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Monthly Archives: July 2010

An edited version of this story appeared in the Fall 2007 issue of Girlistic.  Some of the information in this version, especially pertaining to ’70s Female Glam Musicians, has been recently updated.

The Sirens and ’70s Female Glam Rockers By Bess Korey

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Part 1- A Brief History of ’70s Glam Women

Platform Boot

The genre of ’70s Glam Rock, despite all it’s gender-bending and female posturing, was still inherently a male-dominated movement. The trinity of Glam consisted of David Bowie, T.Rex and Roxy Music, and they are known for pioneering the genre, and for being influential on many of the groups who came thereafter. But there were many different factors that influenced the movement, which remain both known and unknown, and these elements go back to way before the 1970s; Oscar Wilde, Hollywood Glamour of the 1920s-1940s, ’50s Rock N’ Roll, and the ’60s Warhol Factory Scene, to name a few. The latter element having one of the greatest affects on the feminization of the male musicians in the scene. Warhol Superstars like Jackie Curtis and Candy Darling, whom also happened to be Drag Queens, proved as models for this feminization, and both were immortalized in Lou Reed’s Glam Anthem, “Walk On The Wild Side.” Jackie Curtis, who was light years ahead of his time, represented the glitter in the gutter aspect of Glam that would later be portrayed by the New York Dolls, and other groups that wanted to be glamourous on a junk shop budget. But Jackie also was said to have an influence on Bowie’s high-brow glam image as well, especially since he had bright red hair and wore glitter make-up before Ziggy Stardust did. Candy Darling represented old time Hollywood Glamour, and could even pass for a ’40s screen siren in her photos. Unlike Jackie, Candy wanted to live her life as a female and pass as one, where as Jackie was all about androgyny, and acting out the gender of which he felt most comfortable being that day. When he was female, he played that role in a campy, over the top way, and was never interested in passing for a real female. The feminization of the male musicians of the Glam movement mixed the styles of Candy and Jackie, but had Jackie’s attitude. Even though they were fine with dressing like females, they didn’t actually want to be that gender.

What about the flip side to all this gender-bending; the female musicians that dressed butch, and/or took part in the movement. Well, as most people know, there was Suzi Quatro, and she played an important part in the scene. She didn’t wear make-up, always wore pants, and exhibited behavior, which at the time, was considered quite male, including; playing the bass, writing her own songs, and being very raunchy on stage. You have to remember that during the early ’70s the idea of a female playing an electric musical instrument was seen as an anomaly. Even the bass guitar, which later went on to be thought of as a more so feminized instrument, was still seen as a male plaything. So the fact that Suzi knew how to play it, and did so in a very sexual way, was seen as very revolutionary for the time. Suzi is often remembered as the only female that was part of the Glam Rock scene, but the truth is that she was not the only female participating, she was just the most well known.

There were women behind the scenes, like Angie Bowie and June Bolan, who each played a hand in shaping the images of their famous husbands. After all, the best way for a man to learn how to dress female would be from a woman. And it is very possible that there were other image makers in the scene who were female as well. As far as other female performers go, there were quite a few, and unfortunately most of them have been forgotten, which could have to do with the fact that Glam was a male-dominated movement, and could also be attributed to sexism towards female performers causing inaccuracies and omissions from the annals of Rock Music history.

Fortunately, there are some websites out there, like Glam Rock Bear (which was one of my favorite sites, and is sadly now defunct), Crazee Kids Sound (which has a page dedicated to Glam Girls here:  http://crazeekids-music.blogspot.com/search/label/*glam%20girls) and ’70s Invasion (which features all kinds of music from the ’70s, but specifically mentions female Glam Rockers here: http://www.angelfire.com/vt2/70sinvasion/page4.html) that remember these female Glam performers, and pays tribute to them. Performers such as: Noosha Fox (of the band Fox), Dana Gillespie, Lynsey De Paul, Bobbie McGee aka Gladys Glitter, Zenda Jacks, Kristine Sparkle, Fanny, Bonnie St. Claire, Cherry Van Gelder-Smith and more. As an American Record Collector, I have had much difficulty finding music by most of the above artists. There have been some recent re-issues by some U.K. labels that I have been able to get my hands on though, like Kristine Sparkle’s Devil Woman, which was put out by RPM Records within the past few years, and Cherry Red Records recently re-issued Fanny’s Glam album, Rock N’ Roll Survivors. So there have been some efforts in recent years to get the music of some of these women out there, but in general, their music and information about them, can be hard to find. (Like I said, I am in the U.S., so this is my experience from living there, it may be easier to find music by some of these artists in other parts of the world. I do know for a fact though that finding information on the web about some of these artists can be difficult, so I stand by that statement).

