Monthly Archives: August 2011
“That was the cliche, you know, like, “She’s pretty good for a chick.” But anyone who says that [about Joan Jett] is an idiot. Joan Jett just straight up rocks and always has.”
–Scott Ian of Anthrax in VH1’s 100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs
“I am the bitch with the hot guitar/I am the air, the sun and the stars”
Two summers ago, I was fortunate enough to see Joan Jett play live—for free, no less! She graced the stage with an air of confidence and good cheer, proceeding to rock our collective socks off. As I lost my footwear during her awesome performance, she gave me, and every other young person in the audience, a precious gift.
Teenagers constantly get messages, both from the media and from adults in our lives, about quality of life as we get older. “These are the best years of your life!” “You think life sucks now? Try having bills to pay, ungrateful kids like you to support, and a growing waistline!” “Ah, to be young again. These days I can’t jog without breaking a hip.” Joan Jett makes getting older not look so scary. If she can still look that good and rock that hard in her early fifties, aging can’t be too horrible, at least not for everybody. That realization was a wonderful thing for me to have.
Never mind that she’s an amazing musician, or that she fought hard in a sexist industry to be recognized and heard. Forget that she’s inspired bajillions of girls to pick up instruments. Dash the notion that she may be one of the most important figures in rock ‘n’ roll, and disregard the fact that many have called her the “Queen of Rock,” “Godmother of Punk,” and the “Original Riot Grrl”. Joan Jett showed me that it gets better, and I’m grateful for that. The other stuff is just icing on the cake.
Recommendations for Musicians by Musicians
This month, Tessa recommends:
Fingerstyle Guitar from Scratch, by Bruce Emery
This book is great. You can learn to fingerpick to songs by the Beatles, Eric Clapton, and Weezer, among others. The instruction is straightforward and easy to understand, and with enough practice, you’ll find yourself improving in a matter of weeks. I checked a copy out from the library, so you can try that avenue before shelling out the fifteen bucks on Amazon.
This website has everything for a guitar player, from gear reviews to advice on working in the music business to educational articles. It has resources for bassists too. You can get a free digital subscription to this magazine at this link. This magazine isn’t a boys’ club like Guitar World; they have lady columnists and did a great article on Sister Rosetta Tharpe recently.
Who’s in the Corner?
This month, just Tessa Smith, the creator of the zine. But you can contribute too! Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to be in the Corner next issue! (I’d like it if we didn’t have just guitar resources to recommend next time—drummers, bassists, vocalists, and otherwise, step up!) If you recommend resources, I’ll be glad to advertise your website, product, or band in this section next month!
We pay so much attention to musicians, but not to the workers behind the scenes who make their music sound good and help get it heard. Techies deserve love too, so this month we’re featuring quotes from successful sound engineers and producers.
“We are musicians in our own right. We’re playing the console and the tape machine and the microphones.”
—Susan Rogers, producer and engineer. She worked as a field-service technician in the late ’70s, repairing equipment at recording studios. After a time working as an equipment maintenance staffer at Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s studio, she became Prince’s sound engineer in 1983. She engineered songs by Michael Penn, Tevin Campbell, and Edie Brickell and New Bohemians and then became a freelance producer.
“A lot of my work comes from just playing around with equipment, seeing what it will do. And whenever I get stuck and think I’ll never have another idea again in my life, I just try…to relax and then just play around with the equipment. Because your tools teach you things.”
—Laurie Anderson, producer and musician
“I can pull emotions out of players that guys might not be able to.”
—Sylvia Massy, producer, on why her gender can be useful.
“I’d like to see other women involved [in producing] because it’s so nice, that freedom to express. I love it! I find that producing [the artists], I feel like it’s me. Usually, artists have a certain amount of ego, but in producing you get the same feeling, and if [the song is] a hit, you feel like you did it. It’s very gratifying, and anything men can do, women can do better!”
—Sylvia Robinson, producer and president of Sugar Hill Records. She produced the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message.”
Are there any careers in the music industry you’d like to see spotlighted in Queens of Noise? Say so in the comments!
