Godmothers of Chick Rock

The following is an interview that appeared on the now defunct Technodyke website. 

In the first of four exclusive interviews with the former Fanny girls, I interview June Millington. I caught up with her in late October, 2002, the day after she performed at a benefit for The Institute for The Musical Arts at Ladyslipper Music in Durham, NC. This is what she had to say:

Technodyke: Tell us a little about your early life. You were born in Manila?

June: Right. It was kind of disjointed in a fundamental way because my dad was an American from Vermont. He was in the U.S. Navy and met my mom after the war. My mom was a Filipina. So I was biracial and bi-cultural. It was very difficult to grow up that way in the 50’s, going into the 60’s, in the Philippines because the culture is matriarchal. My father moved into my mother’s family compound. That’s actually where I grew up. So my world was basically Filipino although we spoke American, everyone spoke English, and everyone loved the Americans, but when I went to school, I never quite fit in. That’s where the music comes in because Jean and I started to play ukeleles when we were pretty young and we would pick up songs off the radio, which we had a lot of fun with and then I heard a guitar. I heard someone play a guitar just before we moved to the United States when I was 13. We moved to California. Just before I turned 13, I heard someone play a guitar and I’ll tell ya, I was gripped immediately by some sort of fever because I had to get my hands on one. Fortunately for me, my mom got me a handmade, mother-of-pearl inlay guitar right before we left for the U.S. and I played it on the ship. Then when we got to Sacramento, California, Jean and I started to play at hootenannies and stuff like that. That was really the beginning of our music career.

(June and her sister Jean were influenced by much of the early 60’s music going on at the time. They would watch such shows as “Hootenanny” and “The Ed Sullivan Show” and see many folk singers of the era. They would especially watch the hands of the performers to see how they played their guitars and try to copy them. They also listened to the radio where they would hear Motown singers such as Martha and The Vandellas, The Shirelles, and The Chiffons, along with such performers as Neil Sedaka, The Everly Brothers, The Kingston Trio, Harry Belafonte, and The Beach Boys. Later, they were also inspired by such performers as The Beatles, Laura Nyro, Carole King, as well as the songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. She and Jean formed their first band while in high school with two other girls from another high school. They would be four girls on acoustic guitars and vocals doing such songs as “Heatwave”. Although deaf in one ear, June would often listen to records on her little portable 45 player and teach herself how to play the songs which she would then teach to the band. Later, June moved to the electric guitar.)

TD: One of the first bands that you and Jean formed was called The Svelts?

J: In terms of an electric band, yes.

TD: So, you did gigs around town?

J: We did a lot of gigs, not just around town. Also, after I graduated from high school and went to college for a year, we kept playing around Northern California, but then we got an offer the summer after, that would have been the summer of ’67, to do a gig in Winnipeg, Canada. That stretched out into the whole summer. We ended up in Vancouver and Washington, just doing all these club gigs.

TD: Is that when some guy (in Canada) thought you were strippers or something?

J: Yeah, “Eight of a Kind” (a real group), which fortunately I did not know at the time. I met somebody years later who had been in the audience and he told me about that. Topless bands were actually in vogue at the time. Whoever the women were, they couldn’t really play, but the audience apparently didn’t care. So we were lumped into that, not really strippers, but the genre of a topless band. Let’s face it, at the time we were so inured to all kinds of humiliating spectacles. For example, it was really common for us to play at a club until 2, 3, 4 in the morning and there would be go-go dancers in cages on either side of us shimmying. They would be in cages suspended while we played, and that was the norm. That was absolutely the norm.

TD: Next, all of you formed Wild Honey?

J: Well, what happened was there was a woman who came out from Iowa, a really, really great drummer and she found out about us and that we needed a drummer. She auditioned and she joined The Svelts for a while. Then I dropped out for a minute and we had another guitar player, who was the lead guitarist, Addie Clements. I had dropped out to go to U.C. Berkeley for a quarter or two. They went on as The Svelts and did gigs. In that interim, they changed the name to Wild Honey. So then when I rejoined the band, before we went to L.A., that band was the band to get signed with Reprise.

