Brie Darling remembers vividly the first time she met June and Jean Millington. It was 1966, and Darling had traveled from California to Nevada to audition for the Millington’s high school band, the Svelts, as their newest hot drummer during a performance at The Lemon Tree in the town of Sparks. Just 16 years old, Darling approached the sisters – whose music she already knew well – in the parking lot.
“I still see that picture,” says Darling now. “They were just like goddesses to me. They looked bigger than life. And we just immediately bonded.”
What eventually followed was the groundbreaking formation of Fanny, the California-based band that would pave the way for women musicians for decades to come. Captured in the documentary Fanny: The Right to Rock, which tells the story of the legendary all-women band, the barriers they broke, and coming back together to release their first album in over 50 years as Fanny Walked the Earth on Blue Elan Records.
After formally coming together to form the group and relocating to Los Angeles, Fanny landed a deal in 1969 with Reprise Records, becoming the first-ever all-female rock band to sign a record deal for a full-length album. In 2018, nearly 50 years since that parking lot meeting, Fanny reunited as Fanny Walked the Earth — a name that reflects all that they’ve accomplished in their lives; all they’ve seen, done and lived through — and released their first album in decades.
“There is something about us playing together,” says June. “It’s incredibly special; it’s beyond words.” Drawing influence from Motown bands to the Beach Boys to Jimi Hendrix, Fanny released their first five albums between 1970 and 1974 with various iterations of members. Working with producers including Richard Perry, Todd Rundgren and Vini Poncia, their sound was a mix of full-throttle, rockin’-funk vocals; unapologetically heavy rock guitars; and hard, punchy beats.
“We were exploding with our own creativity and musicality,” says June. “We were in sync.”
The band was also shattering expectations. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, to say that rock was male-dominated would be a gross understatement; rock was almost completely male. But the girls of Fanny never backed down from the challenge. “I just wanted to have fun, and I wanted to show off, and I wanted to do what I loved doing,” says Darling. “If anyone was ever a little snide, I thought, ‘You just wait.’”
Adds Jean, “We were just involved with our band and our mission. We weren’t focused on being women trying to make it in a man’s world; we were focused on the challenge of it and having a lot of fun.”
In 1975, the band had a breakout hit with “Butter Boy,” which hit number 29 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song, written by Jean, was about her then-lover, David Bowie. “It was tongue-in-cheek,” she says. “He was the inspiration.”
Over the years, Fanny became major influences for bands like The Runaways, The Bangles and the Go-Go’s, and have been recognized as the trailblazers for decades since. NPR described the band as “the most masterful all-female band of the classic rock era,” and Pitchfork recently labeled June a “rock n’ roll pioneer.”
“The women in Fanny are like queens to me,” says Cherie Currie of TheRunaways. “They started all of it. They cracked that door and made it possible for us to believe that we could do it too.”
Fanny broke up soon after “Butter Boy” hit the charts, but stayed in touch as they went their separate ways, always keeping their music and their experiences close to their hearts. And so, when Laudable Productions and the Massachusetts-based Northampton Arts Council decided to host a tribute to June in February of 2016, Jean and Brie didn’t hesitate to participate. From the moment they played together at their first rehearsal, it was as if no time had gone by at all.
“It came right back,” says June. “The minute we hit the stage, it was right back to that thing that was fresh and exciting and an adventure.”
It didn’t take long before they decided to get back together in the studio, too. Their self-titled album is an 11-track, all-original LP that’s shot through with the same raucous courage and fearlessness as their original works. “Lured Away” tells the story of rock n’ roll lives that are still going strong – “I’m coming to, time to fully wake up / I gotta burn, don’t wanna give it up” – while “Storm Crossed” is an homage to Jimi Hendrix. “When You Need Her” features appearances by rock legends Currie, Kathy Valentine of The Go-Go’s, and Susanna Hoffs, Vicki Peterson and Debbi Peterson of The Bangles.
“I feel like Fanny Walked the Earth has an encoding of what we’ve experienced over the years,” says June. “This is an important stand we’re taking. Who gets to be 69 and still playing? Back then, it was just proving that girls can play like guys. Now, it’s like, ‘Ha!’ Women can break another glass ceiling.”
Fanny Walked the Earth released their self-titled album on Blue Élan records in early 2018.
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