It’s tough to make it in the music business, and it’s tough to be taken seriously as a musician. Women have the additional problem that there’s usually someone at the record company saying “You know, if you would dress more sexy you could sell more records.”
I have no brothers and I have no sons, so I’ve spent a good part of my life as the only man in the room. I think that is one of the reasons why I’ve always thought of women as people first, something a lot of men seem to have trouble with. I’ve found that I’ve had a ‘Hip Hip Hooray’ reaction when I see a woman as a member of a band, doing more than just singing. So I want to pay tribute to women who can Play. This is by no means a complete list (and I’m deliberately excluding solo acoustic guitar), but all of these musicians are worth listening to.
One more thing — I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to ghettoize women musicians. In the last decade, there have been more women in bands, so it’s not so rare any more. Many of the women in this post were pioneers who made it possible for others to follow their path.
Bonnie Raitt released her first album in 1971, emerging from the Cambridge, Massachusettes coffeehouse scene as the red-haired woman who could play the blues. She had the opportunity to learn from and play with some of the all-time greats. My wife first saw her around 1972, and we saw her together around 1980. She has achieved legendary status as a guitar player. This video has her playing Stevie Ray Vaughan’s song Pride and Joy with SRV’s band Double Trouble at a tribute concert from the mid 90s, and shows off her awesome ability on slide guitar:
Here she is performing one of her best-known songs from the early days, Love Me Like a Man, in 1976:
Chrissie Hynde and her band The Pretenders emerged from the London punk scene in the late 70s (although they were most often referred to as a New Wave band). She was originally from Akron, Ohio, while the other band members were English. The band eventually had considerable commercial success, Here they are doing My City Was Gone in 1984 (way to go, Ohio):
This video of the band doing Talk of the Town is from 1981:
Bass player Tina Weymouth was a founding member of Talking Heads, and one of the first women to be just a band member — by that I mean she wasn’t the singer, just one of the musicians. Listen to her playing in this video of Talking Heads doing Found a Job (in 1978) — her bass drives the song:
Tina and her husband Chris Frantz (Talking Heads drummer — yup, a husband and wife rhythm section), along with Tina’s sisters, founded the Tom Tom Club as a side project from Talking Heads, and had a couple of big hits. Here’s a video of the much-sampled Genius of Love from 2009 (couldn’t find a video from the early 80s, when the song first came out):
Joan Jett first emerged as a member of The Runaways. Since then she’s carved out a solo career and had a number of hits. Here she is with her band, the Blackhearts, doing her punk anthem Bad Reputation:
Here’s a fun alternate version of Bad Reputation, with Joan doing the song on November 13, 2011 with Foo Fighters
I just LOVE this next song by Veruca Salt. The contrast of the soprano voices and the crunch of the guitars is awesome. Here they are doing Seether at the Glastonbury Festival in 1995:
Here’s another song I just love. They look like they are having a lot of fun, This is The Breeders playing Cannonball:
I had never heard of Australian bass player Tal Wilkenfeld before seeing the performance in the next video. My first reaction was that if she’s playing with Jeff Beck, she must be good. When I heard her bass solo, I was blown away. I love seeing the band taking a bow at the end, with the 20-year-old woman standing next to her much-older band mates. This is Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers from the 2007 Crossroads Music Festival:
I had heard of the Riot Grrrls movement of the mid-90s and had heard of a few of the bands, but I didn’t kmow a lot about any of them. Since I felt that any discussion of women musicians wouldn’t be complete without them, I looked at the Wikipedia entry (link above) and started looking at YouTube videos for the various bands. If you do the same you’ll be glad you did, The one that jumped out at me was Sleater-Kinney, here doing Jumpers (don’t have the date for this one):
Au Revoir Simone
When I told my daughter I was working on a post about women musicians, she said I should check out Au Revoir Simone and directed me to the following performance of Only You Can Make You Happy. I’ll admit the lack of a rhythm section took some getting used to, but I like it — it’s ethereal and weird at the same time.
There may be only a few bands that have many great songs, but there are many bands that have at least one great song. That can include bands that didn’t have a big impact in the music business. Here are four great songs, and if you’re familiar with all four bands you get a gold star.