TD: The drummer that you were talking about was Alice de Buhr, right?

J: Yes. She was from Mason City, Iowa. Actually, she was the first of two amazing women drummers that I met from Iowa in that time period. There’s something about Iowa that produces great women musicians. I think they have a really great band system quite honestly.

TD: Then you were signed to Reprise Records and decided to change the name of the band to Fanny. To this day, an urban myth persists that George Harrison picked out the name.

J: I wish that had never started because it’s absolutely not true. I mean we hadn’t even met George before that, you know. We were just huge fans of The Beatles. No, we wanted to change our name. Addie left the band after we signed and I had become the lead guitar player. We were searching for a replacement and for a new name for the band. There was another all-woman band in LA that I never got to see, but they were called…..hmm, it was a woman’s name and I just thought that was the greatest. I just loved the idea of a band being a woman’s name. So I said, “Well, let’s think of one”. While we were thinking of ideas, they had a piece of paper and were writing down names and “Fanny” got added on as a woman’s name with it’s double entendre. We loved the idea that it could be an anatomical part of your body and the name of your favorite great-aunt from Iowa. I mean we literally said, “Well, that could be the name of your aunt, right Alice?”. Richard (Perry-producer) now claims that we chose it because it was his grandmother’s name. I don’t even remember that being in the mix, but that could have been part of the conversation. But Richard certainly didn’t think of it either. It was really from the fact that we were thinking of names and I suggested that we come up with a woman’s name. Of course the record company loved it because they could really run with that. The publicity department could really run with that and we really worked closely with all of the departments at Reprise.

TD: Prior to this point, there had never been a completely all-women group, although there had been women singers, guitar players, and other fabulous women performers before Fanny.

J: Well, there was a group called “Goldie & The Gingerbreads” out of New York, but we didn’t know about them and neither did the rest of the country. There was “The Ace of Cups” in San Francisco that we heard about constantly although I never got to see them. I think what sets us apart from the other girl bands, which were all starting around the same time, is the fact that we were the first ones who really got out there in the public consciousness. We were on all the TV shows. We toured all over North America and Europe. We were huge in Europe. So I think that’s what really sets us apart is that we somehow broke away from the pack and the press liked us.

Fanny played at an open-mic night at The Troubadour in L.A. in the late 60’s. In the audience was the secretary for producer Richard Perry (the man who had produced Tiny Tim’s novelty hit “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”). She was so impressed with Fanny that she talked her boss into giving them an audition a couple of days later. At that time, Fanny was about to leave and go home when they got the call to go to Wally Heider Studios on Sunset Strip. After 30-45 minutes of playing for Richard, he called Mo Ostin at Reprise Records and got them signed to the label. Initially thought of as a novelty band, the label soon realized that Fanny was serious about their music. According to June, they were loved by al lof the staff producers. They were also admired by many musicians, some of whom they became good friends with such as Ry Cooder, Randy Newman, and Bonnie Raitt (who is still good friends with June and is still listed on the Advisory Board for June’s Institute for the Musical Arts).

TD: In 1969, Fanny started recording their debut album, which was simply called Fanny. I understand that originally, you wanted percussionist/vocalist Brie Berry in the group.

J: Yeah, she had actually been one of our drummers in The Svelts, one of our good drummers, but she had dropped out because she got married and pregnant. She was actually Jean’s best friend. In fact, she had moved to San Jose because we were in San Jose, after she had her baby. Then when we went to L.A., she followed us to L.A., and we wanted her in the band because she was a great singer. She was, and still is, marvelous. Richard did not like the idea though. He, and the management that we ended up getting through him, really wanted us to be like The Beatles. This is unfortunate in a way but whatever, that’s what happened. They wanted us to be four girls who made it like The Beatles did. That was the idea. That was kind of hard on us because that placed A LOT of mental pressure on us. It was hard enough to be the first all-girl band to make it but to have THAT as a template was crushing. (Laughs)

TD: The lineup for the first record was you on lead and rhythm guitars, Jean on bass, Nickey Barclay on keyboards, and Alice on drums. In reading the liner notes for the Rhino CD box set, when Alice joined the band, she was already out as a lesbian, right?

