Friday, February 19, 2016

Fanny - 1970 - Fanny


01. Come And Hold Me    2:46
02. I Just Realized    4:00
03. Candlelighter Man    3:35
04. Conversation With A Cop    3:10
05. Badge    3:00
06. Changing Horses    3:50
07. Bitter Wine    3:17
08. Take A Message To The Captain    3:31
09. It Takes A Lot Of Good Lovin'    4:25
10. Shade Me    4:39
11. Seven Roads    4:20

Bass, Vocals – Jean Yolanda Millington
Drums, Percussion, Vocals – Alice De Buhr
Guitar, Vocals – June Millington
Piano, Organ, Vocals – Nicoel Barclay

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.

After Nickey joined the band and the album release was imminent, the question of a new name was raised – by the four themselves, by Richard Perry, by their label and by their management, the Blue peacock Company. Everyone felt that what was needed was a woman’s name, something short, memorable and at once feminine and bold. After considering a series of suggestions the band settled on the name FANNY, and the rest was history. June would later explain, “We really didn’t think of [the name Fanny] as a butt, a sexual term. We felt it was like a woman’s spirit watching over us.”

Leading up to and following the band’s first (self-titled) LP release, Reprise Records wasted no time in exploiting the name through promotional photos and advertisements showing the women of FANNY from the back, and distributing bumper stickers urging record buyers to GET BEHIND FANNY, and a later advertising campaign proclaiming FANNY: THE END OF AN ERA. “Both slogans were my doing,” Nickey has said. “I suggested them as a joke, but [manager Roy] Silver and the label took them seriously and ran with them. They certainly got people’s attention… I was also playing on the different slang meanings of the term fanny in America and the UK.”

The band had already attracted serious notice in LA even prior to the release of their first album. As one of the favorite local bands at the Whisky-a-Go-Go, they were booked there so often that it was effectively a residency for them. Fellow musicians and scene-makers including George Harrison, David Bowie, Deep Purple, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks, Rod Stewart, Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Rodney Bingenheimer and Kim Fowley admired Fanny and helped promote the band by word of mouth at the top levels of the music industry, but the public would be slower to “get behind” the band.

While the band’s first album release, FANNY, was groundbreaking in that every note on the album was sung and played by women, the rock press was generally less than impressed. Fanny was mistakenly seen as more of a novelty act than as serious musicians with something to say. One reviewer wrote that the band was “trying too hard.” Fanny was blazing a trail, but most reviewers had no reference point, no basis of comparison for judging a group of women playing rock music.

Fanny would have to become that reference point.

In England, where the word “fanny” is a slang term for a woman’s vagina, the band were hailed as outrageous feminists. But the members of FANNY did not necessarily consider themselves to be feminists, at least not in the early days; they were musicians first and women second, dressing more like the guys, fighting to gain credibility in a man’s medium. Nickey Barclay later talked about the band’s physical image: “We did feel the pressure of having to prove ourselves. When we first started performing, we just went on stage wearing whatever we were wearing. It amounted to us apologizing for being women, shying away from any kind of glamour or attractiveness on stage.” The band’s look became more feminine and stylish once they had proved themselves through the hard grind of international touring.

Released in 1970 on the Reprise Records label, “Fanny” was a gate-fold album design which opened up to reveal nice studio shots of the band in the studio and gave us fledgling fans a few extra items to read.  Produced by Richard Perry, this album is the only album to attempt to catch the band in its rawest form; little over-dubbing, no background horns or strings, just Fanny rocking the studio walls.  It makes for a great listening experience next to hearing the band live.

Come and Hold Me (June Millington, Jean Millington)
A bright and breezy feel-good song to start the album. The Millingtons’ sunny Californian folk rock roots are on show from day one in this acoustic driven song of emotional longing.

I Just Realized (Nickey Barclay, June Millington)
Track 2 and already Nickey Barclay makes herself felt. This is the other side of Fanny’s coin – a darker funkier sound heightened by June’s buzzing guitar and Jean’s octave switching bass line. One of only three songs co-written by Nickey Barclay and June Millington during the band’s lifetime.

Candlelighter Man (June Millington, Jean Millington)
Fanny does Motown with this delightful moderately paced rocker driven by June’s choppy rhythm guitar and Alice’s vice-like drumming. Some good harmony singing and interesting chord shifts lift the chorus.

Conversation With a Cop (Nickey Barclay)
One of Nickey’s best ballads complete with thought-provoking lyric and artfully constructed melody. The band wraps it up in a starkly minimalist arrangement that only underscores its power. June‘s fluid guitar lines and some atmospheric keyboards from Nickey make this one of the best tracks on the album.

