Girls With Guitars:
We begin with a video made for The Provocateurs from our favorite slam poet and storyteller: RIVES
Now about me... (it always comes back to me, doesn't it?)
I first picked up the electric guitar when I was 8 or 9. My first gig was in 6th grade with my band "The Igloos"(pretty great band name, I must say). The Igloos only knew two songs: "Hey Joe" by Hendrix and "Smoke on the Water" by Deep Purple.
As you can see, from the start I fancied myself a hard rocker, a shredder, a guitar hero (decades before the game). The problem for me, way back in the late 70s, was that it wasn't that cool for a girl to do it. The other girls thought I was weird, and though the boys liked me, it wasn't in the making out kind of way.
I wanted to be Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, and George Harrison. As far as female role models...there were not many. Oh, we had Nancy Wilson from Heart, Joan Jett from the Runaways, and before them, June Millington from Fanny
...but that was about it. Oh, I forgot, Bonnie Raitt.
Despite it all, I continued to be the best "lead" guitar player in my town (um, neighborhood), long before I decided to do that singer-songwriter stuff. What a bore! Still, I have been known to put my amp on eleven, stomp on my favorite fuzz pedal (the Swollen Pickle) and...shred
Anyway, Rives' video got me thinking about how other "girls with guitars" might have felt... so I came up with some questions and found a bunch of friends to ask - They are: Kat Dyson (guitarist in Prince's New Power Generation and with Cyndi Lauper); Charlotte Caffey (the guitarist from the GoGo's); Kay Hanley (from LettersTo Cleo); Nina Gordon (of Veruca Salt); Tracy Bonham (singer, songwriter and musician); Wendy Melvoin (of Wendy and Lisa, Prince, and composer for the show "Heroes"); June Millington (from the legendary girlband Fanny), Marla Sokoloff (an actress, singer, songwriter and guitarist. She also makes really pretty custom guitar straps called Kiss My Axe); and Dayna Kurtz (a New York singer/songwriter, known for her unique slide guitar style).
My questions are:
How old were you when youfirst picked up the guitar? Was it electric? Acoustic?
KD - 9 years old....acoustic....
CC - I was 15, but I was 17 before I played an electric
NG - about 6 years old, 17when I played electric
TB - I was 5 when I learned A, D, and E - Kumbaya, was it? I didn't really teach myself guitar until Iwas 24. I started to rock out on electric at age 26. I found that distortion could hide the fact that I couldn't really play.
WM - I started playing guitar by default when I was six.
JM - I was just turning 13 when I first touched a guitar.
MS - 12, My first electric was a Fender Strat
DK - 12 - an acoustic guitar my big sister had begged for several years earlier and left in her closet- A Yamaha FG 110 acoustic. The action was so high and it was so hard to play, I thought bar chords were for the super advanced and had to work around it.
Did you get much support for playing from your parents and friends?
KD - My mom was all for it from day one...It took my dada few years to get into it. Theboys in my neighborhood used to tease me and say I was wasting my time. Thegirls used to be kinda jealous because their boyfriends were turned on at thesight of a girl rocking out!
CC - No, and as far as I remember, no other girls I knew played guitar.
NG - Totally. The acoustics were my dad's guitars, the electric was a gift from my brother
TB - Peers gave me much support. They said I had a certain "sound". I thought it was called "ham fisted" but OK, I have a "sound". In the 90's it was considered cool for a chick to play electric guitar.
WM - My older brother Jonathan at the time was playing drums and had some really interesting teachers come to the family house and give him lessons. I wanted so badly toplay the drums too, but my folks just didn't pay that much attention to my musical desires. They really just thought i was being competitive with my bro.Xmas of that year Igot a guitar...it was a Yamaha D7 or something. I just flipped out I loved it so much. The only time I remember not playing as a kid is when I broke my arm, at 10 years old, skateboarding down ours treet, chasing the older boys to keep up with this new fad... I failed. I had a cast put on that took me out of the game for 4 months... I lost my calluses, and grew black hair on parts of my arm, that never saw any. It took a total of 6 or 7 months before I played again and haven't stopped at all except for the occasional "I want to be a bass player" or "I want to be a drummer now" or "I want to produce now" faze.
JM - hmmm. Well, before Bonnie (Raitt) .... not a one, on guitar. I mean a woman on electric guitar didn't exist as a role model in the 60's ~ although now I know there were a few on the blues and country scenes, and I wish I'd known. So I and other girls in the band just made it up as we went along, out of sheer chutzpah you could say. As far as guys, Jimi Hendrix would have to be at the top of the list. Then there'd be Lowell George, who taught me so much and was a good friend and ally. And there were other guys whose names no one would know but who helped so much with licks here and there, and especially sounds. We all just really experimented a lot, there were no gimmicks then so it was pure tone and understanding the intent behind every note you played. I mean, get it out there.
MS - My mom thought it was another phase because I had already attempted a few other instruments but all my friends at school thought it was pretty bad ass. At least I think theythought that ;)
DK - I was considered pretty weird regardless. It helped a little, I think. Not with boys, though. Nothing helped with that till my boobs came in. And even then, I was pretty much thought to be a freak, and not in a good way. My mom loved it. I think my dad liked it until it became clear that I wasn't going to stop and do something more sensible like get a graduate degree or marry a lawyer. Then he worried.