J: That’s right. In fact, that was one of the original problems that I had with her when I first met her. Not the fact that she was out, but I didn’t like her girlfriend (laughs), who I’m now in touch with and Alice hates. It’s one of those things where you live long enough and things turn around on ya, it’s bizarre. But anyway, yeah, Alice was out. I was really struggling with my sexuality, REALLY struggling with it, because I was with guys, but I was really attracted to women. It was very, very hard for me.

TD: So, did being with Alice in the band help you to think more about your sexuality at the time?

J: I don’t think so because I was already feeling it so much and having such a hard time. She was the first person I guess I actually spent time with (who was gay), but we didn’t really talk about it or anything like that. In fact, I think the band kinda laughed at me because they kinda looked down on it, the fact that I was struggling with it and the shame of having those kinds of feelings.

TD: I have one question about the cover of the first album. I thought it was kinda cute that the front cover showed all four of you from behind and it looks like Alice is squeezing your butt.

J: She is (laughs). It was a fluke really. We were done with the original photo session and the guy had a few shots left. So we took a couple of shots with our managers and there was one shot left and as a joke he said, “Let me shoot you from behind”. Just as he snapped the picture, Alice grabbed my butt. It was a complete fluke. I mean, you can’t make up stuff like that. It’s absolutely true (laughs).

TD: From the first album, the song “Badge”, which was a cover of an Eric Clapton song, got a lot of airplay.

J: And I’m glad because as I listen to it now, I’m pretty proud of that one.

TD: You had a great guitar solo on that song. I read that a critic once wrote that he considered your solo on “Badge” as equal to or surpassing Clapton’s original solo.

J: Yeah, that’s right. I actually have that review clipped out.

After the release of Fanny, the group started 3-4 years of almost constant touring. When they weren’t touring, the group had a home on Marmont Lane, believed to have been at one time owned at one time by actress Heddy Lamar, that they called Fanny Hill. The home was frequently the site for jam sessions with fellow musicians who would drop in to visit and play music. The title for their second album was called Charity Ball whose cover featured a photo of the girls done by actress Candice Bergen (of “Murphy Brown” fame). This second album yielded their first Top 40 single with the title track. By 1972, relations between Fanny and Richard Perry were getting very strained because of his autocratic ways in the studio.

TD: In 1972, Fanny went to London for several months to work on the album Fanny Hill, which was the last album you did with Richard Perry producing. What was it like to be in England for all that time?

J: It was marvelous. We had the same publicity machine The Beatles did, aside from recording in their studio (Apple Studios). There was a lot that was just going simultaneously already so that it was very comfortable feeling. They put us up in The Portabello Hotel, which was marvelous. We had a daily schedule that we adhered to, I forget what. Maybe we’d show up at the studio at 10 in the morning. Then we’d work into the evening with Geoff Emerick, who was a Beatle’s engineer and just a complete dear gentleman, just a wonderful person to work with. I’d ask him a lot of questions about his technique. I’ve always been interested in recording. So I got a lot of first hand relating of knowledge and stuff that he had done in order to record and get those sounds with The Beatles, in particular George.

TD: One of the things that was hard on you during the Fanny days was that Richard was kind of a domineering producer. You did not always get as much of a say as you would have liked. Do you think that things would have been different if you could have persuaded them to let the group produce your albums yourselves?