Here are August’s quotes of the month from musicians:
“When I first started playing, I felt like all the boys I knew were in on a world of top-secret information. I felt like I didn’t have permission to enter that world. I didn’t know if I would ever catch up or not feel a little lost. I loved music so much, all I wanted was to be part of it, I wanted to be making it, I was totally consumed by it. Over time, I realized that my love for music was all I really needed. That was my permission slip. I was already in the gang.”
–Jessica Hopper, bassist, guitarist, keyboardist, drummer, and writer, in The Girl’s Guide to Rocking
“One of the goals of the Runaways was to make it normal for a girl or woman to write and play rock ‘n’ roll and sweat onstage, and we seem to be getting closer to that.”
“[In Throwing Muses], Kristin [Hersh] and I were always confident in the music, in what we had to say. We weren’t always so sure about our actual playing abilities. My advice [to young girls playing guitar] would be first that you actually can play guitar as well as anyone else.”
–Tanya Donelly of Throwing Muses, the Breeders, and Belly
“If guitar playing is what you’re passionate about, do what I did–get a job at the local guitar shop! Learn how to tell what year that Les Paul Standard is, or how to change strings on a banjo, how to tell if a pre-amp tube is going bad. And when there are no customers? You get to practice “Iron Man” on your favorite guitar in the store. It’s a pretty sweet deal.”
–Anita Robinson of Viva Voce in an interview posted on ultimate-guitar.com
What did you think of these quotes? Does anything particularly inspire you? Tell us in the comments section!
“All this new stuff they call rock ’n’ roll, why, I’ve been playing that for years now… Ninety percent of rock-and-roll artists came out of the church, their foundation is the church.”
—Sister Rosetta Tharpe in an interview with Daily Mirror in 1957
Writers such as Gayle Wald and Lucy O’Brien assert that the role of African-American women in the creation of rock ‘n’ roll has been largely overlooked (Weisbard 57 and O’Brien 83). While the influence blues and R&B has had on the genre is generally acknowledged, the impact of gospel music, created in Pentecostal churches largely controlled by black women, often fails to be recognized. Anthony Heilbut wrote in 1971, “All rock’s most resilient features, the beat, the drama, the group vibrations derive from gospel” (qtd. in Weisbard 56).
Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s pioneering work is too often ignored. Gayle Wald lists just a few of her impressive achievements: “[She was the] first gospel musician to sign a recording contract (in 1938, with Decca Records, with whom she would record through the ’50s); first gospel performer to play the whites-only Cotton Club and Harlem’s Apollo Theater; first gospel singer to do a significant European tour; for a time the gospel solo performer with the most Top 10 records on the Billboard ‘race’ (later, rhythm and blues) charts” (Weisbard 61). To watch her play is absolutely thrilling. A YouTube video of “Up Above My Head” shows her singing with religious fervor and boundless energy, then diving into a guitar solo with gusto. I would definitely go to her church. After seeing her in action, it becomes difficult to grasp why she isn’t acknowledged in most rock histories. She’s simply amazing, performing with an energy that is most definitely rock ‘n’ roll, moving about the stage like she owns it.
An ancestor of the “windmill,” a strumming technique thought to have started with either Pete Townshend or Keith Richards, is demonstrated in Tharpe’s performance of “Down by the Riverside” when she “slams a chord and waves her arm back and forth in a move that’s simultaneously testifying and directing the chord’s repeatedly bent notes like a choir-director’s baton (Ross 4).” Tharpe pioneered electric guitar technique on mostly Gibson guitars, including both hollow-body and solid-body Les Pauls and SGs.
Rosetta Tharpe’s “dynamic guitar playing” gained her the odd compliment that she could play “like a man,” and people of both genders desired to emulate her style (Weisbard 58). However, saying that Tharpe played “like a man” is misleading, considering that she was often better than the men she played with; Inez Andrews, who sang with Tharpe many times over the course of her career, reports, “The fellows would look at her, and I don’t know whether there was envy or what, but sometimes she would play rings around them. She was the only lady I know that would pick a guitar and the men would stand back” (Ross 3).
Unfortunately, this rock ‘n’ roll pioneer was ravaged by diabetes in her later years, losing her leg to the disease in the early 1970s. This didn’t stop her from performing in a chair, often jumping up and down on one leg while playing (Ross 3). The disease claimed her with a stroke in 1973, just as she was about to go into the studio to cut another record. She was a rather young 58. Her legacy lives on in the artists she influenced: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Etta James, Johnny Cash, even Elvis Presley (“Suffragettes” 1).
