March 2 was the 10th anniversary of Hunter S. Thompson’s death and a picture of one of his quotes was making the rounds in Facebook. I found the subject matter rather timely! Many of us will find both the truth and the irony in what he had to say.
No doubt about it, the music business is an extremely rough and tumble business to slide into. There are millions of hopefuls and wannabes desperate to get their toe in the door. Sometimes it’s just pure luck — right place at the right time — or who you know, or….(you fill in the blank). But for women, men were still the brains behind the scene and the power out front. But the times were slowly changing….
Tina, Nancy, Ann and Pat
Allow me to introduce Tina, Nancy, Ann, and Pat. Four more ladies of rock that blew open the door and entered the world of the hard rock boys club, making their presence known both on and off stage. Hardworking, assiduous and in some cases, painstakingly patient, these women became huge successes selling millions of albums worldwide. Their stamina and perseverance are undeniable.
First up, the indubitable, indisputable, irrefutable Queen of Rock, Tina Turner.
There have been countless articles, bios, blogs, tweets, books, pics etc. written, posted and published about this indefatigable woman. I’m not sure what else I can add, but since no piece of writing or commentary on women in the music business (rock in particular) can omit Ms Turner, here are some background notes. She of the endless legs and unmistakable voice. No one, past or present, can shimmy, shake or command the stage like Tina.
Frequenting the night club scene in St. Louis, Tina was impressed by Ike Turner’s band, The Kings of Rhythm, playing at Manhattan Clug. (Writer’s note: The Manhattan Club later became the Four Acres Club. It burned down January 2010) Eager to sing with the group, she finally got her chance when she was handed a microphone during one of the intermissions. Ike was impressed to enough to ask her back as a guest vocalist. So began the singing career of the lady we know today as Tina Turner.
Ike and Tina Turner – The Early Years
In her first recording session, “Little Ann” was a back-up vocalist on a song called Box Top in 1958. In 1960 Ike Turner wrote an R&B song called A Fool In Love, originally written for Art Lassiter. By happenstance, Tina ended up recording the lead vocals because Lassiter did not show up for the recording
Murray was impressed with the vocals and described Tina as sounding “like screaming dirt…it was a funky sound.” Murray paid $25K for the recording and publishing rights and also persuaded Ike to make Tina (then still called Anna) the “star of the show”. At that point Ike also decided to change Anna’s name to Tina “because it rhymed with the television character Sheena.”
Ike Turner – Box Top 1958 (with Little Ann)
A Fool in Love became an immediate hit after its release in July, 1960. Reaching number 2 on the Hot R&B Sides chart and number 27 on Billboard Hot 100, ¹Kurt Loder described the track as “the blackest record to ever creep into the white pop charts since Ray Charles’ gospel-styled ‘What’d I Say’ that previous summer.”
Ike and Tina Turner – A Fool In Love
Ike and Tina remained with Sue Records until 1964. I found it interesting that within a 5-year span, between 1964 and 1969, they had signed with no less than 10 different labels.
A Tina Montage
By the early 60’s the Ike and Tina Turner Review was in full swing. An extremely rigorous touring schedule across the U.S. helped build a solid reputation. Between 1963 and 1966, the band toured constantly, without a hit single, capitalizing on Tina’s electrifying stage performances. A quote from the History of Rock site referred to the act as “as one of the most hottest, most durable and potentially most explosive of all R&B ensembles.” Tina appeared solo on American Bandstand and Shindig raising her own profile, and the entire Review appeared on Hollywood A Go-Go, The Andy Williams Show and in the concert film The Big T.N.T. Show.
Marvin Gaye featuring Tina Turner (Shindig live 1965) – I’ll Be Doggone
Tina Turner – Goodbye, So Long (Shindig 1965)
In 1965 Tina recorded River Deep, Mountain High with Phil Spector. He considered that record to be his best work but the single never charted higher than #88 in the U.S., although it went to #3 on the singles chart in the United Kingdom. Spector was devastated and never signed another act to his Philles label. Based on the record’s popularity in England, The Revue were offered the opening spot in the Rolling Stone’s U.K. tour which extended to Australia and the rest of Europe.
