HomeFilipino AmericanDocumentary on Fanny, 1st all-women rock band, airs May 22

Documentary on Fanny, 1st all-women rock band, airs May 22

By Mimi Chen

Unless you were a rock fanatic back in the 70’s, you probably have never heard of the band named Fanny.  Time for a little rock history lesson.  Fanny was the first all female rock band signed to a major label and like many in their era, they had to endure the resistance to all things female from an industry that heavily leaned male and severely misogynistic. They are also mostly Filipino.

It’s time, however, to acknowledge not only the kind of resistance they faced but the fact that they truly had the talent to keep up with the males, even tho’ they would find themselves performing to an equally misogynistic worldwide audience that wasn’t enlightened enough to appreciate their talent.  

Thus, even after they released many critically acclaimed records, they remained fairly undiscovered. That is until Bobby Jo Hart, a documentary filmmaker, stumbled upon a story about them on a guitar website,  “I was just riveted by these women…and I just thought, how did I not know about them?” 

As she began researching the band, Hart realized the Fanny story was an interesting untold story, particularly because it was about women and marginalized communities.  “I like to be able to elevate and provide some kind of platform to help the general public know more about these important aspects of history, especially those that have been, you know, buried in some way.” she added.

While having the distinction of being the first all-woman band recognized by the music industry,  add in the fact that at the beginning the band was also very decidedly Asian, as the members were mostly Filipino and also throw in an LGBTQ element, as June herself is quite vocal about being queer.  This was a band who was in the forefront of many different aspects when it came to breaking into a world that was decidedly extremely White and male.

AsamNews recently sat down via Zoom with several members of the band, bassist/singer Jean Millington, guitarist June Millington (both born in the Philippines), drummer/singer Brie Howard Darling (Filipino & European descent), along with the documentarian Bobbi Jo Hart.  Alice de Buhr, also a drummer, not in attendance.

When asked what has changed for them, June said, “briefly speaking, everything!” She proceeded to talk about how in the past, people were often looking for the men in the band playing behind them. And how, even though feminism was a big deal in the 60’s and 70’s, the same time frame as when they began, there was nothing for them to relate to as far as role models for women.

Fanny billboard on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood promoting a concert at the famed Whiskey release of their first album in 1970.
Photo Credit – Linda Wolf Fanny billboard on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood promoting a concert at the famed Whiskey release of their first album in 1970.

Says June, “We had to step into a frame of our own making and start to fill it in by simply doing what it is that we loved. Yeah, we were trying to prove a point that girls could play, but we’ve been doing it so long up to now.   I’m 75 and I’m still playing because we love it. So how did things change? I don’t know how to, you know, say it other than really pretty much everything but our own joy, our joy is what got us started and that’s what kept us going till now.”

Brie Howard points out that when they started traveling and touring, even the usual means of support for bands, such as roadies, didn’t exist.  “There were no booking agents, there was no manager, there was no road crew, there was no roadie. There was no sound man. It was just all of us. We did all those things including lugging big Hammond organs and Leslie speakers upstairs by ourselves.  We could have had friends help, but we did it all ourselves.” she added.

Then there was the added attitude towards the all-women aspect.  When asked if they had stories about being treated differently because of their gender, Jean nodded saying how people were always looking for the ’men’ and how surprised people were discovering Fanny had women who could actually play their instruments. The first time they played a gig in Winnipeg, as they walked in, they found out the folks were literally expecting a topless band, she said.

Then another “We were playing in England. We walked into a big club and the person who hired us said, ‘well, here is a dressing room for the girls and this is a dressing room for the band.’  This was from the person who hired us, who said this is for the band!  It was so weird, you know, they just couldn’t accept that we actually played!” 

And apparently, that attitude still happens today, despite the fact there is widespread acceptance of women in music.  Jean noted that recently during a rehearsal in San Diego the other day, some guys walked by the door and one exclaimed, “wow, you’re actually playing, I thought that was a record!”

June nodded, “A lot of times we were better than the bands we were paired up with and that was really hard for them to take, you know. But what were we gonna say? We just kept playing.  You know, I have a song ‘Play Like A Girl’. If they tell you, you can’t do it, you just turn it up and play like a girl. And that is actually my attitude – play like a girl!”

When asked about influences and if they were influenced by some of the current crop of bands with their current release for Fanny Walked The Earth, apparently, they felt strongly about keeping old-school rock influences.  Names such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and John Bonham were mentioned. Jean said, “We’re old school. We just play the music we play and that has the most influences and in the beginning, it was really a lot of Motown. We’re very R and B based in the way that we play.”

June doesn’t feel as if old or new comes into play, while Brie said she’s looking forward to incorporating a newer sound into her music.

LtoR – Fanny bassist Jean Millington, Fanny lead guitarist June Millington, Fanny drummer Brie Darling, riding in a convertible in California after the release of their new album Fanny Walked the Earth.
Photo credit: Bobbi Jo Hart LtoR – Fanny bassist Jean Millington, Fanny lead guitarist June Millington, Fanny drummer Brie Darling, riding in a convertible in California after the release of their new album Fanny Walked the Earth.

At this point, however, it seems that they are the ones doing the influencing.  June will be participating in a workshop for students in Woodstock and “being a featured player on some stuff so I can show them some of these things like from the past.”

As mentioned in the documentary, Jean had suffered a stroke.  While continuing to work on regaining her skills as a bass player in order to tour, they note that she still performs quite well as a singer.  “And she’s going to kick ass on stage.” added Bobbi.

The documentary itself showcases many big names in rock and getting them to appear in the film apparently wasn’t too difficult.  Says Bobbi Jo Hart, it wasn’t as hard, because they all “love Fanny and deeply respect the band. Sending an email, the responses were quite fast. Cause they are that good. According to Bonnie Raitt, ‘they were the first all female band that was really respected within the musician community.'”

After a couple sold-out shows to support the documentary release, Fanny is currently working on getting back to touring. They note that now instead of misogyny, they may be facing ageism. After all, they are all mostly in their 70’s. On the other hand, nobody blinks an eye if the Stones jump on stage. “But that’s because we’ve watched them grow old,” Brie stated, implying that perhaps we’re used to seeing older men in rock.  The documentary Fanny: The Right To Rock premiers Monday May 22 on PBS.

When asked if they could give advice to their younger selves, Howard exclaimed, “Do it again!”

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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