“Whenever a rock or gospel or rhythm and blues musician turns the amps up, we’re living in the presence of Rosetta, who made a habit of playing as loud as she could, based on the Pentecostal belief that the Lord smiled on those who made a joyful noise.”
–Gayle Wald in Shout, Sister, Shout!
O’Brien, Lucy. She Bop: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop and Soul. New York: Penguin Books, 1995. Print.
Ross, Michael. “Forgotten Heroes: Sister Rosetta Tharpe.” Premier Guitar Magazine. Web. 17 August 2011.
“Suffragettes to Juke Joints: The Foremothers/Roots of Rock.” Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Web. 17 August 2011.
Weisbard, Eric, ed. This is Pop: In Search of the Elusive at Experience Music Project. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2004. Print.
“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 fucking rock bands of their time, in about 1973. They were extraordinary: They wrote everything, they played like motherfuckers, they were just colossal and wonderful, and nobody’s ever mentioned them. 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 in a December 1999 issue of Rolling Stone
Fanny rocks. What’s that? You’ve never heard of Fanny? Oh man, you’ve been missing out.
Fanny was the first all-female band to get a record deal, and with good reason. With Jean Millington’s funky, perpetually audible bass lines and pure rock ‘n’ roll voice; her sister June’s amazing skills on the guitar, comping in the background during songs’ verses and then exploding into the spotlight with amazing solos; Nickey Barclay’s skills on the keyboard, rocking harder than any other keyboardist I’ve seen; Alice de Buhr’s powerful drumming, belying her shy face half-hidden behind her long hair; and the vocal harmonies all the band members contributed to, these women rocked cohesively as a group. Every single one of them was absolutely essential to the group’s sound; no one of them could be easily replaced, which is something not all bands can say. No drummers hiding behind their kits or bassists thudding away in the corner for Fanny. All of the members shared the spotlight.
The band toured all over the United States after releasing their first album in 1970. Despite the fact that they never truly broken into the mainstream—even though they were the first all-female band to have a top 40 hit, with “Charity Ball” at number 40 and “Butter Boy” at number 2—the impact they had on their audiences was unquestionable. Lynne Shapiro wrote in a 1974 Ms. article on the band, “If Fanny had been around when I was 16, I might be a feminist rock ‘n’ roll musician today” (Gaar 125).
Reading about the struggles the band went through can be appalling. Guitarist June Millington recalls, “The pressure not to play rock music was unbelievable. And of course in those days without any role models, we couldn’t say, ‘Well, look at so-and-so, they made it!’” (Gaar 122).
She continues on, “All I can say is, it really fed our spirits. We really wanted to have an all-girl band. It was like we were obsessed. I can’t tell you why. I think we always knew that we were supposed to do something. We didn’t know what it was, but there was something beckoning us. I really believe it was our destiny. We were meant to do it” (Gaar 123).
Only twenty-seven Fanny songs are available on YouTube. (I scoured the site for their albums.) I can’t believe this amazing band has been relegated to obscurity; even if you ignore the fact that they were trailblazers of the most determined sort, their music alone makes them deserve recognition among the best. They should be played on the radio along with the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, placed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the highest of honors. I would like to correct Mr. David Bowie, who I quoted at the beginning of this article: Fanny is not one of the most important female bands of all time; they are one of the most important bands of all time, period. Their achievements are not only important to women, and their hard work is not only impressive for female musicians. It is impressive for any musician, period. “Making it” in the music business—finding band members who are both friendly and solid musicians, creating good music, rehearsing said music, playing gigs, promoting yourself, trying to get signed to a record label—is hard enough without adding “dealing with horrible, ridiculous sexism on a daily basis.”