J: No, I don’t think that would have been a good idea at all. In hindsight, I think that Richard actually did a really good job. And I can only say that because I’ve become a record producer myself and I understand the things you kind of have to go through on the other side of the glass. We really didn’t have the chops. It would have been great if we could have been captured a little bit more with a live feel because one of the things that was a constant remark from fans and audience members was that we were so much better live than we were on record. We must have heard that hundreds of times. So there was obviously something that didn’t get translated and part of it was that we were not allowed to play in that same way in the studio. However, having said that, I gotta say that the records now sound really good. I think probably for the sort of social climate, I don’t know that people would have listened to us if we would have rocked as hard on record as we did on stage because you got to remember the people had never seen that before. It was really hard for the population in general to accept that girls could play like guys and that’s actually what we had to prove, that girls could play like guys and that’s really one of the unfortunate things, that we constantly had to do that proof-making thing. It was hard work just doing that over and over again rather than being necessarily creative.

TD: And the critics at the time?

J: They were pretty dismissive.

TD: That was the impression that I got from what I’ve read.

J: What would have been really great actually is if there was anybody who could have helped me out emotionally when I really started to get into trouble in ’72 going into ’73. I really started to get into trouble and there was absolutely no one to talk to. There was no one who wanted anything to happen other than my just staying with the band and just keep doing it. But I mean, that’s how you die. And I had to leave. I had to leave. That is my one regret, I wish that there was someone who could have helped me out. I wasn’t like a mad woman. I was just this young, 23 year old woman who was going through changes, and didn’t have a life because she was constantly on the road, and I couldn’t make any lasting relationships, even if it were friends. I was constantly on the road and working and there was no where to look to for any sustenance, even if it was just another woman saying, “Yeah, I know how you feel”. Oddly enough, Alice just told me a couple of months ago, she said, “June, I’m really sorry. I didn’t know that you were having a nervous breakdown”. I laughed and threw up my hands. I can’t believe it, but that’s how insulated we were just by virtue of the fact that we had to work all the time and we just had to get through it. And it just got too crushing for me. I’m a pretty sensitive person. I was very shy. I didn’t have very many friends. I really needed help. It’s sorta like The Elvis Syndrome, “Just keep doing it”, and he ends up dying on the toilet for god’s sake. You’re just part of the cog, part of a machine, and it’s hard for people to see you as other than something that’s part of their future and their dreams and their breadwinning enterprises.

TD: The last album that you did with Fanny was Mother’s Pride, which was produced by Todd Rundgren. The impression that I got from my research is that he was more autocratic than Richard Perry. In listening to some of the tracks from that album, some of them do sound overproduced.

J: Man, we could not believe that we went from the frying pan into the fire. We went with him because we thought that he would understand us more since he was a musician, and it was exactly the opposite. Oh my god, it was awful in that sense, terrible.

After Mother’s Pride, June left the group. Alice left soon after June as well. Patti Quatro joined the group on guitar and Brie Berry joined, finally, on drums. This revised group would go on to record one more Fanny album (for the disco label-Casablanca Records) before breaking up for good. Ironically, the album was titled Rock and Roll Survivors. Meanwhile, June retreated to Woodstock, N.Y. where she studied Buddhism and meditation.

TD: In the late 70’s, Cris Williamson looked you up because she wanted you to play on her album.

J: It was 1975 actually. She recorded “Changer and The Changed” in 1975 and I went on the road with her in the spring of 1976 on her first national tour.

TD: That was a great album and your playing on it was fabulous.

