Sisters June and Jean Millington, Philippines-born daughters of an American naval officer and a Filipina socialite, moved with their family to Sacramento, California in 1961. Surrounded by strangers in an unfamiliar country, they took up music to keep their spirits up and performed in high school, first as a duo with June on guitar and Jean on bass and then forming an all-female quartet, The Svelts. Their first drummer was friend Brie Berry, who dropped out of the band to have a baby (but eventually returned to music as Brie Brandt and joined FANNY in the late stages of their history).
The Svelts played in clubs up and down the West Coast and in Nevada. After a number of personnel changes, Jean and June were joined in 1968 by guitarist Addie Clement (from the band California Girls) and drummer Alice de Buhr, a native of Mason City, Iowa who had moved to California at the age of seventeen in search of the proverbial fame and fortune. In this four-piece configuration, the Svelts gigged around the West in a renovated city bus, mainly playing covers.
Later that year, Alice and Addie left the Svelts to found another all-female band, Wild Honey, and gigged briefly in the Midwest before returning to California to rejoin the Millingtons. As Wild Honey, now playing Motown covers, they headed to LA in 1969 to “either sign with a label or go back to school.” It was very nearly the latter – no one in the Hollywood music industry took them seriously, and after a while Wild Honey were ready to give up and head home. But on what they thought would be their final night in LA, they played an open mic night at Doug Weston’s famous Troubadour Club, and by chance Richard Perry’s secretary was there checking out unsigned bands.
Perry, a Warner Brothers Records staff member and leading producer with a list of hits to his credit (Leo Sayer, Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand, etc.), had always dreamed of discovering a band of young women who could rock out powerfully, and once Wild Honey had auditioned for him he lost no time in convincing WB head honcho Mo Ostin to sign them. In fact, Perry was so sure of Wild Honey’s potential that he got the band signed to WB subsidiary Reprise Records sight unseen – and sound unheard! Wild Honey, now a three-piece (Jean, June and Alice), went into Western Recorders with Perry in December 1969 to work on their first album of original songs. After a number of tracks were recorded, though, both band and producer felt that there was something missing – namely, a keyboard player.
Finding a good rocking keyboardist who was also young and female was no easy task back in 1969, when most young girls were more likely to sit politely at the piano instead of playing in a rock band. Wild Honey flew in prospective keyboard players from as far away as Nashville and even Canada, but no one met all the criteria until they found Nickey Barclay, a young but experienced professional session player who was a charter member of Sterling Haug’s LA-based Musicians Contact Service.
There was only one hitch – Nickey had only ever worked with male musicians and wasn’t at all interested in joining an all-female band. As Nickey said in a 1974 interview*, “They were excited about the way I played, they really liked it. But I was put off. I guess I was used to being the only girl in the group… They seemed to have a real friendship and an understanding like bands have, but I’d never seen that with girls. They had to get back in touch with me because I didn’t call them…”
Nickey became the fourth member in January 1970 and immediately began recording with Wild Honey, bringing in her blues-soul-funk background to give the band’s sound a harder edge. But she left for several months to tour as a member of Joe Cocker’s soon-to-be-legendary Mad Dogs and Englishmen, appearing on the hit live album and singles and in the Mad Dogs film. She returned hesitantly to Wild Honey after the tour – partly because Cocker convinced her it would be a good idea – and signed on formally as a band member, finishing the recording of what would be Fanny’s first album for Reprise.