Martha and the Muffins
Martha and the Muffins are my second favorite Canadian band after Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Their song Echo Beach is one of my all-time favorites. Anyone who has been bored at work or didn’t feel like being there can identify with this lyric:
From nine to five I have to spend my time at work
My job is very boring I’m an office clerk
The only thing that helps me pass the time away
Is knowing I’ll be back at Echo Beach some day
They add layers of sound as they build up the song (a favorite technique of mine), and there’s a terrific saxophone solo in the middle:
Bloodwyn Pig was a band with an unusual format – power trio plus saxophone. Their song See My Way shows how well this format can work. Band founder Mick Abrahams has lead guitar and vocals and sax player Jack Lancaster does the Rahsaan Roland Kirk multiple-sax thing. Great song:
Ten Years After
Ten Years After is best known for their performance of I’m Going Home in the Woodstock movie. You get a taste of Alvin Lee’s guitar ability there, but he sings “I’m going home ,,, see my baby” about 150 times. My favorite song of theirs is 50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain from the Cricklewood Green album. Love the lead guitar on this song:
The James Gang was a power trio that featured the awesome guitar work of Joe Walsh. I like his playing with the James Gang much better than what he did later with the Eagles, because he had more room to work. In this video of The Bomber, he throws in some of Ravel’s Bolero, some Cast Your Fate to the Wind, and maybe the kitchen sink:
If you like that song, there are several other James Gang songs that are worth checking out. In particular, I’d recommend Walk Away and Funk #49.
I’m always on the lookout for good new music. It’s not easy to wade through the crap to find the gems. There’s the basic problem that if someone you don’t know says “This is the greatest band in the world”, it could be (a) they’re the greatest band in the world, or (b) they suck. Fortunately, I have my daughter to ask about new bands, and maybe some of you eventually, to supplement what I find on my own. So I have some recent Stand There And Play performances.
Death Cab for Cutie
My daughter introduced me to Death Cab for Cutie. I understand that Ben Gibbard is seen as a romantic singer by many, and that some may see Death Cab as Ben and his backup band. I like Death Cab because the four of them play so well together. This video of I Will Possess Your Heart is a good example:
I like that they work their way into the song (4:30 until the singing starts). Great bass riff, rock solid rhythm section, and I particularly like Chris Walla’s guitar work, filling in around the edges at first and becoming more prominent as the song progresses. The following performance of We Looked Like Giants comes from the film Drive Well Sleep Carefully, and also includes some interview footage. They really explode into the song at about 0:30.
Built to Spill
My daughter’s boyfriend gets credit for introducing me to Built to Spill. A musician’s band, like the Meat Puppets and NRBQ before them – no great commercial success, but popular with musicians and cited by them as an influence (like Death Cab for this band).
The build-up in Goin’ Against Your Mind is terrific – two minutes of adding layers of sound before the singing starts. Good variety in the guitar work. I got to see them in San Francisco in October 2010, and loved the show. Here’s a video for Conventional Wisdom, also from the You in Reverse album. I love the fuzzy chords in the main riff for this song:
For all their great music, all you have to say is ‘Thanks’ (like Doug Martsch does).
Is Jack White the best guitarist of his generation? May well be. The amount of noise that two people can make is impressive in this video of Seven Nation Army:
I had heard of the White Stripes, but I learned long ago that just because a band gets a lot of attention doesn’t mean they’re worth listening to. What prompted me to check them out was seeing the documentary It Might Get Loud. It is a history of the electric guitar featuring Jack White with Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) and The Edge (U2), and is well worth your while.
Rust Never Sleeps
Neil Young is one of my favorites, and this film shows him at his best. He plays solo in the first part (acoustic guitar, piano and harmonica) and with Crazy Horse (electric guitar) in the second part. It starts out sweet and innocent and ends up dark and grungy, showing the range of his abilities. The above clip of Like a Hurricane has amazing guitar work. The song contains one of my all-time favorite lyrics: “You are like a hurricane; there’s calm in your eye.”
The staging is weirdly entertaining. Instead of PA music before the show starts, you hear the stage announcements from Wavy Gravy et al from Woodstock. Giant amplifiers provide a backdrop, and there’s a giant microphone. Then there’s the roadies / stage crew – if you strap two flashlights on top of your head and then put on a hooded robe, you’ll look like a character from Star Wars (now episode 4), which was new at the time. So the roadies became the “road-eyes” (somebody was smoking Something).
I love that he plays two versions of the same song: Hey Hey My My (Out of the Blue) on solo acoustic guitar, and the grunge version, Hey Hey My My (Into the Black), with Crazy Horse. (See my post on Neil Young for performances of both versions.) The song works very well both ways. It’s an important musical statement that you don’t have to play the same way all the time, and served as an inspiration to the “unplugged” movement.