Here is a list of Fanny’s albums, with the songs on them that are available on YouTube and the places on the Internet where they can be purchased. Happy listening!
not available on Amazon
Charity Ball (1971)
available in vinyl on Amazon
Fanny Hill (1972)
available in vinyl and CD on Amazon
Mother’s Pride (1973)
available in vinyl on Amazon
Rock & Roll Survivors (1974)
available in vinyl and CD on Amazon
First Time in a Long Time: The Reprise Recordings (2002)
This anthology contains songs from all of Fanny’s albums, plus a number of unreleased tracks. It has 90 songs and is available on Amazon and iTunes.
Go to FannyRocks.com to learn more about the band’s history and discography.
Gaar, Gillian. She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll. 2nd ed. New York: Seal Press, 2002. Print.
I like bassists. Really, I do, but that doesn’t change the fact that I usually notice a guitarist before I notice a bassist, and I usually like guitarists better than bassists. Even though Flea does excellent work in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I still like him and John Frusciante about the same, and we’re talking about a phenomenal bassist here.
I like Robin “Agent” Moulder, bassist of Jack Off Jill, better than any of the band’s guitarists, though. Granted, the band had five different guitarists over its eight-year run, while Moulder stuck it out for the whole ride. (Five different drummers served in the lineup as well; Moulder and Jessicka, the vocalist, were the only constants in the band.) That doesn’t change the fact that when I listened to their album Sexless Demons and Scars for the first time, the opening track “American Made” made me think, “Wow, this is cool bass. I like it better than the guitar, actually.” Jack Off Jill is also one of the few bands where I can usually hear the bass well, even on my crappy computer speakers. (I love Mindless Self Indulgence, but I can almost never hear the bass in their songs. That’s probably less of LynZ’s fault and more of the mixer’s, though.) But just being able to hear the bass isn’t a compliment. Agent Moulder is the kind of bassist I’d like to emulate if I played the instrument myself. Her confident playing drives the band’s sound forward.
Unfortunately, Jack Off Jill broke up after releasing only two albums filled with their weird goth/alt rock sound, and they remain fairly obscure and underground. They deserve more popularity. However, their former bassist still works as a musician, having created somewhat similar music with TCR. A band Moulder founded with vocalist TC Smith, TCR’s album The Chrome Recordings received rave reviews. TC’s dark, deep vocals and Moulder’s booming bass combined with screaming guitar and electronic beats programmed by Moulder creates wonderful gothic rock. (The entire album has been posted on YouTube; the track listing is listed here. The album can also be purchased from that link.) TCR’s Myspace describes the band’s music as, “A fusion of metal, industrial, rock, and goth, with a dose of punk aggression.” Information about Moulder’s current activities doesn’t seem to be readily available; hopefully we’ll hear about any new projects soon. As a bassist, keyboardist, and programmer, she certainly has a lot of talent to work with.
The song “Priscilla” by TCR.
Albums to listen to: Jack Off Jill’s Sexless Demons and Scars and Clear Hearts, Grey Flowers, and TCR’s The Chrome Recordings.
(This article and many of the YouTube links in it feature profanity, impropriety, and half-naked girls rocking out. If you are under 16 or just averse to inappropriate things, please consider exiting the webpage.)
I must admit, when I first saw Ruyter Suys (pronounced “Rye-ter Sigh”) play, I thought I was in love.
The lead guitarist of the highly inappropriate Southern rock band Nashville Pussy graced my computer screen in a marvelous YouTube recording of the song “Go to Hell.” She played riffs that were loud, in your face, and simply badass. Her stage presence rivaled that of Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page. I truly wish I’d discovered her when I was first learning to play guitar—then again, my seventh-grade self might not have appreciated a band with song titles such as “Struttin’ Cock” and “Go Motherfucker Go.”
One of the wonderful things about Suys is her ability to play in her underwear and look all the more awesome for it. It remains far too easy for many people to look at stars like Katy Perry and disregard them as serious musicians because of their apparent hatred of clothing. But Suys’ fiery mastery of her instrument makes her impossible to write off as just another tart-of-the-month. Even when she solos in nothing but a leopard-print bra and underwear, she is impossible to disregard. She is sexy in the way Robert Plant was in his Led Zeppelin days: blonde, tanned, undeniably skilled, abundant with talent, and untouchable. When I first saw her, I felt as though I’d waited my whole life to find a guitarist like her: a woman who rocked the way that the cock rockers I grew up on do, but had her own style.
