My dear friend Clint, down in Melbourne Australia, recommended me to read the HEART biography “Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock and Roll“.
He reads rock-biographies and what he liked about this one was that it was told from a female perspective, which was different and interesting. It just highlighted a different aspect of being a musician – with your balls placed slightly higher up.
It took me a while, but I finally got around to reading it. Or rather, listening to it, as I’ve become obsessed with audio-books. It really had me spellbound pretty quickly. It’s very rare to come across a story where I feel like I could have written big chunks of that story myself.
Listening to Ann Wilson, the undisputed goddess of rock vocalists, telling her story about her constant battle with her weight while growing up, the bullying in school, feeling like you never quite belong anywhere, and the escape into the magical world of music…. I did that – all the time.
I would lock my door and listen to old vinyls that one of my mother’s best friends had given her, cause they didn’t want them anymore, LP’s with Ike and Tina or my favorite, an Australian band called Walrus – or colorful vinyl singles from my grandfather who had worked at a jukebox factory.
When the songs fell off the charts, the jukeboxes had to be “refilled”, so the old singles were thrown away and filled up with new, fresh hits. So, instead of throwing them away, he would take some of those singles and bring them home.
My mom had a portable record player that looked like a tiny suitcase, so I inherited that, and listened to those old, scratchy Brenda Lee and Connie Frances-singles.
They were worn out, cause they had been played all day long for months in that jukebox and weren’t really supposed to be used ever again. I wouldn’t let them retire though, I loved “Dum-Dum” by Brenda Lee especially when I was a little girl.
Anyway, music was ALWAYS my escape. So to hear one of the Wilson sisters talking about growing up with similar thoughts and experiences really hit home with me.
Their story of how they discovered The Beatles. How it was like being hit by lightning, how life was defined as before and after The Beatles. I can barely even remember a time before the Beatles, but I grew up two decades after the Wilson sisters. I loved the Beatles more than life itself, I can’t even explain that feeling. I still get in touch with that feeling nowadays, going to see Paul McCartney in concert.
But one thing definitely also sounded VERY familiar to me. Not quite belonging in a group of other girls. I honestly felt like I didn’t belong with other girls my age, most of my teenage years. Because most girls didn’t care about music on the same level as I did. To me it wasn’t just entertainment, it was everything. It was life. It was…well, it was ME. I can’t even imagine an existence without music.
I didn’t care about chasing guys, I rather wanted to be one of the guys – cause they had the same interests as me – for the most part.
I wasn’t interested in fashion and makeup or going to the latest, coolest clubs. I honestly didn’t give a flying patootie about any of that.
Beatles was the most powerful experience I had had up until I discovered Judas Priest, but that’s a different story. There was a short period of worshipping Duran Duran too – but the one thing that the Wilsons brought up in their bio, is a detail I never really thought about, but it’s very true: Other girls wanted to be somebody’s girlfriend. Live someone else’s life, support their boyfriends in their dreams and goals, but they didn’t have too many of their own.
I didn’t want to be someone’s girlfriend. Don’t get me wrong, I was usually head over heels crazy about some dude – or cried over one – most of my life. But I would never ever allow anyone to get in the way of my dreams. I had lots of them and I pursued them. I ended up staying single for longer than I thought because of it. :)
Ann and Nancy were outcasts who found that playing and singing was like “coming home”, it brought them happiness and a sense of purpose. This must have been especially difficult in the sixties and seventies when women definitely weren’t expected to have a mind of their own.
That’s another thing. I will forever be grateful to my parents for never ever uttering the words: “That’s not for girls” – or have strong opinions about what was supposedly male or female.
They let me do whatever made me happy. If I wanted to race guys down the street on a bicycle, that was fine. If I wanted to climb trees, no problemo. Play cowboys and indians, play with toy cars, listen to rock’n’roll? No problem, what would you like to do today?
The toy stores weren’t as divided into girls and boys back in those days either, thank god.
As a kid I was convinced that I could do anything, that there were no boundaries. So, when I walked into a toy store I was not presented any predefined ideas of who I was supposed to be. I would just go and pick out what I thought look like fun – so one day it might have been a Barbie doll and the next it was a super hero.
