Fanny, the legendary all-girl quartet from the early ’70s, kicked to the curb the notion of “they play good… for girls.” Acknowledgement was slow to come for their musical excellence and pioneering efforts on behalf of women musicians, but in 2018 they received the Women’s International Music Network She Rocks Award.
Now reformed as Fanny Walked the Earth, their new album is a first in 44 years, and features the playing of June Millington, her sister and bassist extraordinaire Jean Millington Adamian, and songbird Brie Howard Darling on lead vocals and rock steady drums. Its 11 original tunes are driven by June like a punch in the ear, using her modded ’57 Les Paul Standard, her ’58 Les Paul TV Special, and a Parker Fly plugged into Fender Blues DeVille 4×10 or ’62 brownface Deluxe. We spoke to her about her journey – one few before have experienced.
Did you realize Fanny was breaking new ground?
Not new ground. Ground, because there wasn’t anyone before us as role models. We were just a gang of girls who were super-talented, morphing from the Svelts to Wild Honey and then Fanny, which was astounding. And, Jean and I never stopped, even after Fanny officially broke up in ’75.
Fanny’s version of “Badge” and your solo was a knockout. How did it feel when you started getting serious attention as a guitarist?
I went from zero to that solo in less than a year when I realized I had to play lead guitar. And the attention was, “Not bad for chicks.” I didn’t want it because it was a gunslinger mentality in the rock world. It was constant pressure. That changed when Lowell George, who introduced me to slide, and Skunk Baxter became friends and shared with me in a way that extended my confidence immeasurably.
How was the decision made to reform?
In 2016, there was a tribute for me in Northampton, Massachusetts. Jean and Brie were there, and we were invited to perform. I had to work hard to re-learn parts. I used to play with a very small pick and a fingerpick on my third finger to get really quick action, which I don’t today. So it makes it harder – playing Fanny is not for wimps! Do not try this at home (laughs). When the three of us played “Cat Fever” (from Charity Ball, 1971) and a version of “Hey Bulldog” during a rehearsal, it was like, “My God, we still got it like we did in the Svelts.” Brie then went back to L.A. to see about a record deal.
Why the name change?
I’m probably never again going to be in a band called Fanny. I wouldn’t want to compete with our 21-/22-year old selves and bring that karma back on myself. When we were talking with Blue Elan Records, I happened to say, “Fanny walks the earth from the Svelts onward.” Brie responded, “I like that!” and it became our name.
You play seamless licks, fills, and runs for a big sound, especially on your blues-rock guitar showcase, “Storm-Crossed.”
It’s an homage to Jimi Hendrix. I saw him in ’68 at his first U.S. gig that wasn’t opening for the Monkees (laughs). He was on a double bill with Albert King at the Fillmore West. I didn’t know it was going to be so incendiary, and I hadn’t heard the blues before. The top of my head blew off! I saw Jimi many times but didn’t realize how much he influenced me, because I just figured he was so out of reach.
Besides a melodic riff master, you are an exceptionally powerful, funky rhythm guitarist.
That comes from playing dance music we learned as kids, and delivered. We had to represent that beat, or people wouldn’t get up and dance. You cannot separate that from Fanny Walks the Earth. We would just lose ourselves in the rhythm. And I cannot think of one gig where racism played itself out in front of us, because everyone was so happy dancing – and so shocked to see girls play!
I use heavier-bottom Maxima Gold strings because I really dig in when playing rhythm, so much so that I shred the skin of my fingers until there’s blood on the strings (laughs).
There’s also considerable nuance in your rhythm playing.
I feel like a lot of people miss that. They just get so “wowed” that I can play lead, they miss the nuances, and it kind of drives me crazy.
Many guitarists just want to solo all the time.
It’s funny, because I really don’t.
Yet you developed into a searing, expressive soloist when the occasion calls for it, including on slide.
I like the rhythm parts. I mean, Hendrix was the same way; he preferred rhythm. It’s what he loved the most.
This article originally appeared in VG July 2018 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.