Tom Dowd and the Language of Music
Tom Dowd and the Language of Music is a documentary about legendary music producer Tom Dowd. He was responsible for many innovations in the technology of recording music, and worked with an amazing array of important artists. A partial list:
Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, Booker T. & the MG’s, Cream, Rod Stewart, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers Band
You see him recording jazz in the late 1940s with five instruments around one microphone recording directly to master. There’s a great story about how he upgraded the equipment at Stax Records in Memphis, with Booker T. & the MG’s waiting to play. The above clip is from my favorite part, telling the story of how he introduced Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, and then produced the rock classic Layla. It shows him playing around with the Layla master recordings on a sound board, including isolating out just the two guitars. Great stuff.
The website for the documentary (link at the beginning of this section) has a terrific biography. Here’s the trailer for the film:
Fleetwood Mac is a unique case because in a way they were several bands. The band was founded by Peter Green, who is featured in the above video of Oh Well from 1969. He named the band after the rhythm section – “Fleetwood” is drummer Mick Fleetwood and “Mac” is bass player John McVie. They are the only two members of the band to be there all the way through. (Keyboardist Christine McVie was on all but a couple of albums.) Songwriting, singing and lead guitar were handled by several people, and the band changed character depending on who was out front. They went through a few iterations before Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined and they reached their highest popularity. The band in the above clip had Peter Green, Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer in front of Fleetwood and Mac.
The Peter Green-led band was a blues-rock band, best know for their album Fleetwood Mac in Chicago, where they played with several Chicago blues legends. Here’s an audio (from around 1970) of one of their staple songs, Rattlesnake Shake, with an extended jam. I took the audio from a three-part YouTube video (called “Boston Blues”) so there are three audio files:
Rattlesnake Shake Part 1 Part 2 Part 3
Peter Green, among other things, wrote Black Magic Woman, which was the first big hit for Santana. Green was invited to play at Carlos Santana’s Rock Hall of Fame induction in 1998 (he’s on the left in the video). A classy move by Carlos Santana:
By 1972, when they released Bare Trees, Peter Green was gone and the band’s sound was completely different. Here’s an audio of the title song:
They released the album Mystery to Me in the summer of 1973, which included one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac songs, Hypnotized:
Here’s a video from the TV show Midnight Special from 1973, with Bob Welch, Christine McVie & Bob Weston out front, doing the songs Miles Away and Believe Me:
The band fell apart during their tour in support of Mystery to Me. Among other things, the marriage of John and Christine McVie was falling apart, and Bob Weston had an affair with Mick Fleetwood’s wife, which led to Fleetwood firing him from the band. This led to one of the more bizarre events in the history of rock (and that’s saying something). The manager claimed he owned the name “Fleetwood Mac”, so he hired all new musicians and sent them out on the road as Fleetwood Mac. Ultimately, the real band members responded by re-forming and moving to Los Angeles. After Bob Welch left, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the band in 1975, and they started their rise to the top of the charts. The Wikipedia biography is an entertaining read on the history of the band.
Little Feat were headed for the very top of the music business, until Lowell George (white cowboy hat in the above video) left the band over musical differences and died shortly thereafter. Rock and roll came to be as a marriage of white country and black rhythm and blues. Little Feat, as an integrated band in a time when that was rare, had the people to bring that musical marriage to fruition. Lowell George wrote, in their song Rock and Roll Doctor, “If you like country with a boogie beat, he’s the man to meet.”
The above video of Fat Man in the Bathtub is from the Pinkpop Festival in the Netherlands in 1976. It appears their entire set from that show is available on YouTube (as individual videos), although I haven’t found a setlist. This appears to have been their opening number. The song shows off their interest in the seamier side of life. The first verse:
Spot Check Billy got down on his hands and knees, he said “Hey mama hey, let me check your oil alright?” and she said “No, no, honey not tonight – you come back Monday, you come back Tuesday, and then I might.”
Lowell George was an awesome slide guitar player. This video of Tripe Face Boogie shows that off (although the picture is terrible):
Little Feat made one of the best live albums ever, Waiting for Columbus. They were joined for the show by the legendary Tower of Power horn section, who integrated well with the band. The following performance of Spanish Moon from the Rainbow Theatre in London in 1977 shows what they sounded like:
As I write this (December 2011), the band is still going strong. Of the six band members on stage for the 1976 Fat Man video shown above, Lowell George died in 1979, drummer Richie Hayward died in 2010, but the other four members are still there. Check out the band’s website to see their current touring schedule and what else they are up to.