So I wasn’t raised to be that coquette girlie-girl. I had other dreams and plans, but it also meant that I was lonely a lot of the time, because most friends couldn’t relate.
To hear two women who have been highly successful, talk about going through all these things, but in their own way, is such an amazing feeling. It means more than I thought to hear that, after all these years. You don’t think much of it, until one day you’re reminded and you realize that you weren’t the only one.
I read Lita Ford’s biography too but I couldn’t relate to her life at all. She was more wild and destructive in many ways, she didn’t seem to have particularly strict parents like I did (and the Wilson sisters) so it wasn’t “my story”. This, however, is – in many ways.
They didn’t want to be girlfriends, wives or groupies. They wanted to BE The Beatles, they wanted to play like John and Paul, not date them. Bingo. That’s exactly it!
I used to be accused of being a groupie for years, cause people didn’t know what to make of me. I was always backstage somewhere or hanging out with some rockstar with a bad reputation – so naturally they took to the only explanation they knew of. A whore. A wannabe. A groupie. It took me almost two decades to earn the respect that I feel that I have nowadays. People know my deal now. Well, better than they did back then at least.
Ann and Nancy talk about their experiences of being the women in the band, life on the road, life in those circles. I didn’t experience it on their level, but yeah, I know what that is like as well. Being that ONE girl, that ONE woman in a male-dominated world.
I never thought of it that way though. I didn’t think of it as not fitting in, cause in my mind it was quite the contrary.
I had the same blunt sense of humor as the dudes, I had the same drive – sometimes even more – as they did, I was pushy and determined, like they were. I shared their passion for music, I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
But one thing that I’ve experienced my whole life, is that feeling of being different and sometimes being misunderstood or wrongly labeled.
I wrote a blog many years ago – before the term existed. I called it “diary”. I wanted to explain why I could never be a groupie.
To me, music was WAY bigger than the guy.
I admired them tremendously for the music they wrote, which to me almost made them GODS. They were above regular people. Anyone who could create something that amazing, was not of this world.
So, to sleep with these guys, would just degrade them (in my opinion) and make them common, regular..men. It would transform them into regular dudes with a dick, something trivial, something boring, something way too…. cheap.
What I wanted was their time, I wanted to know what drove them, what or who created the person who could write such music, I wanted to understand their magic, their treasure, their “divinity”.
I could never have slept with any of them. I just didn’t perceive them that way. They were beyond common sex. A monkey can have sex. But a monkey can’t write “Yesterday”…
It was far more valuable to me to understand these musicians, because I wanted to be where they were, being successful in doing what they loved to do and were good at. I had zero interest in being the whore of the evening.
Listening to “Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock and Roll” brings up so many memories and so many thoughts and reflections of my own journey. Sometimes it feels like it wasn’t even me.
I’ve lived the way I wanted to live but everything comes at a price. I didn’t marry or have kids. And quite honestly, I don’t regret a single thing. I would do it all again, exactly the same way. Maybe with a few alterations…
Men usually equaled heartache and pain, a waste of energy while my work, my passions and my dreams, fulfilled me. Much like men often prioritize.
I still have lots of things to do, I still love music and the whole world surrounding it, with every fiber of my body, mind, heart, and soul.
So this biography isn’t as much about the life of the Wilson sisters, but also a mirror that allows me to discover myself and see my own life in a different light.
There were others that went through similar things and thought similar thoughts. It means a great deal to realize that this late in life. :) But it all makes sense.
The pieces of the puzzle are falling into place. :D
When you’re on vacation you suddenly have a LOT of time on your hands. I ended up spending hours on YouTube last night watching videos by some of the female bands/artists that inspired me as I was growing up.
I’ve always collected albums by female rockers, whether it was all-girl bands or female fronted male bands or even the very few women who got a gig playing in a male band (not just singing).
The very first heroine was of course Lita Ford. When I was just a kid with very little knowledge of the music world, I remember stopping in the record store being totally in awe of the cool girls on the cover of this Runaways album:
Lita was of course the one who caught the eye of a curious 8-year old cause she wore that silver-thing on her arm. Then when she released her first solo-album in 1983, I really started collecting Lita-stuff. She was definitely the number one role-model.