Badge (Eric Clapton, George Harrison)
The first of two covers, this is a brave choice bearing in mind the identity of the co-writers. Taken at a slightly faster pace than Cream’s original, the bass line introduction is replaced by a burst of feedback and some trademark piano. This version also showcases some ringing double-tracked arpeggio playing and a Clapton-like solo from June.

Changing Horses (Nickey Barclay)
The long rambling piano intro brings to mind Jethro Tull’s ‘Locomotive Breath’ but when the song finally arrives it reveals Nickey Barclay’s rawest rocker on record. Built on Jean’s rumbling bass lines, it rampages along with June’s sheet metal guitar and urgent on-the-one drumming from Alice. A throat ripping vocal from Nickey completes the sheer exuberance of this song.

Bitter Wine (Nickey Barclay)
A haunting melancholic ballad from Nickey Barclay featuring some subtle wah-wah playing from June and clever vocal arrangements in the chorus. Simple but very effective.

Take a Message to the Captain (Nickey Barclay)
More variety from Nickey as this moderately paced ballad veers into Country and Western and back with its storyboard lyric and June’s sympathetic slide playing. Alice’s chugging rhythm draws you in and the final key modulation always surprises.

It Takes a Lot of Good Lovin’ (Alvertis Isbell, Booker T Jones)
The second cover on the album strays into R&B territory with a typically tough vocal from Jean and some tight ensemble playing from the band.

Shade Me (Nickey Barclay)
More dark funk from Nickey with a touch of Latin in the mix. Jean’s slithering bass introduces the song and remains its foundation through the whole song. A real ensemble piece with each member contributing a well-structured solo.

Seven Roads (June Millington, Jean Millington, Alice de Buhr)
An explosive closer to the album. Based around a ferocious guitar riff and pounding tom toms, this is quite an unusual collaborative song in that it is essentially riff driven in the manner of many heavy metal bands rather than song based. It climaxes with a shudderingly intense solo from June followed by a similar effort from Nickey in her best Rod Argent mode.

A version of this album was released in Canada by mistake from the wrong set of master recordings.  That album version is seen rarely on eBay, but all the tracks are available on the Rhino Handmade CD Anthology.  The alternate tracks are listed below.

FANNY (Canadian Issue pressed from wrong master tapes – Reprise RS6416, 1970)
Charity Ball (June Millington, Jean Millington, Alice de Buhr)
A shorter, sparser version of the song that would end up as the title track on ‘Charity Ball’, their second album.

Place in the Country (Nickey Barclay)
A slower paced, looser, funkier version of the song that would turn up on ‘Charity Ball’.

Changes (June Millington)
A rare June Millington up-tempo rocker boasting some interesting melodic ideas and a great harmonic lurch in the middle section. One of June’s best vocal performances, she really seems to be having fun. Shame this one was dropped for the ‘official’ release.

One Step at a Time (Josephine Armstead, Nickolas Ashford, Valerie Simpson)
This gospel-tinged rocker was originally recorded by Maxine Brown in the mid 1960s and Fanny makes a good job of covering it by stripping it right down to its bare bones and punctuating it with powerfully pregnant pauses. The dual vocal lines are carefully handled and the whole effect is emotionally strong.

Conversation With a Cop (Nickey Barclay)
Same as the version on the ‘official’ release.

Nowhere to Run (Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland)
This workmanlike rerun of Martha and the Vandellas’ old Motown hit is not the best cover Fanny has attempted and it is perhaps not surprising that it was dropped for the ‘official’ release.

Seven Roads (June Millington, Jean Millington, Alice de Buhr)
A marginally different take to the version that appeared on the ‘official’ release.

Take a Message to the Captain (Nickey Barclay)
Same as the version on the ‘official’ release.

Come and Hold Me (June Millington, Jean Millington)
Same as the version on the ‘official’ release.

Lady’s Choice (June Millington, Jean Millington)
The last two songs on this album are probably the most interesting. This one has a rhythmically complex melody asking much of Alice’s drumming and Jean’s bass playing. Both rise to the challenge and make this a standout track.

New Day (June Millington, Jean Millington)
A languid and fitting end to the album, this song is beautifully constructed and realized from the unusual melodic ideas and surprising harmonica break, to the loose-limbed play out where Nickey is given full rein to unleash her keyboard prowess. Alice’s jazz drumming and Jean’s walking bass add to the mood perfectly. One of the best songs on the album and should never have been left off the ‘official’ release.

If anyone out there has a original pressing Canadian LP, I would love to have a digital copy!