Unlike Suzi Quatro, a lot of these female performers expressed themselves in an extremely feminized way. Instead of dressing butch, they played up their femaleness, but in a drag way, which can be seen as gender bending within itself. Here you had females dressing like males who dressed like females, and in the process, putting yet another twist on traditional gender roles.

Part 2- The Sirens

Sirens Band Photo

The Sirens circa 2007

35 years after Glam Rock first made its mark on the world, a group from Detroit, Michigan, called the Sirens, are putting a long overdue female twist on the typically male style of music. Since their inception in 2000, The Sirens have toured in North America and Europe, including a record breaking tour of Serbia which lasted consecutively for over 2 weeks, and made them the first U.S. band ever to play that many shows there in a row. They have released two albums of Glam covers, their most recent, More Is More, during early 2007. The current line-up of the group includes: Muffy on vocals, Melody Licious and Miggy Starcrunch on guitars and backing vocals, Miss Lela on bass and backing vocals, and Malarsh on drums.

During the Spring of 2007, I was able to sit down with  Melody Licious for a chat at a favorite hometown hangout of hers called The Belmont. Licious wasn’t a founding member of the group, but still feels as if she has helped to carve out their sound. She says, ” A bunch of Detroit rock chicks got together [including vocalist Muffy, as well as some current and former members of the Gore Gore Girls, which is a band that Licious was also involved with] and they wanted to do a ’60s Girl Group thing, and they started doing that around 2000. Fast forward 7 years and now we’re this Glam Rock Powerhouse. Muffy loves Girl Groups, Glam Rock, and Fashion. She is a fashion genius and Muffy is the Sirens. The band started out wearing awesome outfits and doing covers of groups like the Shangri-Las and the Shirelles. I got asked to join the Sirens in 2001, and I told Muffy I wasn’t going to join the band unless I could bring my metal zone pedal with me. I brought a metal sound to this ’60s Girl Group type of scenario, and that kind of made it a lot heavier.”

On More Is More, Licious’s metal influence can be heard on quite a few tracks.This is especially apparent when they cover, “1-2-3-4 Rock And Roll” by Girlschool, whom themselves were not a Glam band, but were influenced by the genre’s sound, as were some other metal groups. Not surprisingly, Licious chose for the song to be on the album and it is one of her favorite tracks that they do. “Hellraiser” by Sweet, which is also on the album, would be another example of a hard rocking Glam song that later went on to influence metal groups, like Girlschool, Def Leppard, and Motley Crue. There is even a hidden track, which includes a very tongue-in-cheek cover of Poison’s “Talk Dirty To Me”, so throughout the album, they not only acknowledge Glam itself, but what preceded it and what it has influenced as well. They give a shout out to their hometown of Detroit’s musical roots by covering the MC5’s “High School.” They show off their pop sensibilities when they cover the Bay City Roller’s “Saturday Night”. Keeping in step with the earliest incarnation of the Sirens, they pay homage to the Shangri-Las, whom have long been known as an influence on Glam, especially on the New York Dolls, by covering their song, “Right Now Not Later”. A nod is also given to the musical Hedwig And The Angry Inch, which like the Sirens’ themselves, is a modern day take on the ’70s Glam Rock sound. The varying styles of the covers they choose, from radio friendly pop to harder rock, enables the group to show off their versatility as instrumentalists, as well as in Muffy’s vocal style. Her vocals are able to walk an androgynous line when she evokes the raw, grittiness of Noddy Holder [from Slade] to sounding pretty and feminine like Mary Weiss [of the Shangri-Las], and she is able to find a balance between those two very different singing styles.

