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Pioneering Female Rock Band’s Debut LP Gets A 50th Anniversary Reissue

Long before the Runaways, the Go-Go’s, L7, Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill, the Los Angeles-based Fanny distinguished themselves as one of the first all-female rock bands in the early 1970s whose members performed their own instruments and wrote songs. They also had the distinction of being the first female rock act to sign with a major label (Reprise Records). And while the band never achieved major super stardom or multi-platinum album sales before splitting up in 1975, Fanny’s influence carried over to many generations of women rockers from Girlschool to Joan Jett to Hole’s Courtney Love.  

“It feels great,” former Fanny guitarist June Millington told me in 2011 about Fanny’s legacy. “It feels like we were the foundation in a lot of ways. There were probably hundreds of thousands whose lives got changed. I got a note from somebody who wrote to me and said, ‘I remember where I was standing when I first saw you at the Beat Club in Germany.’ These are experiences that I know counted for something that helped give people a spark.”

This past Friday, reissue label Real Gone Music has re-released Fanny’s self-titled album as a limited-edition white vinyl to mark its 50th anniversary. “Fifty years is a long, long time,” says Alice de Buhr, the group’s former drummer, today. “So listening back to that album takes me right back to all of the middle of the night recording sessions that we did with [producer] Richard Perry. We broke the cherry on three or four new studios in L.A. at the time, and it was less expensive to go to a new studio in the middle of the night. It’s very gratifying that Real Gone is reissuing it. It’s really great to see a little bit of Fanny resurgence.”

Fanny’s origins can be traced to the 1960s in California when sisters June and Jean Millington, on guitar and bass respectively, formed the group the Svelts with drummer Brie Brandt and guitarist Addie Clement; de Buhr later replaced Brandt. “I moved at 17 from Iowa, went to Sacramento and was looking for musicians,” de Buhr recalls. “I went to a music store, and found a little note on the bulletin board looking for a female drummer. I called the number and Sylvia Millington [the sister of Jean and June] answered the phone, and I told her who I was. The Svelts had either just left for a Canadian tour or something. They came back, called me. I went, I auditioned. I joined the band, and we started doing gigs.”

De Buhr and Clement later split from the Svelts and formed their own band Wild Honey. A reconciliation developed that led to June and Jean Millington joining Wild Honey. After gigging up and down the West Coast, mostly north of San Francisco, the band decided to relocate to Los Angeles. “We knew we had to do it,” said June. “We knew it had never been done before — it was the impossible dream. But we just never stopped. So when we got to Hollywood [in 1969], we already were a self-evolving band.”

In West Hollywood, they performed at the famous Troubadour club that proved to be crucial. De Buhr recalls: “Richard Perry’s secretary saw us there, called Richard and said, ‘You’ve got to hear these girls.’ We auditioned for Richard in a vocal overdub booth at the Wally Heider [recording studio]. He said he had 15 minutes to give us. That turned into three hours. One of the first things we did, I think, was “Nowhere to Run,” because we were doing a lot of Motown covers at the time. Richard went to the moon and said: ‘I wanna sign these girls.’ We got a four-album record deal on Richard’s word.”

It was during this period of transition that Clement left the group and was replaced by keyboardist Nickey Barclay. “We re-recorded half of the first album with Nickey’s songs,” de Buhr says, “because she had such great rock and roll songs. During that time, we changed the name to Fanny. We started slowly touring and writing more original material. If we weren’t touring or recording, we were rehearsing. We worked really hard.”

Released in 1970, Fanny’s self-titled debut record was an edgy amalgam of rock-pop-and-soul, with a majority of its songs written by the Millingtons and Barclay such as “Come and Hold Me,” “Changing Horses” and “Seven Roads.” The album also contained two cover songs: “It Takes a Lot of Good Lovin’” and Cream’s “Badge.” Says de Buhr: “I love “Badge” on it. We liked the song, we made the song our own. “It Takes a Lot of Good Lovin’” is more back to the Motown kind of roots of June, Jean and me.”

The band’s electrifying chemistry went beyond any initial skepticism that they were a novelty act. “June, Jean and I had been playing together for two years by then,” de Buhr says. “Nickey was just such a great rock and roller. She slid right in. Jean and I had been in tune as a rhythm section almost from the get-go. This is just how we played. It was pretty special. When we got on stage, any personal disagreements or differences were left in the dressing room. We all always gave it everything we had when we performed live.”

“We looked forward to was that downbeat because we had endured so many years of people scoffing and laughing at the idea [of a female rock band],” June once said. “Now we were on The Tonight Show or The Midnight Special or in front of 2,000-5,000 people at a time. You can really feel the energy shift and people went nuts, they fell in love with us.”

Aside from performing as headliners, Fanny performed as the backing band to Barbra Streisand on the singer’s 1971 album Barbra Joan Streisand. “Richard Perry was producing [Streisand’] Stoney End and June did some work,” de Buhr says. “Richard was gonna then do Barbra Joan Streisand and he suggested to Barbra, ‘Let’s bring the girls in and do a session.’ She was amazing, She put us at ease immediately. That’s the only time in all of the celebrities that we met that I really felt starstruck. I said, ‘Alice de Buhr a little girl from Mason City, Iowa just played with Barbra Streisand.’”

One of Fanny’ most famous fans was David Bowie, who once said about them in Rolling Stone: “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 f**king rock bands of their time.” De Buhr later recalls of the band’s encounter with the British rocker: “We were touring in England, and we were playing Liverpool the next night. He had played that night, and we got to the hotel and somehow the kitchen had closed. David came down to talk to us and he got them to open up the kitchen and feed us and he did this 15-20 minute impromptu mime session for us while we were eating, which was way out of the box. And then June and Jean spent the evening with him talking music and hanging out. He was a fan.”

Fanny went on to record three more albums until June Millington left the band after 1973’s Mothers Pride, and de Buhr followed suit shortly after. “She was just burned out,” she says of June. “She emotionally couldn’t do it anymore, and she found her replacement in Patti Quatro. I didn’t like the direction that the music was going. I had a girlfriend who said: ‘It’s the band or me.’ And I will rue the day, but I said: ‘Okay.’ It was easier to quit after June left. I didn’t wanna be in a band that June wasn’t in, because I loved the way she played guitar, her leads were always melodic.”

Asked if the members of Fanny realized at the time that they were blazing a trail for female rockers, de Buhr says: “It was extremely rare. I didn’t think of myself as a girl drummer. I was just a drummer, and I think we all felt that way. We were just rock and roll musicians. It wasn’t until hindsight again how historic it was that we got as far as we got. We didn’t really ever make it big, but we got to a certain level of notoriety. We were just playing rock and roll. That’s all we wanted to do. We did get tired of, ‘Oh, you play good for a girl.’ ‘Oh, you’re good for a chick.’ And people thought that male musicians had played on our albums, which was really insulting. It’s like, ‘No, that’s me recorded. I played the drums there.’”

There have been occasional Fanny reunions over the years on stage and on record, most recently with the Millingtons and Brandt reuniting as Fanny Walked the Earth a few years ago. De Buhr has also helped revive interest in the band through the website FannyRocks.com. Looking back on the first Fanny album 50 years later, she says: “I would say that the music pretty much holds up. We were better live than we ever were on record, but when you listen to that first album and you think, ‘This is from 1970, before so many people were even a gleam in their dad’s eyes’—and that music still holds up. [People ask,] ‘Why didn’t you make it? Was it mismanagement?’ No, we were just ahead of our time. We were probably 10 years too early.”

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