A Dozen Ladies That Rock
Girls, girls, girls. I’ve lived with a couple. Hell, I’ve even loved one or two. On my Independent Minded podcast, I’ve made it a point to give equal time to the ladies who make music of their own. Lewis Lane, Lola Rhodes, Melissa Vile Kingdom of Circadian Clock, Layne Putnam of Layne – they’re all super talented, not to mention great interviews. Most of them curse like sailors, and somehow that makes me love ’em even more (must be the Brooklyn in me).
In most of our conversations, the themes of misogyny come up, the challenges females face in an industry dominated by man goons and boy clowns. It’s a mostly sad state of affairs, but as in any industry, there are those that rise above such nonsense, who use ignorance as fuel in their songwriting or motivation in the studio on a stage. Mold breakers.
Rocktober is right around the corner. So, too is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – and Election Day. An appropriate time to give you….
Anyone who’s anyone knows that Joan Marie Larkin loves rock n’ roll, all the way back since jukeboxes ate dimes. The breakout star of ’70s era girl group The Runaways was inducted into The Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.
In addition to her impressive solo career, Jett produced the only album from influential punk band The Germs (featuring Pat Smear of Nirvana), her “Bad Reputation” is the theme song for the short-lived, epic television series Freaks & Geeks.
I interviewed Joan in 2014 after she was honored by the Little Kids Rock Foundation in New York City. We were backstage at Hammerstein Ballroom and the teamsters and roadies in the hallway behind us were making a ruckus. With the camera still rolling and my microphone on, Joan turned back to these dudes and calmly but firmly exclaimed, “Shut the f*** up!”
And of course they all did. Badass.
The female half of Los Angeles alternative rock duo Best Coast shed her ‘pop princess’ image as a rising teen star, went to liberal arts school in New York City, then dropped out, re-establishing and finding herself out west.
Best Coast’s dreamy pop/rock has disparate influences, not least of all some of Cosentino’s idols, including Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, Liz Phair and Gwen Stefani. The outspoken 28 year-old guitarist has emerged as one of the faces of 21st century rock n’ roll and an influence, herself, on the next generation, admitting in a recent interview – “I feel like if I’m encouraging a girl or young woman to pick up an instrument and start a band – which a lot of girls tell me that I’ve done – then that makes me really happy.”
Often referred to as “The Queen of Rock N’ Roll,” the legendary Tina Turner’s resume speaks for itself. Her powerful vocal style and electric stage presence took center stage in the ’50s & ’60s as part of then-husband Ike Turner’s band.
Turner’s notorious split from Ike in the ’70s, after claims of physical and drug abuse, only served as a springboard for her mainstream success, as she became one of the biggest pop stars of the next decade and beyond.
Her career spans half a century and she’s now a Swiss citizen, but let’s not forget that she also kicked Mel Gibson’s ass in Thunderdome.
The face of influential new wave band The Eurythmics, Annie Lennox is so much more – activist, humanitarian, feminist – and that voice. Often cited as one of music’s greatest vocalists, Lennox’s long career displays diversity in many forms – be it soul, jazz, rock or pop.
A few years ago, Lennox famously spoke out about the overtly sexual performances of young female pop stars, the perils of twerking, and record companies’ irresponsibility in promoting what she considered to be inappropriate behavior.
One of rock n’ roll’s most radical feminists and one of the founders of the ‘riot grrl’ punk movement in the Pacific Northwest, Hanna fronted influential punk band Bikini Kill and electronic act Le Tigre before making a name for herself as a writer and spoken word poet.
The affecting documentary The Punk Singer captures Hanna at her rawest, in a long and frustrating battle with Lyme Disease while continuing to carve out a career in the music industry. She also wins major bonus points for being married to one of my idols, Adam Horowitz of The Beastie Boys, and for coming up with the title to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
One of the founding members of influential indie-punk band Sleater-Kinney, Brownstein is now a legit TV star thanks to her long-running collaboration with Fred Armisen on IFC’s hilarious sketch comedy Portlandia and a recurring role on the critically acclaimed Amazon series Transparent.
