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