guitar neck Rock Flashback: Fanny

(Getty Images/Gareth Cattermole/staff)

They were neither the first all-female rock band, nor the first all-female rock band signed to a major label, but they were the first all-female rock band to enjoy anything resembling success. The members of [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Fanny[/lastfm] blazed their own trail in a world where women did not usually call the shots.

June Millington was a guitarist and singer; her sister Jean played bass. They performed as a duo for a while before forming a band that had a couple of lineups and a couple of names.

In 1969, after trying to get noticed in Los Angeles performing Motown covers under the name Wild Honey (as a trio with drummer Alice DeBuhr), they were ready to give up. But what happened on their last night in town is a classic showbiz story: During open-mike night at the Troubadour nightclub, a famous producer’s secretary heard them and got them an audition. The famous producer was Richard Perry, and once he heard them, they were quickly signed to Warner Brothers.

After cutting a few tracks, Perry and the group decided that they needed a keyboard player, so they rounded up Nickey Barclay, who’d been making a living as a session player in Los Angeles.

The band’s lineup was set — but their name was not. They eventually settled on [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Fanny[/lastfm], which the women saw as representative of the spirit of a benevolent woman watching over them. Others saw it as a sexual metaphor — and in one set of publicity photos, the four members were shot from behind.

Album cover for Fanny's "Charity Ball"

Album cover for Fanny's "Charity Ball"

Fanny’s first album was treated as a novelty by many critics, but their long residency at the Whiskey A-Go-Go on the Sunset Strip resulted in positive word-of-mouth. Their breakthrough album, Charity Ball, was released in 1971. Its success earned them an opening spot on tours with [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Jethro Tull[/lastfm] and [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Humble Pie[/lastfm]. The title song from the album became a hit single, reaching #40 on the Hot 100, but it was a top-5 hit in Chicago, Denver, and Atlanta.

The success of “Charity Ball” earned Fanny a guest slot on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.

The albums Fanny Hill and Mother’s Pride followed, as did the inevitable inter-group tensions and resulting departures. June Millington and Alice DeBuhr left, replaced by Patti Quatro and Brie Brandt (who had played in one of those early incarnations of the band). Fanny’s last album, Rock and Roll Survivors (1975), featured the single “Butter Boy,” which would be their biggest national success. By the time it hit, however, the band was defunct.

In American society during the 1970s, women began moving into spheres they had never inhabited before, but it wasn’t always easy, particularly not in the boys’ club that was the rock and roll biz. Like women moving into other new fields, Fanny wasn’t always welcomed or taken seriously — but they’re deservedly remembered for their pioneering role.

There’s a lot more about Fanny’s career at their website.

Like revisiting the past? Check out more Rock Flashbacks here


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