C86 Show - Indie Pop

Fanny special with Alice de Buhr

September 24, 2019

Fanny special with in conversation with David Eastaugh.

Fanny was an American rock band, active in the early 1970s. They were one of the first all-female rock groups to achieve critical and commercial success, including two Billboard Hot 100 top 40 singles.

The group was founded by guitarist June Millington and her sister, bassist Jean, (who had been playing music together since they moved from the Philippines to California in the early 1960s). After playing through several variations of the band, they attracted the interest of producer Richard Perry who signed them to Reprise Records in 1969 as Fanny. The band recorded four albums together before June Millington quit the group, leading to the original line-up splitting. Following a final album, Fanny disbanded in 1975. The Millington sisters have continued to play music together since the split, and with a former drummer, Brie Howard Darling, formed the spin-off group Fanny Walked the Earth in 2018.

The group has continued to attract critical acclaim for rejecting typical girl group styles and expectations of women in the rock industry generally, and emphasizing their musical skills. Later groups, such as The Bangles and The Runaways, cited Fanny as a key influence.

Sisters June and Jean Millington moved with their family from the Philippines to Sacramento, California, in 1961. They began to play music together on ukuleles as they found it helped them gain friends. In high school they formed an all-female band called the Svelts with June on guitar, Jean on bass, Addie Lee on guitar, and Brie Brandt on drums. Brandt left to get married and was later replaced by Alice de Buhr. When the Svelts disbanded, de Buhr and Lee formed another all-female group called Wild Honey. The Millington sisters later joined this band, which played Motown covers and eventually moved to Los Angeles.

Frustrated by a lack of success or respect in the male-dominated rock scene, Wild Honey decided to disband after one final open-mic appearance at the Troubadour Club in Los Angeles in 1969. They were spotted at this gig by the secretary of producer Richard Perry, who had been searching for an all-female rock band to mentor. Perry convinced Warner Bros. Records to sign the band, still known as Wild Honey, to Reprise Records. The group won the contract without the label hearing them play, on the grounds of being a novelty act, despite their genuine musical talent. Prior to recording their first album, the band recruited keyboardist Nickey Barclay.

The band was then renamed Fanny, not with a sexual connotation but to denote a female spirit. The initial lineup consisted of June Millington on guitar, Jean Millington on bass, de Buhr on drums, Barclay on keyboards, and Brandt on lead vocals and percussion. Perry dismissed Brandt because he wanted the group to be a self-contained four piece band like The Beatles. The Millingtons and Barclay all assumed lead vocal duties on alternating songs, while de Buhr sang lead occasionally on later albums.

Perry produced the band's first three albums, beginning with Fanny in 1970. Because of the connection to Perry and Reprise Records, Barclay was invited to tour with Joe Cocker as a backing singer, and consequently appeared on the album Mad Dogs and Englishmen. The group's cover of Cream's "Badge" from the first album had significant radio airplay. The follow-up album, Charity Ball was released the following year, and its title track reached #40 on the Billboard Hot 100. The members of Fanny also worked as session musicians, and played on Barbra Streisand's 1971 album Barbra Joan Streisand, after Streisand had wanted to record with a small band. The group continued to pick up well-known fans; David Bowie sent the group a letter admiring their work and invited the band to a post-show party where he showed them mime techniques. With young engineer Leslie Ann Jones as their road manager and live sound mixer, Fanny toured worldwide, opening for Slade, Jethro Tull and Humble Pie, gaining widespread popularity in the United Kingdom. A 1971 article in Sounds remarked that the group "seems that they are the support group to everyone these days". The group made several live television appearances during tours, including The Sonny and Cher Show, American Bandstand, The Old Grey Whistle Test and Beat-Club.

The group's third album, Fanny Hill (1972) featured the Beatles' engineer Geoff Emerick in addition to Perry's production. It included a cover of "Hey Bulldog" and Marvin Gaye's "Ain't That Peculiar". The latter featured regular Rolling Stones saxophonist Bobby Keys, and was released as a single, reaching #85 on the Billboard Hot 100.[16][17] Fellow Stones sideman Jim Price also played brass on the album.Rolling Stone wrote a rave review of the album, praising the group's musical skills and particularly June Millington's ability to play both lead and rhythm guitar.

Their fourth album, Mother's Pride (1973), was produced by Todd Rundgren. By the time Mother's Pride was released, June Millington was feeling constrained by the group format. The record label wanted her to wear certain designer clothes and adopt a hard rock image, which she resisted. She decided to quit the group, later saying "I needed to figure out who I was" and regularly clashed with Barclay, who had a different personality to her. June moved to Woodstock to study Buddhism, but insisted the group continue without her.

de Buhr also left the band, with Brandt returning on drums. Patti Quatro (sister of Suzi Quatro) replaced June on guitar. This lineup signed with Casablanca Records and released the final Fanny album, Rock and Roll Survivors, in 1974. The first single, "I've Had It" reached #79 on the Billboard Hot 100. Brandt left the band shortly after the album's completion when she married composer James Newton Howard, and was briefly replaced by Cam Davis. Barclay quit the group at the end of 1974, thinking it was not working without June Millington. The second single, "Butter Boy" was written by Jean Millington about Bowie, and became their biggest hit, reaching #29 on the Billboard Hot 100 in April 1975. By the time that was released, the group had split.