just thought since they were well-known, they must be doing well. For instance, I didn’t know about Darlene Love’s struggle to sing under her own name until a few years ago. I took politics seriously but never made the connection to music.

    One female’s (mine) perspective on viewpoint on music I can hear– most of the singers/musicians I enjoy have to connect to my soul in whatever their playing or singing. I didn’t have that connection to Fanny when I listened to their music. To be fair, I felt the same way about (dare do I say it), Elvis.

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    1. Yeah, if music doesn’t make me feel something or move me in some way, then I just shrug. I feel that way about a lot of modern rock bands. Pleasant enough but lacking that groove thang. 😀

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