My favorite singer is the answer to an interesting bit of trivia — In all of the Led Zeppelin albums, there is only one song that has a vocalist from outside the band. The singer is Sandy Denny and the song is The Battle of Evermore. As I stated in my Introduction to this blog, I listen to the voice as an instrument, and I think Sandy Denny’s voice is just beautiful. Listen to her duet with Robert Plant:
Sandy Denny was best known as the lead singer for the folk rock band Fairport Convention (she was a member of the band from 1968-70 and 1974-75). Fairport Convention are, according to their Wikipedia biography, “widely regarded as the most important single group in the English folk rock movement. Their seminal album Liege and Lief is generally considered to have launched the electric folk or English folk rock movement, which provided a distinctively English identity to rock music and helped awaken much wider interest in traditional music in general.”
Here are videos for two traditional folk songs from Liege and Lief that showcase her wonderful singing. The first is English folk ballad Matty Groves, about an adulterous affair that ends badly:
Tam Lin is a Scottish ballad about a man who is a captive of the faeries and the woman who rescues him:
Sandy Denny was also an accomplished songwriter and musician. Best known of her compositions is Who Knows Where the Time Goes, which was a hit for Judy Collins and has been covered by many others. Here’s a video of Sandy performing her song:
I didn’t find a lot of live footage of her, but I did find this clip of her performing 3 songs while accompanying herself on piano and guitar — North Star Grassman and the Ravens, Crazy Lady Blues and Late November. The first song is the title of one of her solo albums.
Sadly, she died young, at 30. She left behind an impressive body of work, and that wonderful voice that we can listen to.
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.