But I don’t want to portray Ruyter Suys as a woman first and a musician second. You cannot deny that she’s a woman working in a man’s industry, but too much emphasis on her gender could downplay her playing, which is the last thing I want to do. I simply feel that she’s the role model I never had when I was learning the ropes as a guitarist, and I think many other girls (and guys!) would also find her musicianship to be inspiring.
Please check out Nashville Pussy; they have a new album out called From Hell to Texas, and you can hear some of the songs for free on their website. Or you can just click on a few of the links below.
(Suys is actually fully-clothed in this one in a badass leather outfit. No wonder she stripped down—she must have been roasting underneath the stage lights. The band has wonderful energy. Blaine Cartwright–the lead singer, rhythm guitarist, and Suys’ husband–seems to enjoy watching his wife rock out.)
(Ruyter Suys and Karen Cuda [the bassist] are really badass in this one.)
(This is the one where Suys plays in her underwear, if you’re interested in that. It also happens to be an awesome song.)
Skin of Skunk Anansie has to be one of my favorite performers and songwriters of all time. Anyone can find something to relate to in her lyrics, whether it’s disillusionment with religion (“Selling Jesus”), being summed up and put into a box because of one trait (“Intellectualise My Blackness”), experiences with bullying (“Pickin’ On Me”), gratefulness for being alive after a self-destructive period (“You Saved Me”), or being in an abusive relationship (“All in the Name of Pity”). Whether she’s writing about race, gender, religion, or personal issues, she sings with a passion few can successfully articulate.
She also has a number of solo albums out, which I’m only just starting to listen to. According to her Twitter, she’s a DJ as well. She also plays rhythm guitar for Skunk Anansie occasionally. Multi-talented people rock.
What else can I say of her? It’s difficult for me to put into words what her music means to me, how it’s gotten me through rough days when I was frustrated with life. She gave voice to things I felt that I didn’t know how to explain. Skin’s voice reached my heart and said, “It’s okay. I’ve been there before. I got through it, and so can you.” Well, if I go on, I’ll probably start sounding silly, so I won’t. Suffice it to say, Skunk Anansie is one of my very favorite bands, and Skin is the member I pay the most attention to. Please check them, and her, out.
Skunk Anansie’s albums are Paranoid and Sunburnt, Stoosh, Post Orgasmic Chill, Smashes and Trashes, and Wonderlustre.
I will be the first to admit that I know very little about drumming. I can tell a snare from a bass drum, but that’s about it. And as a rule, I don’t tend to notice drummers as performers. I hear what they’re playing, and the fact that they keep the music together certainly hasn’t escaped me, but unless drummers are soloing, they don’t seem to really interact with the audience. In general they seem content to sit in the background and just communicate with the rest of the band, although there are exceptions, of course.
Sandy West is one of them. In a Runaways cover of “Wild Thing”, she supplies lead vocals in the verse. Drumming, singing, and smiling all at once, she seems to beckon to the audience (with her manner; her hands are obviously occupied). After watching that, I began to notice how important West’s drumming was to the band; Lita Ford and Joan Jett’s guitars wouldn’t have sounded half as good without her emphatic playing. Before this, I thought that distortion, powerful bass and guitar, excellent guitar solos, and sometimes solid vocals were key to making music heavy. However, Sandy West has made me realize that authoritative drumming is essential for that as well.
It was rather silly of me in the first place to ignore drummers in rock bands, but I did, mostly. I think I did this because of my own musical specialties. I’m a guitarist and singer, so I usually notice a band’s guitarist first, then the vocalist, then the bassist (the instrument is similar to a guitar, after all), and then, finally, the drummer. A ghastly oversight, and one I will have to remedy after seeing Ms. West in action. I will definitely pay more attention to drummers in the future.
After the Runaways split, West formed The Sandy West Band and continued to work as a musician, also working odd jobs in construction. Unfortunately, she lost a battle with lung cancer in 2006. According to an article by the Washington Post, Joan Jett said of West’s passing, “We shared the dream of girls playing rock and roll. Sandy was an exuberant and powerful drummer.” She continued, “I am overcome from the loss of my friend. I always told her we changed the world.”
They’ve certainly changed me, anyway.