Who were your role models?
KD - Odetta (my mom loved her; she was the first black female guitarist to play Carnegie Hall; Marianne Faithfull (for hersongwriting) also, Wes Montgomery, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Rolling Stones,Led Zepplin, Yes, Carlos Santana ,Allan Holdsworth, Jon Scofield; and for rhythm and funkiness: Sly and the Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield; all of the James Brown guitar players and last but not least, Tower of Power.
CC - there definitely weren't any girls-but my idols were John Lennon, Jimi Hendricks-way into Led Zepplin and Jimmy Page-my first 2 concerts were The Beatles in 1966 and Led Zepplin in1969 (their first tour) -so that pretty much set the stage right there..
TB - My role models on guitar were and still are George Harrison, Jonny Greenwood, Thurston Moore, and Joey Santiago of the Pixies.
JM - Back in the Day - there were no all-girl bands to emulate, heck there were no girls on any of the cool instruments. But from the family, pretty much the women - my mother Yolanda and my beloved aunt Cora. They adored anything we did, which is more valuable than people think. Peers? We didn't have peers. As I said, we were making it up as we went along. So when we bumped into other girls who played, naturally we were all supportive of each other. One girl was Addie Clement who was in the California Girls out of Palo Alto but joined our band the Svelts (Sacramento). And then there was the band Birtha whom we met in L.A. when we already had a record deal. They got one subsequently, and we hung out a lot, were all girlfriends. Their guitar player was kick ass, seriously, but they never got the attention we did somehow. They were great, tho (and their bass player is the woman singing on "Running On Empty" with Jackson, which was at least a decade later).
DK - My world was seriously rocked by Joni Mitchell, especially. Also, her use of open tunings helpedsolve my cheap warped guitar problems, as you can do less and sound like more in an open tuning. I still mostly play open tunings today. In high school, I was desperate for girl musicians -I loved Joni, Heart, Rickie Lee Jones. I remember in the 80's buying absolutely anything with tits that wasn't bullshit pop, because it was still so damn rare. The Eurythmics, The Motels, Tina Turner's comeback, Til Tuesday.
What was your favorite song to play on guitar?
KH - My go-to song when I have a Gibson Les Paul and a super loud amp to play it through is "LuckyGuy" by The Muffs.
NG - favorite first song to play as a kid was "Keep On Singing" by HELEN REDDY!!! So corny, it hurts to admit it...next favorite was "Rhiannon" by Fleetwood Mac -- phew! Way better.
WM - When I was 12, I was taking lessons when my teacher at the time asked if there was any song I would like to learn.Well, I said yes to "Amelia" by Joni Mitchell - from her Hejira record, not realizing that it was open tuned and that my teacher was not a fan. He went home that week to learn the song and then feebly taught me his rendition. I played it his way till I was 16 and then discovered open tunings on my own and happened on that particular tuning from a song. I was writing at that tender age, and my world changed forever. Guitar playing has never been the same since for me since...
JM - "Stop! In the Name of Love" (nice piano chords, it was the first time I realized you could play a chord with its third in the bass), anything super-funky like "In the Midnight Hour" or "Hold On! I'm Coming", even "Walking the Dog"; Beatles Beatles Beatles; girl group songs - "Heat Wave", "Dancing in the Street", "Somebody to Love" by the Jefferson Airplane (Addie played all the leads, I didn't get off strictly rhythm 'till we got to L.A. and she quit the band - yipes!) and "Sunshine of Your Love" were both great tracks to learn when they were still hits, just an absolutely rollicking time; "Do You Believe in Magic", wow, and a shuffle too; you had learn to do songs like "Louie, Louie", that basic rock thing, but we didn't stay on them long as everyone else was doing them and the 3 chords didn't really hold our interest - what set us apart was the ability to do the vocals that girls sang, or turn gender around on others ... boys didn't switch it around too much like that; and of course a good ballad always tore my heart out, we loved them. Examples would be "To Sir With Love", "Alfie" (I know, not a guitar song but we did it anyway, and learned a lot), "I'm On the Outside (Looking In)", "Baby I'm Yours", Walking in the Sand", "Our Day Will Come" by Ruby and the Romantics, and "Walk On By" - what a track!!.
And why did you want to play guitar in the first place?
KH - I started playing guitar because I was in my first band and was restless to write songs on my own as opposed to having to wait for band rehearsal nights when the guys would strum the chords for me. This was 20 years ago and I'm still not very good.
JM - I had no choice. The minute I heard one at the convent in Manila (7th grade, a few months before we moved to California) I was hooked, smitten even. I knew immediately that it was a force bigger than I and could't resist, it consumed me ~ it was rock 'n roll destiny!
MS - Because Joni did. I also really wanted to write songs about how much my parents sucked andplay them in a band to embarrass them.
DK - I don't know if girls pick up a guitar for the same reasons boys do (to get laid, to be cool). It felt like pretty uncharted territory at the time, but Ifeel like it kind of saved my life, in retrospect. It gave me a similar kind of confidence and grace that playing sports gives to other girls.
TB - I play with one finger alot.