David Bowie called Fanny "one of the finest f—ing
rock bands of their time," and Amy Ray dubbed former Fanny guitarist June
Millington her musical godmother, but these days, few remember the
groundbreaking all-woman band. In the early 1970s, Fanny released six albums,
toured relentlessly, recorded at the Beatles’ Apple Studios, and shared stages
with Ike and Tina Turner, Chicago, Jethro Tull and others, paving the way for
many women rockers.
Fanny band members from left to right:
Jean Millington, Nickey
Barclay, June Millington, Alice de Buhr
Deborah Frost Levine
Two of Fanny’s founding members, sisters June and Jean
Millington, started out on ukuleles while growing up in the Philippines.
They switched to electric guitars when they moved to the States in 1961. Or
rather, as Jean remarked in an interview with AfterEllen.com, June picked up
the guitar and told Jean, "You have
to play the bass."
Jean laughed and recalled: "She was the older sister, 13
months older. She led, I followed." As it turned out, she was a good bass
player, figuring out almost everything by ear. "There were no models for
young girls to learn how to play," she said.
June (left) and Jean Millington
Photo credits: Bob Riegler
In 1968, they played with several women musicians as the
Svelts, a band that also featured drummer Alice de Buhr. They toured the West in
a renovated bus, playing Motown songs and other covers. It wasn’t easy. "Men
tried to look up our skirts," noted June. They honed their craft in spite
of the obstacles and then traveled to Los
Angeles to either sign with a label or go back to
school. By this time, they were called Wild Honey.
The choice was almost "go back to school." On what
they thought would be their last gig in L.A.,
they played the open mic at the famous Troubadour. Richard Perry’s secretary
was there. Perry, a staff member at Warner Brothers, had a series of hits with
Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon and others. He’d always dreamed of producing an all-woman
rock band, and when Wild Honey auditioned for him, he knew he’d struck gold.
June said: "They thought we’d be another novelty act
like Tiny Tim. We played for the label executives so they’d be excited about
us, proving that we could really play."
By this time the band was a trio — June, Jean and drummer Alice.
After doing some recording, they realized they needed another member. They
considered the few female rock musicians they knew, even flying in a few
prospective performers, but nothing clicked until they found keyboard player Nickey
Barclay. The only problem? Nickey wasn’t interested in joining a women’s band.
She explained to AfterEllen.com via email: "In the late ’60s the concept of a girl band meant one of
two things: a Las Vegas-type travesty (think topless), or a radical feminist
collective project, and at that stage of my life I was revolted by either
prospect. I still am."
Photo credit: Bob Riegler
At this point, the search was on for a new name. June
remembered hearing about a band that used a woman’s name, so they threw 30 or 40
women’s names around. Fanny stuck. The label machinery started cranking out
double entendres like "Get behind Fanny." Did that bother them? "Most
people couldn’t even accept an all-girl band," said June. "That was a
much bigger issue for us. How could we get upset about the name?"