The Sirens original intention was to be an all-female band. Licious says, “At one point the Sirens had three guitar players, a bass player, a singer, and a drummer, all female, and all from Detroit. That was around early 2003. One of the guitar players kind of wandered off, so then it was five girls for awhile, instead of six. In 2005, we got asked to go to France for a tour, after our first album came out, which was self-titled. It was produced by Michael Ivans who was the bass player for the Flaming Lips, and was put out by Get Hip Records. We toured France, but our bass player couldn’t go because she had a baby, so we got this guy in the band [Malarsh who started out playing bass for them, then switched to drums]. Muffy had one requirement for him. She said, ‘You want to join this band, I got two words for you, Cod Piece.’ Once we let a guy in, and Muffy totally dressed him up in a gold leather jacket, chest hair ablazing, with a cod piece, and 7 inch platform boots, it just changed the tone of the band completely.”

Muffy’s fashion expertise comes from her line of work which she does outside of the band. She is the Visual Design Manager for Neiman Marcus in Detroit, and is known across the country for her work with the company. She has taken this fashion know how and has applied it to the Sirens’ extremely over the top and campy Glam Rock look, which is very apparent on the cover of More Is More. Muffy thinks up the bands’ costumes for their gigs, which are different for every show they play, and usually have a theme to them. The spectrum of costumes includes everything from gold lame and platforms, to the Un-PC Indian look, which is inspired by Sweet’s performance of “Wig Wam Bam”, to being covered in flames like Slade, to looking like characters from the movie The Road Warrior, to being Glam Rock Mechanics.

In regards to the fact that the Sirens’ only play cover songs on that album, as well as the preceding one, Licious had this to say, “We play the songs we want to play, we put our time and energy into making a good show, and looking and sounding good, and entertaining a crowd. Where as a lot of bands put all their energy into songwriting [instead]. Jazz singers, Blues singers, even Pop singers, nobody bats an eyelash if they don’t write their own songs, in fact it’s almost expected. But with a Rock band, if you don’t write your own songs, you’re considered either a fake or just a cover band, but I think that in the nature we do it, much like the Detroit Cobras, our style precedes the fact that we don’t write songs. We choose to focus [instead] on our musicianship, our stage shows, our costumes, and having fun.”

Licious is in her late ’20s, so she doesn’t remember the ’70s. Many things have changed since that decade, especially in regards to how people view women musicians, but in certain ways, they’ve stayed the same. She says, “When I was growing up [in the '90s], being a woman musician, you were limited in who you could be influenced by [in terms of other female musicians]. And now I’m really glad that people have [more of] a choice, like you can decide between Kittie and the Donnas. When a girl band does good it no longer turns into a feature article just about how they’re chicks. But I’m still waiting for the female versions of the Rolling Stones and Led Zepplin. I don’t know if it’s the marketing, if it’s the women [musicians] not having enough confidence in themselves, the record labels thinking it won’t sell, or the public not wanting to believe it, but women have been playing music for decades, and I don’t understand why there hasn’t been an all-female band that has been held as highly as those guy bands. Female Rock Gods are few and far between. You have Bonnie Raitt, Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde. But where’s the female Keith Richards or the female Eddie Van Halen? Women can play just as well as men, why aren’t they considered Rock Gods?”

An edited version of this story appeared on Venus Zine’s website back in June of 2007.

Cheap Perfume

NYC’s first all-female Punk band discuss the joys and hardships they faced while paving the way for the next generation.

By Bess Korey

Cheap Perfume Band Picture

Thirty-years-ago Rock N’ Roll was still a boys’ club. Even though all-female rock bands had existed before 1977, many of these bands were driven into obscurity. Most were seen as novelty acts, had short-lived careers, and/or were not given a proper chance to record their music.

In recent years, the music of many all-female Garage and Psychedelic bands from the ’60s has resurfaced, including: She, the Ace Of Cups, the Luv’d Ones (whom I have also written about, and the article is posted in this blog), and the Daisy Chain, and has been released by retro-themed labels like Ace and Sundazed. But by the mid-late ’70s, this rich musical history of all-female bands remained mostly lost. Female musicians who wanted to play in bands had to create a new path for themselves.

