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.