Phil Spector, Tina and Ike Turne
The album Come Together, released in 1970, marked the point in Ike and Tina’s careers when they switched from their usual R&B to incorporate more rock tunes. Their 1971 cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary became their biggest hit. It sold over one million copies, reached #1 on the Hot 100 and won them a Grammy.
Ike and Tina Turner performing Proud Mary
Tina’s personal history is the makings of her autobiography I, Tina, and the biopic, What’s Love Got To Do With It. After the collapse of her marriage in 1978 and, along with it, her career, Tina’s comeback was a slow but persistent, sometimes painful climb, working to pay off the mountain of debt owed the tour promoters after walking away from Ike and the tour. Through it all she never stopped singing and performing.
With the support of her new manager, Roger Davies, Tina’s career began to turn around. With the successful European release of Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together in 1983, Capital Records demanded a full album and Private Dancer was born, recorded in two weeks….flat. The hit single, What’s Love Got To Do With It became Tina’s first #1 hit with the album spawning two additional singles and going on to sell over 20 million copies.
Tina Turner – Private Dancer (Live)
She has performed with most of the major rock personalities including David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Bryan Adams, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger; acting credits include the movies Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and the Who’s rock opera Tommy among others. Her many awards are too numerous to mention here but it includes seven Grammies and three American Music Awards. She is a Kennedy Centre Honors recipient and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with her ex-husband Ike Turner in 1991.
Tina and Eric Clapton
Tina and Sir Mick
Auntie Entity – Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
Tina moved to Switzerland in 1995 and in 2013, gave up her U.S. citizenship to become a Swiss citizen. Born a Baptist and introduced to Buddhism in 1971, she adopted the Nichiren Buddhism faith and credits the religion for getting her through the rough times. She still meditates and chants Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō and is both a practicing Buddhist and Baptist.
She retired from performing over a decade ago and at 75 year’s young she has chosen to live a quiet life with husband, music executive Erwin Bach, and is rarely seen at public events. To many she will always be the undisputed Queen of Rock.
The Wilson Sisters – Two Hearts beat as one
Two extraordinarily gifted sisters who had the good fortune to not only grow up together, but play music together. What they have with each other is magic.
After 20 years of a male dominated, “bash and strut”, rock ‘n roll men’s world, along came Heart. They were the first band to be led by women, all the songs were written by women and all the business decisions were made by women. In a 2010 interview with both sisters, Nancy stated quite clearly, “how we look has never been what’s important to us. Hello. It’s about the effing music.”
“Heart has sold over 35 million records worldwide, had 20 Top 40 singles, seven Top Ten albums and four Grammy nominations. Heart achieved Top 10 albums on the Billboard charts in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2010s, with chart singles in each decade. This span of over four decades gives them the longest span of Top 10 albums by a female fronted band.” (Wikipedia)
These ladies have more than paid their dues.
Although from the U.S., Heart actually found their initial success in Canada, relocating from Seattle to Vancouver in 1972. The band was officially formed in late 1972. The original lineup included Steve Fossen, brothers Roger and Mike Fisher and Ann Wilson. Nancy Wilson joined in early 1975.
In the beginning…. Heart group shot
Heart’s debut album, Dreamboat Annie was recorded in 1975 at Can-Base Studios in Vancouver (later Mushroom Studios) but the album appeared to, unexpectedly, tank. While playing a two-week gig in B.C. they received an invitation to open for Rod Stewart in Montreal in four days. Unbeknownst to the band, Montreal radio stations had been playing Dreamboat Annie and by
The album spawned two hit singles — Crazy On You and Magic Man. Eventually both singles were released in the U.S. in 1976, reaching numbers 35 and nine respectively on the Billboard Hot 100. Magic Man reached number seven on Billboard 200. The album eventually sold over one million copies.
Heart – Dreamboat Annie
OMG!! Burt Sugarmen’s The Midnight Special. My mental filing cabinet hasn’t opened this drawer in eons. Ann’s vocals are powerful, intense and pierce right through you. One of my favourite Heart songs. These ladies are pure gold, (or should I say platinum).
Heart — Crazy On You (Live 1977)
Magic Man was written about Michael Fisher, who became Heart’s manager in 1973. According to Ann, “everything in the song is autobiographical.”