[Cheesy early Lita-video, title track of her debut solo-album “Out For Blood“]
Joan Jett never appealed to me as much. It was only last year at Sweden Rock Festival when I attended her press-conference and saw her live, that I truly got why she’s stayed on the top in this business all these years. She is genuine and breathes rock’n’roll! She ruled the crowd, they loved her!
In the early 80’s, there were very few females playing metal. One of my favorite bands was Rock Goddess. The youngest member, drummer Julie Turner, was so young at the time that they even had trouble getting her into some of their own gigs!
They came to Sweden opening for Def Leppard in 1984 I think, but I wasn’t allowed to go. My parents were still not happy about the fact that their daughter was into heavy metal, it was something they had heard “bad things” about. Needless to say, they had to change their minds along the way… ;-P
[Rock Goddess with the asskicking Jodie Turner on vocals and guitar!]
I picked up whatever I could – Girlschool, She, Lita, Joan, Headpins, and then of course Lee Aaron. The Metal Queen. When I first heard her, it was on the radio (must have been some local station, they didn’t normally play heavy metal on the national Swedish radio back in those days) – I thought it was a guy…! Man, the lady had quite a set of pipes! And she was beautiful too, not to mention a bundle of energy on stage. Well, that’s how I imagined her, because I never saw her live and there was no YouTube so I had to rely on the reviews I read in the metal magazines I could get my hands on in 1984. I was happy to finally see her live at Sweden Rock Festival last year and she blew me away! She is still stunning and hasn’t lost her vocal range one bit!
[Quite cheesy video but these were still the early years of music videos…]
As the years went by, the world of metal started to expand and more women fought their way in. Cause it sure as hell wasn’t easy being a woman in metal in the 70’s or 80’s! There were very few, and the ones who DID manage to secure their place in the business, constantly had to deal with stupid juvenile sexism. It was automatically assumed that heavy metal was a man’s world and as a woman you simply couldn’t play.
At its best, you would hear comments along the lines of “well… pretty good – for a chick“. It was still pretty bad when I joined my first band. When we played, I would constantly hear some drunk asshole (and his equally drunk idiot pals) yell: “Show your tits!”. Well, show your d***k if you can find it, son of a b…. It was a pain in the butt, but you couldn’t let it stop you.
Late 80’s presented the classy ladies of Vixen for instance. Eventhough I wouldn’t call them metal, I loved everything about them. I was young, thought of them as inspirational not only as great musicians but also as fashion-statements for women in rock. :-) I had the pleasure of talking to them a few times during their fairly short, but successful career and loved their personalities.
Other ladies that I listened to during this period was Femme Fatale fronted by a lady with an attitude – Lorraine Lewis. She’s still active, playing the Monsters of Rock Cruise for instance. Would love to see her, cause most of those American bands never made it to Europe for some reason.
Doro had been around since…forever! Starting out with Warlock, I’d say she’s also one of the few true, 200% dedicated and impressive metal queens out there. Doro and Lita won every poll for “best female artist” back in those days. I love Doro, who doesn’t?! She’s a wonderful, humble person with a true love for heavy metal.
Another band that I really liked, but who never made it commercially (they stayed somehow “underground” eventhough MTV aired their videos) was Phantom Blue.
They were the first and only female band to be signed to Mike Varney’s Shapnel Records (only 3 months after forming!). Just as a bit of trivia, guitarists Michelle and Nicole were both students of Paul Gilbert and Bruce Boulliet of Racer X. Great guitarists and to top it all off – the amazing Gigi Hangach on vocals.
They couldn’t compete with the likes of Vixen or Lita in terms of airtime or albums sold, but they made a mark in music history for sure. Michelle married John Norum (ex-Europe) and moved to Sweden where she formed the band Meldrum. I remember being in touch with her back and forth about a gig at my club Hard Break in the mid-, late nineties, but due to a double-booking it fell through. Michelle was anything but happy about it, to make a long story very short… :-( It sucks that things had to go so wrong. She passed away in 2008. Read more about the band here. The actual promo video for this great song used to be on YouTube but I’m sure some idiot had it removed for whatever reason… The only thing left is this incredibly inspiring “look at this photo”-video, but at least you can still HEAR the music.
