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.