Portlandia is notorious for its gender-bending roles in which Armisen often portrays a woman and Brownstein a man. Taking a page from Monty Python and The Kids In The Hall, Portlandia is distinguishable from its predecessors in that those shows featured guys in drag, whereas on Portlandia, Brownstein shines as a mustachioed dude in a leather jacket, playing the stereotypical “tough guy.”
She also plays a mean guitar….
Perhaps the most influential female performer in rock history, Stevie Nicks has inspired multiple generations, first as the breakout star of the incredible Fleetwood Mac, then as an accomplished solo artist. Her affinity for dark clothing, platform shoes, scarves and chiffon made her an icon for girls and goths alike.
I had the pleasure of seeing Fleetwood Mac live about a decade ago, and while the band shined throughout, the show was at its apex when Stevie performed her hits “Edge of Seventeen” and “Stand Back” with former lovers and longtime band mates Lindsey Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood in support.
Blending hard rock with folk and even hints of heavy metal, sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson became huge stars in the late 1970s thanks to the hits “Crazy On You,” Magic Man” and “Barracuda.” Nancy, in particular, is one of the most unheralded guitarists in the history of classic rock.
Heart has charted albums in the Top 10 for four consecutive decades (the longest span ever by a female-fronted band), their latest release features Metallica’s James Hetfield on vocals, and their Seattle-based Bad Animals Studio has played host to Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, and more.
True story: I once opened for Aimee Mann at Madison Square Garden. She was headlining an indoor tennis event (Monica Seles vs. Martina Hingis), with my band in support. The two-day affair was a comedy of errors for me – I destroyed my car’s engine while hitting a raised manhole cover on my way to the sound check, then the tennis match went about two hours long, resulting in the musical acts being bumped to later in the day, when most of the audience were headed for the exits.
Despite that, I got to hang and talk with Aimee Mann, and watch her play guitar up close, so I still won. Her songs from the excellent Magnolia soundtrack are among some of my all-time faves, she has lent her voice to tracks from prog rock legends Rush and guitar wanker Steve Vai. She was even in The Big Lebowski.
Then of course there is ‘Til Tuesday, her short-lived band before she went solo, featuring one of the best breakup songs ever.
The first-ever female artist on MTV and one of the pioneers of the “Pixie” haircut, Pat Benatar was a bonafide superstar in the ’80s, with no less than 15 Top 40 singles – and they all rocked.
Often overshadowed by media darlings Madonna and Cyndi Lauper at the time, Benatar flexed her muscles as both a singer and songwriter after giving up a classical music career in the late 1970s. She then quit her job as a bank teller to ultimately pursue rock n’ roll and wound up marrying the guitarist in her band, Neil Giraldo, who she still performs with – in and out of the bedroom – 25 years later.
In her 2010 New York Times’ bestselling memoir, Benatar was outspoken about her battles with her record label and her feminist stance.
Born Tahliah Debrett Barnett in the UK, daughter of a jazz dancer and a gymnast, Miss Twigs started her career in the background, as a dancer in videos for then-bigger acts Jessie J and Kylie Minogue.
By 18, she was producing her own music, sultry trip-hop reminiscent of acts like Massive Attack and Tricky. Although some classify her tunes as ‘R&B,’ it’s FKA’s DIY spirit that rocks my socks off, never mind her unique style. She has directed most of her own music videos, proving that punk rock doesn’t necessarily come in the form of electric guitars, tattoos and mohawks.
Active since the 1970s, most notably as the drummer and musical director for Prince’s band during his Purple Rain heyday and beyond, Sheila Escovedo was born into a family of percussionists, artists, and indie rockers, and thus destined to rock out.
Sheila E. has certainly lived the glamorous life, performing with everyone from Lionel Richie to legendary prog-rock drummer Billy Cobham to Kanye West. During one of Prince’s final shows at Madison Square Garden, I watched in awe as she emerged from beneath the elaborate stage, surrounded by congas, cymbals and timbales and absolutely killed it while jamming with The Purple One, stealing the show, and also my heart, in the process. More Cowbell!