As far as VOICES…there was only ONE that could blew off the competition. Not that there ever was any competition. This woman was on her throne and nobody ever came even CLOSE to her vocal power! Ann Wilson of Heart. That voice amazes me to this day, she was and is one of a kind.
Then, of course, there was the CHEESE.
Some stand out as worse than anything. I bought records by these “ladies” but they’ve only been played once and then took their place in the collection just as “fill-outs”, never to be played again.
Lisa Dominique, she was in Kerrang! all the time, but the only reason she was, was because she was selling her “sexy image” more than her music – she couldn’t sing if her life depended on it! Take a listen to this (warning for possible injuries on sensitive eardrums….)
Then there was the super-cheesy Betsy Bitch from the band….Bitch. I’m lost for words, this is just about the cheesiest crap I’ve ever seen or heard in most aspects, especially lyric-wise! :)
Granted, she was one of the very first female metal vocalists, starting out in 1980, but that doesn’t help, at all. This song especially is horrible. Check it out:
Another uh..lady, that must be placed in the cheese-department is The Great Kat. It’s not that she didn’t know what she was doing; she was a classically trained violinist, graduated from Juilliard and had been touring playing classical music before she became…that.
Once again, she ends up in the cheese-department simply because…well, you’ll understand when you watch the video below. She could play, has even been listed as one of the top shredders of all time by Guitar One magazine. Maybe she would have passed unnoticed if she hadn’t created this insane persona, where she often claimed she was Beethoven reincarnated. ;)
Jesus, I think I’ll have go and take a break after that. :-)) Hope you’ve enjoyed the rundown!
Honorable mentions that didn’t fit into the article above but that you should take a listen to:
Canadian rocker Joanna Dean, loved her album “Misbehavin”
One HELL of a voice – Chrissy Steele (who was recruited to take over vocal duties after Darby Mills in Headpins. This is from her solo album “Magnet to Steele“)
Like I said in the last Sweden Rock Memories-post, there is a LOT more where that came from.
I found a whole bunch of photos and videos that I thought I’d share with you.
This one, for instance, is a classic…! It’s from Sweden Rock Festival 2006.
Venom had just finished their set and they had actually left the stage maybe 10-15 minutes before this was filmed. THIS Venom-fan apparently never even noticed that. He was TOTALLY into his headbanging, whether or not it was accompanied by the soothing sounds of…Venom:
Or this – Skid Row were doing a spontaneous photo-shoot outside the press-tent. They were actually posing for the photographer when I walked by and Scotti just walked out of the group-shot cause he was so happy to see me…! :-)
These guys are really like old friends, we “grew up together”. I met them for the first time in 1989, we were all in our early 20’s and our careers had just begun. I love them, the most wonderful guys one could imagine:
Rachel Bolan on stage before the show:
So what else have we got here…. On stage during Lita Ford’s set. Jon Oliva’s Pain played that year, I think it was 2009, and their dressing rooms were right next to Lita’s.Since JOP’s bassplayer Kevin is a good friend, he knows that I am a HUGE Lita-fan (well, check out the URL for this blog “lita77777” – guess where the “lita” part comes from ;-)). So, he just grabbed me by the hand and pretty much dragged me up on stage during her show. There I was, as close as I’ll ever be during a Lita Ford-concert. :) Thank you Kevin, one of those things that will definitely stay in my memory for a long time! :)
Kevin behind the stage, about to go up there and rock people’s asses off:
Jon Oliva’s tour manager Anett on the stage during early sound check:
And why not a few clips from some of the press conferences…. there is just so much more, I need to find all that stuff – press conferences with Ronnie Dio, Sebastian Bach, Heart…. Every band that’s ever had a press conference at Sweden Rock Festival… Well, pretty much. It’s all here somewhere.
Judas Priest-short clip from 2008:
Blackie Lawless (W.A.S.P):
And just some random photos of artists, fans, stage area, backstage area and just other…stuff!
Guest pass (for Alice Cooper), typical Sweden Rock fans, Spike (Quireboys), Suzi Quatro, backstage-bar, stage (Heaven and Hell), Meatloaf, Nightwish, Wilson-sisters of Heart, Judas Priest, Dio, Sebastian Bach, Rudy Sarzo…
And a few snapshots from the camping-, food-, and merch areas taken by my friend Beatrice in 2005 (I think, might have been 2004):