The members of Cheap Perfume (Lynn Odell on vocals, Susan Palermo on bass, Brenda Martinez on drums, Nancy Street on rhythm guitar, and Bunny on lead guitar), an all-female band that began in 1977, certainly felt like that was what they had to do. Born out of the early New York Punk scene, the fact that they were breaking new ground for female musicians, made them stand out from other bands, but it also sometimes worked against them. In regards to this, Bunny says, “That there were so few female musicians at the time proved to be helpful, but we felt we had more to prove to our audience — that we could actually play as well as the next band of male musicians — so in a way there was more pressure on the band to shine musically, as well as visually.”

But despite this added pressure put on them because they were an all-female group, Bunny still feels that, “The punk scene was definitely more welcoming to female musicians. Before punk, the music scene was mainly male bands and disco, with female singers, but without all-female bands.”

Punk not only opened a door for Cheap Perfume as female musicians, but it’s DIY mantra proved to be inspiring as well. Palermo says,“I was working as a waitress at CBGB, and after watching several other bands perform, I decided to form Cheap Perfume. I thought, ‘hey we could do this just as well’. Everyone was eager to hear and watch female musicians and I was just as anxious to get the music out there.”

Through CBGB’s scene, Palermo was fortunate enough to know a few other female musicians who shared a similar goal and desire, and was able to find the rest of the members through auditions. Funny enough, both Palermo and Bunny started playing guitar at the age of 13, and Palermo also tried to form her first all-girl band at that age as well, but unfortunately not to much success. Bunny stuck to her playing, but Palermo gave it up for a number of years. It wasn’t until closer to the time that Cheap Perfume formed, that Palermo learned to play bass. She was dating the bass player of the Tuff Darts, John DeSalvo, and he played a role in her wanting to learn the instrument.

The group did not have much confidence in themselves early on. Palermo says, “When we started, Brenda, Alison [was the name of the original guitarist, Bunny was her replacement, and did not join until later] and I would play for 3 hours every Saturday afternoon at Cottage & Castle, no matter what. It took us almost a year before we were competent — and confident — enough to start looking for a singer. You have to remember, there were few female musicians, and we really had no role models at that time. Once Lynn and Nancy joined the band, we auditioned at CBGB’s about 3 months later.”

Once they started writing songs, the band used influences from both the past and the present to carve out their own sound. The fact that they were 5 unique individuals with different musical tastes shows through the versatility of their music. Unfortunately, the group never put out an album, but there are a handful of tracks that have been recorded. “You Won’t Stop Me” is a straightforward punk song, loud and fast, with defiant lyrics, which could even be considered feminist, since the girl in the song refuses to let a boy stand in the way of what she wants to do. “Forever Damaged” verges on having a metal sound, and not only does it rock hard, but it also tells the tale of a woman who has lived too hard.  A cover of the Shirelles’ “Boys” which they make their own, completely switches gears from the latter songs by being poppier, as well as being heavily influenced by the music scene of 1966. It is a gender-bending response to the Chocolate Watchband’s “Let’s Talk About Girls”, with a little bit of Tommy James And The Shondells’ “Hanky Panky” and the Capitols’ “Cool Jerk” thrown in for good measure. Like “Boys”, “Bittersweet” also has more of a pop feel, and it’s verse is reminiscent of Johnny Cash’s “Ring Of Fire”, but it is more like Blondie’s cover of the song than it is the original.

Their musical diversity doesn’t only point out the conflicting tastes amongst the band members, it also serves as a testament for the scene they were a part of, which had such a wide range of bands, with very different influences, all being considered Punk.

Once the group started playing gigs on a regular basis, they would go back and forth between CBGB and Max’s Kansas City every weekend. Peter Crowley, who was manager of Max’s Kansas City at the time, remembers them as being one of the most popular groups to play at the club. The fact that boys found the band attractive only helped their popularity, but Crowley feels as if there was more to it than that. He says, “I remember they had lots of boy groupies, but also -because they played with as much energy and skill as any of their “competition” – they attracted a much bigger following than they got from being pretty girls.”

