Thirty years ago, on Sept. 18, 1971, the pioneering all-female rock quartet Fanny made its first Billboard chart appearance with the debut of the single “Charity Ball.”
The group — featuring original members Nickey Barclay (keyboards), Alice de Buhr (drums) and sisters June (guitar) and Jean Millington (bass) — went on to record five albums, scored three more chart singles, endured a few lineup changes and eventually disbanded in 1975.
Along the way, they garnered many fans, among them David Bowie. In a Rolling Stone magazine interview in December 1999, he said: “One of the most important female bands in American rock has been buried without a trace. And that is Fanny. They were one of the finest fucking rock bands of their time. … They were extraordinary. They wrote everything, they played like motherfuckers, they were just colossal and wonderful, and nobody’s ever mentioned them.”
Little has changed since Fanny’s heyday: There still are very few all-female rock groups in which all the members play their own instruments, and Fanny albums have yet to surface on CD (hello, Reprise?!) — though they did put out a comprehensive box set in 2005.
Where are you, Fanny? De Buhr says that she has led a fairly normal life over the past three decades.
“When I left Fanny, I went to work in the music industry in L.A., first at an independent distributor, and then for A&M Records as the retail marketing coordinator for Southern California,” she said recently. “I left California in 1989, ending up in Tucson, where I now own and operate a video distribution company. I do miss the music business, but I’m not willing to live in California anymore.”
De Buhr said she keeps in contact with the Millingtons and they have talked about playing together again, “but nothing has ever come of it. I’ve tried to find Nickey on the Internet, with no success, so if anyone out there knows where she is, let me know.”
De Buhr doubts Fanny has any legacy, for the same reason Bowie said: No one mentions them anymore.
“With (five) albums and television appearances to our credit,” she said, “I’m amazed that the researchers of those (rock ‘n’ roll encyclopedias) haven’t been as complete as they could or should have been. While I was at A&M, I worked the Go-Go’s, as part of my job at the retail level. All of the girls knew about Fanny, and told me that if it hadn’t been for us, they’d have never imagined picking up instruments and forming an all-girl band. I listen to the Fanny albums now and then, and some of the music can stand the test of time.
“I do feel that Fanny was the first real female rock group. The blisters on my fingers surely didn’t come from playing like Karen Carpenter! Fanny¹s music was rock ‘n’ roll loud and hard.”
Regardless of the lack of mainstream recognition, de Buhr says she has nothing but fond memories of her Fanny days.
“From the vantage point of 30 years and living outside of the music community,” she said, “I’m finally able to look back on the Fanny years and feel pride in what we accomplished, and to know that I’ve been blessed with some extraordinary experiences.
“When June, Jean and I get together, the memories can keep us in stitches. We grew up together in so many ways, and our naiveté was a big part of who we were. There’s no way I could begin to theorize why there are still no real female rock groups today. There are certainly enough talented musicians. Maybe nobody wants to go through the incredible hassle of proving that what matters is the music, not the sex.”
BWF (before we forget): The Fanny album discography — “Fanny” (Reprise, 1970); “Charity Ball” (1971); “Fanny Hill” (1972); “Mothers Pride” (1973); “Rock ‘n’ Roll Survivors” (Casablanca, 1974); “Fanny Live” (Slick Music, 2001); “First Time in a Long Time: The Reprise Recordings” box set (Rhino Handmade, 2005).
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