Truckin’ from 1972 and Bertha from around 1989.
I’ve spent more time listening to the Grateful Dead than anyone else. There’s so much great music and so many great moments. They covered more musical ground in a concert than most artists do in a career. Rock, folk, blues, jazz, bluegrass, country, experimental music, cowboy songs, covers of oldies (Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Motown) and a whole lot more. Over the course of their career, they played over 500 songs. In my mind, the quintessential Stand There And Play band.
The core of Jerry Garcia (lead guitar), Bob Weir (rhythm guitar), Phil Lesh (bass) and Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart (drums and percussion) played with several keyboard players – Rob “Pigpen” McKernan (1965-72), Tom Constanten (1968-70), Keith Godchaux (1971-79), Brent Mydland (1979-90), Vince Welnick (1990-95) and Bruce Hornsby (1990-92), plus Donna Jean Godchaux on vocals from 1972-79. Robert Hunter and John Perry Barlow wrote a lot of the lyrics. I won’t attempt to summarize the band’s history; there are plenty of resources out there. Start with the basic biography, the band’s website, and this Grateful Dead chronology.
The Grateful Dead are the most-recorded band in rock history. They were together from 1965 until Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995, and the vast majority of their shows were recorded. They usually provided for a taper section in the audience near the sound board, so that fans could record the shows (pretty much the opposite of most concerts, right?). There was a very active tape-trading community before the internet made it easy. Now you can go to the Grateful Dead Internet Archive and choose from approximately two zillion concerts available for free download or streaming. You’ll hear some crowd noise but the sound quality is usually very good. For a great example, check out the second set of May 8, 1977 Barton Hall – Cornell University (starts with track 15 – Scarlet Begonias). A show that’s special to me is April 17, 1971 Dillon Gym – Princeton University, because I was there that night. If you ever wondered what’s the deal with Pigpen, here’s the answer.
Because of the improvisational nature of their playing, no two shows were exactly alike. They generally didn’t have a set list; they just made it up as they went along. It has been said they never played a song the same way twice. I really enjoy listening to alternate versions of their songs – what did Jerry do on his solo this time, how did it sound when they changed the tempo. They also liked to segue from one song to the next, sometimes stringing several songs together and playing for 30 minutes or more. (That’s why the Truckin’ video above ends abruptly — they were going in to another song.) As a result, a lot of their best stuff goes way past the YouTube time limit. I was still able to find some things for your enjoyment:
This one’s a trip – on January 18, 1969, they appeared on Hugh Hefner’s Playboy After Dark, playing Mountains of the Moon and St. Stephen, along with some interview footage and a bit of Turn on Your Lovelight at the end:
Two of their songs that became fused together are Scarlet Begonias and Fire on the Mountain, because the segue between the songs worked so well. The following audios are their performances of these two songs, from the May 8, 1977 Cornell concert mentioned above:
Scarlet BegoniasFire on the Mountain
They played many acoustic sets over the years. Here’s a nice version of Bird Song from October 1980. I have another version of this song from March 29, 1990 when jazz saxophone great Branford Marsalis played with them (from the So Many Roads (1965-1995) box set). This was literally the first time they ever played together, and you can hear them figuring it out.
March 28, 1981 Not Fade Away with Pete Townshend of the Who.
June 21, 1989 Touch of Grey. I really like Phil Lesh’s bass in this one.
There are a number of Gratateful Dead concerts available on DVD. My favorite is The Closing of Winterland (December 31, 1978), the last show at the legendary San Francisco music venue. The show is great, including some jamming with John Cipollina of Quicksilver Messenger Service. The extras include two songs from opening act the Blues Brothers (Soul Man and B Movie), with Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn from Booker T. & the MG’s in the band. Dan Aykroyd of the Blues Brothers does the countdown at midnight while Bill Graham, dressed as Father Time, floats down from the ceiling in a giant joint, and then the Dead start Sugar Magnolia while dodging balloons on the stage. There’s also a great documentary on the history of Winterland. The poster for this show is in our poster collection (#8 on the east wall — click here to see it).
There is so much material it was hard to choose what to include — I’ll have to leave the rest to you. I’m sure I left out something important.