Heart – Magic Man
In 1977, Mushroom ran a full-page ad in Rolling Stone magazine showing the two Wilson sisters, bare-shouldered, with the suggestive caption “It was only
The first time I heard this song it hit me right in the gut. The first time I heard the back story was researching this article. Now I understand. I wonder what Ann and Freddie would have written together….I can only imagine….
Heart – Barracuda
The next album, Little Queen was released in 1977 and with help of Barracuda and the album’s title song, Little Queen went on to be another million seller. Heart’s last studio album, Fanatic, was released in 2012. Ann and Nancy have remained the one constant driving force and the heartbeat of Heart.
Ahhhh the 80s. Time for a change-up. Who WAS the costume designer….and the story?….and the set design…. The vocals, as powerful as ever.
Heart – What About Love
In December 2012 , the Wilson sisters were asked to perform a tribute to Led Zeppelin at the Kennedy Center Honors. Performing with Jason Bonham, a complete orchestra and two choirs, their rendition of Stairway to Heaven brought the audience to its feet and tears of joy from Robert Plant. The video went viral on YouTube with over four million hits in five days. iTunes released it as a single for two weeks only where it hit #1 immediately and #20 on Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs chart. It’s exquisite. A beautiful, loving and (yes) heartfelt tribute.
Ann and Nancy Wilson – performing Stairway to Heaven at the Kennedy Center Honors
In April, 2013 Heart were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. All original members were reunited for the first time in 34 years.
Wikipedia — Their Hall of Fame page described the Wilson sisters as the first women to front a hard rock band, and “pioneers….that inspired women to pick up an electric guitar or start a band”. Jake Brown described the band as beginning “a revolution for women in music … breaking genre barriers and garnering critical acclaim”
Nancy and Ann Today
….and for something a little different. Take a listen. Thank you ladies!
Heart – Mistral Wind (from the Dog and Butterfly album)
In the early 70’s she sang with Coxon’s Army, a popular lounge act in Richmond, Virginia.
Pat Benatar & Coxon’s Army – Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man (1974)
She eventually bee-lined to New York in 1975 to follow her passion singing hard rock songs. Benatar’s challenge — being overly technical because of her previous training which she quickly found was not conducive to singing rock songs. According to Benatar, “I sounded like Julie Andrews singing the Rolling Stones. It was bad. It wasn’t good.” “…the only way to sing rock – from your gut level feelings. It’s the instinct that the best singers have.”
The inner rocker roared out! The transformation from demure to kick ass rocker chick was complete, literally happening overnight. There was no going back. It’s amazing how a change in wardrobe can affect your whole persona and demeanor. Referred to as a vamp, a tiny, sexy Tinkerbell, in a 1981 20/20 interview Pat commented, “Rock is a sexual thing, it’s a sensual music, it deals with really base instincts. I don’t think I could be a vulnerable, soft person on stage. It’s just too difficult. You have to have a real strong personality to be up there and a lot of nerve.”
Benatar went on to sign a record deal, form her own band, record several multi-platinum albums, marry the guitar player (Neil Giraldo) and eventually wrest control of her career from the record company. In 2010, Benatar’s memoir, “Between a Heart and a Rock Place” was published. She and Neil are still touring together…and those pipes….they are in fine form thank you.
Benatar’s debut album, Crimes of Passion was released in 1979. The hit single Hit Me With Your Best Shot, rose to the #9 slot, and was her first single to break the US Top 10, selling more than a million copies in the U.S.
Pat Benatar – Hit Me With Your Best Shot (live)
Love Is A Battlefield tied with We Belong as her highest charting single in the U.S. I remember riding with “the girls” in the car, windows open, radio cranked, singing this at top volume (probably in the key of J demolished). Undeniable, even to this day.
Pat Benatar – Love Is A Battlefield
Pat Benatar – We Belong
Okay….one more….and not just because we share the same first name. She’s just that good.
Pat Benatar – Promises in the Dark (Live)
YouTube, Wikipedia; my mind; Facebook; various discussions with like-minded people; various bios, 20/20, Heart: Behind the Scenes
Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.
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