J: Thank you. Interestingly enough, when I did my parts on that album, I couldn’t believe it. I walked in and I was prepared. I had all my parts ready because I had practiced. I had a four-track recorder at home, so I practiced my three-part guitar solos or whatever. So I pretty much did everything in one take and I just would say, “Now move onto the next track”, and I would play my next part. When I finished the session, which probably took an hour, everyone who was on the other side of the glass gave me a standing ovation. I was just shocked. What I found out was that I was the only one who knew what I was doing in the studio (laughs). None of them really knew how to make a record, including the engineer. The engineer had done stuff before, but they were all just learning. They were just trying to figure out “How do we do this?” because it was Olivia and they were intent on it being all women, whether or not you knew anything. Well dammit, you were gonna learn (laughs). And they were so impressed by me. To me, it was just another day of my music work. To me, it wasn’t like rocket science, but to them, it was huge. So that really illustrates the disparity of what was going on at the time. I had information, but no one was asking me. So I couldn’t share it except for if I got hired for a session. Meanwhile you have all these other women who maybe they were gonna do a restaurant, but then they decided to do a record company, which was one of those flukes

After Fanny’s breakup, Jean went to visit June in Woodstock unaware that Fanny’s very last album had yielded a surprise Top 40 single with “Butter Boy”, a song about Jean’s former boyfriend, David Bowie. The song peaked at Number 29. The management at Casablanca wanted to take advantage of the single’s growing popularity. So Jean returned to L.A. and a couple of days later, she called June to ask if she would do a tour with her to promote the song. June agreed to do the “Butter Boy Tour”. At the time, June had been doing some work with a 7 member group that she had put together called “Smiles”, a pre-salsa/disco/funk band. After the “Butter Boy” tour, June brought the percussionist (Patti Moschetta) and the sound man to L.A. and started a new group called The L.A. All-Stars with Brie Berry, Wendy Haas, and Jean. The L.A. All-Stars did so well that they were offered a contract. When June and Jean went to the lawyer’s office to sign the contract, they were told that the label wanted them to change their name to Fanny. June balked because this group was a completely different entity. So she refused to sign. Afterwards, June went on the road with Cris Williamson. In the years since then, June has worked with Jean on a number of albums such as Ladies On The Stage (under the name “Millington”), Ticket To Wonderful, and more recently Melting Pot with her latest group The Slammin’ Babes (on the Fabulous Records label which she started).

TD: Tell us about The Slammin’ Babes.

J: When I first left Fanny in ’73, I was jamming a lot in New York City because I really didn’t want to be known as “The Chick Guitar Player”. I really wanted to expand myself musically. So, I would commute into New York. I knew these guys from Sha-Na-Na and Elliot Randall. So I would go to jams with these guys and through various circles, I met Leo Adamian, who is this great drummer who ended up being in my band “Smiles”. He played on Ladies On The Stage and that’s when he and Jean met, and that was a great rhythm section. Then we moved back to California. Then I brought Leo back for the album Running (1983), but then we lost touch with Leo. I just kept thinking, This is such a great drummer and he’s so great in the studio. I decided to give him a call. So we started to bring him out for sessions that I was producing for other young women. I’d be doing demos of first albums and such. What would happen was while we would be hanging out between projects, we just started to play together. Then we started to do a few gigs. I started to write songs and I recorded them with Leo and Jean between all these other projects. That ended up being The Slammin’ Babes. I had also been using Annette Aguilar, who is this great percussionist out of New York, and one time we had been doing an album project and she kept saying, “Oh that’s really slamming man”. I guess that was the word everyone in New York was using at the time. So, as a joke, I started to write on the track sheets “Slammin’ Babes”. So for this one gig in Santa Rosa, we decided to call ourselves “The Slammin’ Babes’. It waas just a joke for one night because we figured that we’d get slammed by all the feminists because it would be wrong to use the word “Babes” (laughs), but everybody loved it. So we kept the name and when we finally released the album, we just kept the name “Slammin’Babes”.

TD: Tell us about The Institute for The Musical Arts. How it got started and what it’s mission is.

