FANNY: The Right to Rock – the first all-female band on a major record label are still rocking
FANNY: The Right to Rock, the story of ferocious female rockers Fanny who, after shattering glass ceilings in the ’70s and amassing fans worldwide, reunite with a new record deal and a chance to rewrite history.
Sometime in the 1960s, in sunny Sacramento, two Filipina-American sisters got together to play music. Little did they know their garage rock band would evolve into the legendary Fanny, the first all-woman band to release an LP with a major record label.
Despite recording a handful of albums and amassing a dedicated fan base that included music legend David Bowie, who stated them as one underrated and deserving of recognition, the band all but disappeared from the records of music history. This documentary not only tells the story of the band’s rocking past that began as The Svelts, but also documents its next chapter: now in their 60s, the bandmates are recording a new album.
The film includes interviews with a large cadre of music icons, including Bonnie Raitt, Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott and the Go-Go’s Kathy Valentine. Fighting early barriers of race, gender and sexuality in the music industry, the women of Fanny are ready to take their place in the halls of rock ‘n’ roll fame.
Being a female musician in the music industry during the 1960s was nearly unheard of, and having a full rock band with just female musicians was mind boggling to many. Until Fanny, any females within a band were either vocalists, or dancers.
Sisters June and Jean started playing music as a duo on a whim at a school talent show, and were caught by surprise when people actually started paying attention to them. This was the first time they felt recognized as individuals after years of facing racism as “half-breeds.” This was the late 60s, and the United States was still primarily white and Christian. While still in high school, they assembled a full band with keyboards and drums, and started playing local gigs on weekends. They eventually were recognized by a record executive after playing the famed Troubadour bar in Los Angeles,, and were signed to a record deal, the first for an all-female rock band.
They were lodged in the hills of Los Angeles overlooking the city, in a place they called Fanny Hill, a work/live space that attracted many other musicians and groupies. They eventually started touring the country and across the ocean to England and Europe. Despite their ability to play instruments, write songs, and carry a great stage presence, they were still having to deal with sexism in the industry. They were constantly being asked to change their image to sell records, which meant skimpier outfits on stage. Add this to the fact that some members of the band identified as lesbian, and were told to keep that quiet for fear of a homophobic backlash. This resulted in one member deciding to leave, followed by another. The original founder did replace them, and went on to have their highest charting hit ever, but then she decided to call it quits to raise a family.
Now they are back, accepted for their cultural identity, and being lesbian leaders in rock and roll. As Jean jokes in the movie, “Now we’ll have to tackle ageism I guess.” This is not just a music documentary, but a great story about the struggles of always being one step ahead of the rest of society.
Read this article in She Shreds Magazine for more on the band’s legacy. June started the Northampton Arts Society based out of Massachusetts, that works to support and nurture the arts in the city of Northampton, especially for young female musicians.
Streaming at Hot Docs April 29 to May 9, 2021 across Canada.
In 2018, nearly 50 years since forming, Fanny reunited as Fanny Walked the Earth — a name that reflects all that they’ve accomplished in their lives; all they’ve seen, done and lived through — and released their first album in decades.
“There is something about us playing together,” says June. “It’s incredibly special; it’s beyond words.” Drawing influence from Motown bands to the Beach Boys to Jimi Hendrix, Fanny released their first five albums between 1970 and 1974 with various iterations of members. Working with producers including Richard Perry, Todd Rundgren and Vini Poncia, their sound was a mix of full-throttle, rockin’-funk vocals; unapologetically heavy rock guitars; and hard, punchy beats.
In 1975, the band had a breakout hit with “Butter Boy,” which hit number 29 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song, written by Jean, was about her then-lover, David Bowie. “It was tongue-in-cheek,” she says. “He was the inspiration.” Over the years, Fanny became major influences for bands like The Runaways, The Bangles and the Go-Go’s, and have been recognized as the trailblazers for decades since.
The self-titled 12-track album of all original new material is available from Blue Lan Records, recorded with the same raucous courage and fearlessness as their original works. “Lured Away” tells the story of rock n’ roll lives that are still going strong – “I’m coming to, time to fully wake up / I gotta burn, don’t wanna give it up” – while “Storm Crossed” is an homage to Jimi Hendrix. “When You Need Her” features appearances by rock legends Currie, Kathy Valentine of The Go-Go’s, and Susanna Hoffs, Vicki Peterson and Debbi Peterson of The Bangles, and Alice Bag.
The band has plans to tour in the near future when it’s deemed safe to do so. Let’s hope Canada is part of the tour plans!
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.