Two of the “boy groupies” who went to see the band play back then were Michael Zuko and Freddie Katz. Both men look back quite fondly at the Cheap Perfume shows they witnessed in the ’70s. Zuko says, “I used to see CP at CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City. Yeah, yeah, all girl band, very cute – but the songs really struck me, very hooky choruses, harmonies, good musicianship, etc. I would remember them from time to time. I do shows quite a bit in NYC, would talk to people about them, and remember the titles of the tunes – “Tommy”, “Ordinary Girls”, “Overnight Angel” – so their songs did stay with me. I remember our girlfriends would get in a huff, ‘…oh, you wanna see Cheap Perfume because they’re cute, right?’ (well, yeah, sure!), but they were great live – 5 girls, full sound, always an element of ‘uh, oh, what’s gonna happen here’ – in my opinion, better than similar groups that were out there at the time.”

Their music also left a lasting impression on Katz. He says, “The fact is they were a great rock-n-roll band.  Part of the proof I can offer of this fact is that although I have no recordings I still can remember many Cheap Perfume songs all these years later. Titles like “Haunted”, “Too Bad”, “Tommy’s Such A Tease”; I could play them on the guitar and sing them for you right now!”

Katz is currently a sound engineer in NYC, and has kept in touch with the band after all these years. Despite their popularity in the city, he feels that since they did not have a chance to record an album, it made it difficult for them to gain recognition outside their hometown.

Not having an album to promote wasn’t the only slight that hurt the band. In general, they felt very misguided. Bunny says, “We were a young band. We really did not have the management. We had no knowledge of which direction to go in a field that was not really open to female musicians til later.”

The gap that had always existed due to them having differing musical tastes grew larger over time, and there were some personnel changes as well. Bunny ended up leaving the group and things were never the same after that. Susan was the next to leave, and they were unable to recover. The band broke up shortly after her departure in 1981.

Cheap Perfume Group

The reunited members of Cheap Pefume playing together in 2006.

Flash forward 25 years later to 2006. Max’s Kansas City is long gone, and CBGB is on it’s last legs.

The members of Cheap Perfume were feeling a common bond of heartbreak over the impending closure of CBGB, and it ended up bringing them back together. This led to them playing CBGB again before it closed for good, and wowing both new and old fans alike.

Shaunda is a new fan that witnessed that 2006 show, and she says, “I remember standing in the back area with my friends and Cheap Perfume went on. I could not take my eyes off of of the drummer Brenda and guitarist Bunny. The entire band performed with such confidence and flair. I mean New York Dolls unspeakable cool. Brenda and Bunny made me want to get up and play right at that moment!”

Shaunda is not the only new female fan that the band has gained since they reunited. Bunny says, “I feel we have a lot of new young female fans, so our audience is pretty well balanced now. Since there are so many female musicians performing now–unlike the ’70s and ’80s–the audiences now are very receptive.”

Cheap Perfume still have a hold over their former “boy groupies” as well. Zuko, who is a musician himself, recently got to play a gig with them, and had this to say about their set, “When the girls took the stage after midnight, it all came back to me – the raw energy, even as a trio- Bunny’s straight ahead locomotive guitar (she also handled lead vocals), Susie’s stylistic bass lines, and Brenda’s powerful backbeat (that girl packs a wallop!). They did a few of the songs I remembered – hell, I sang along! Cheap Perfume played the way I’ve always liked it – fast, loud, kinda sloppy R&R, and no encores, dammit. Ok, they’re cute, too!!!”

The group will be playing gigs at NYC venues such as Siberia and Don Hills, during May and June of this year [2007], and have also started to work on their long overdue album. Drummer Brenda Martinez says, “We are currently working in the studio recording some new and older material. So, we will be releasing more music…we will keep everyone up to date on our MySpace page. We weren’t able to record all that we wanted in the ’70s and ’80s…which is something to look forward to now because recording has changed and improved so much…we are really excited!”

Even though the closing of CBGB was quite a blow for the band, Bunny feels as if, “…Rock N’ Roll never dies and we believe the spirit of CBGB and the New York punk scene will always live on and that is proven if you give a listen to some more recent Punk bands out there that have kept that spirit alive. Hopefully everyone will help keep it alive by supporting Cheap Perfume and all the other bands that are keeping that message out there.”

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