J: I first had a concern when I went to a meeting that Olivia called in 1976 after my first tour with Cris which they were calling for women of color to get involved in the collective. I remember listening to all these people talk and thinking to myself, ‘Well, who’s going to take care of the business for all these different artists?’ I mean I’d already done the Hollywood thing since 1969 and I knew what it took. As I watched Olivia and all these women artists over the years, I saw a lot of people repeating the same things. Kind of reinventing the wheel over and over again. In 1986, I was having a conversation with Angela Davis and I was telling her about my concerns. I felt like there should be an organization that would really help women in music, not just “Womyn’s Music”, because I came out of the “Women In Rock” era before “Womyn’s Music” was even a glimmer in anybody’s eye, so all women in music. And Angela said, “Well, you better get started forming this organization”. And I’m like, “What? I mean, no, not me. I just hear these voices. I don’t mean that I’m going to start this organization”. She said, “Well, you’re the one who’s got this idea. So get started.” With an imperative like that, even though I didn’t want to do it, I felt I had to take up that gauntlet. I had gotten together with the woman who is still my partner and love in my life, Ann Hackler, and at the time she was running The Women’s Center at Hampshire College in Amherst and that’s where I lived. She had always been interested in forming an alternative educational model. She encouraged me to write down all my ideas and just get it organized somewhat. That’s what I did. I wrote this 15 page declaration of what my ideas were and I passed it around to everybody: Cris, Lucie Blue, Teresa Trull, Rhiannon. All the women that I knew. A lot of people didn’t think it was gonna work, but a few people thought it was a good idea. So Vickie Randle, who was a band mate of mine at the time, got on board the formation board. I made a lot of cold calls asking, “Who do you think could help us with this idea?” Karen Kane, who was a recording engineer at the time in Boston, said, “You should call Roma Barren. She used to be a guitar player and she’s a producer now in New York. She works with Laurie Anderson.” So it was me, Ann, Roma Barren, Angela Davis, and Vickie Randal on the board. All our first benefits in the first year, all that money, went to legal work in order to form the 501 (c) 3, which is a lot harder than I thought. It really took a lot of work. We paid for professionals to take my declaration and distill it to five pages, which is basically the mission statement of The Institute for The Musical Arts. The core of it is that we exist for women in music, especially women of color and single mothers, and that we exist to do everything we can to help implement and sort of mentor women’s dreams, aspirations, and skills along the way. So it’s pretty big. It’s broad. It can cover anything and everything. The credo that I’ve ended up with is “We do what we can, when we can”. At first I thought we were gonna be like this institution like this school, this college, and it’s turned out to be actually quite different from that. Maybe it will be in the future. I don’t know what the future generations are gonna do.

Over the years, the IMA has been able to amass enough equipment to have a recording studio. June has also been busy building an archive of various material of women in music such as photos, videos, and recordings, including shows done at The IMA by various artists as well as dinner table recordings because she feels a lot of interesting things can be said at the dinner table. Some of the artists that are supportive of The IMA include Bonnie Raitt, Phoebe Snow, Toshi Reagon, Linda Tillery, Holly Near, Jill Sobule, Catie Curtis, Amy Ray, and Ani di Franco. In 2001, at the invitation of Ani, June shot several of Ani’s shows in Italy on video for the IMA’s archives. Although originally based in California, The IMA has now moved to Goshen, Massachusetts and they are at work creating a performance center. In July 2002, The IMA did their first Rock-and-Roll Girls Camp. In November and December of 2002, June co-produced the upcoming Bitch and Animal album, which was recorded at IMA East. Future plans include working on new songs and documentary film work, including a possible one about Fanny. She was recently involved in the documentary film “Radical Harmonies” by Dee Mosbacher. She has also begun work on the “Our Mothers” documentary which will feature interviews with her own mom as well as the mothers of such people as Jill Sobule, Ani DiFranco, and Bitch and Animal. The Slammin’ Babes recently performed at The Sixth Annual Diva Fest, which is a fundraiser for The IMA.

All orders from April 8th to April 15th, 2019 will be shipped after April 15th due to travel plans by Alice. We appreciate your understanding and patience. Dismiss