Back to April 2012 Show

Lesbian/Feminist Bands
The Script


Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band - Don't Need No Doctor (1972)

"I don't need no doctor, because I know what's ailing me, well, I've been put down by these men, I'm coming down with the misery." Words by Susan Abod, with her singing lead, and recorded by the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, in 1972. This was feminist rock, and it was a very interesting musical rebellion, challenging male rock & roll, and society in general. And it happened in this case in the early 1970's. Note I didn't call it lesbian rock, bands were not quite ready to self-identify that way. And for their contemporaries, especially those signed to major labels, like Fanny, Isis and Deadly Nightshade, it was all they could to do to be taken seriously as all-women bands. This was a ground-floor rebellion, ready to agitate, and calling its music agit-rock, taking place at college dances, coffeehouses, rallies, women's conferences and festivals, at the beginning of the Women's Movement. This was their political rebellion, set to music.

And this is JD Doyle for Queer Music Heritage. On the show this month I'm exploring the world of two early feminist bands in two musical genres, rock and folk. For those of you listening to my show on the internet, at queermusicheritage.com, you can find Part 2, the folk music part, where I interview Marcia Deihl and Katie Tolles, of the New Harmony Sisterhood Band. And on Part 3 I get to share with you Nancy Vogl talking about the Berkeley Women's Music Collective.

In this part I talk with Susan Abod, one of the lead singers with the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band. And I also talk with Pat Ouellette who was in the New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Band. Both bands were captured on a 1972 recording called "Mountain Moving Day," which has been reissued on CD with additional tracks. Before we get to the interviews, starting with Susan, let's hear one of the tracks by the New Haven band. It's a reworking of the old song "So Fine," but with very different lyrics. Oh, and I had to edit one word for public radio, you'd know which one.

New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Band - So Fine (1972)

Before we start the interview with Susan I've got something I think is kind of special. In Boston for many years there was a women's book store named New Words, and in 1994 they had a 20 year anniversary and sing-along celebration, which was recorded. Some of the folks there had been members of the New Harmony Sisterhood Band, Lilith, and the Chicago and New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Bands. Marcia Deihl provided me with the tape and I took out of it Maxine Feldman telling about some vinyl albums she brought with her.

Maxine Feldman intro (1994)

How cool is that? You just heard Maxine introduce my two interview guests for this segment, Susan Abod, and Pat Ouellette. Pat, by the way was also in the New Harmony Sisterhood Band. But, back to Susan.

Susan Abod Interview

JD: Tell us about the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band.

Susan Abod: What would you like to know?

JD: Things like when and how it got started, how long it lasted, and the reason for starting it.

SA: Well, Naomi Weisstein was the person that started it. Naomi Weisstein and Virginia Blaisdell, they just had this vision of a way to consciousness raise women in the early days of the feminist movement through rock & roll, to reach every, you know, 18-year old girl….cause they had been listening only to…we had the Rolling Stones which was saying "Back Street Girl" and "Under My Thumb," and that kind of stuff, kind of misogynistic stuff. Yeah, Naomi auditioned a bunch of women, there were a lot of women in the group, and they had a vision to make it a political group. It was pretty powerful. I came along in '71, and I think they started in '70 and a little bit in '69. I think the band stopped in '73, so I was in it from '71 to '73. And we made an album which was really the first Rounder Records recording. [Really?] Yeah, at that point they were a collective and they wanted to do political music, so they had the New Haven Band do one side and the Chicago Band do another.

JD: Yes, there was a New Haven band, and how did they interact? Did they start around the same time? Did one start as a result of the other?

SA: Well, Virginia and Naomi were friends, and Virginia, who was Ginny, they started a band in New Haven around the same time that Naomi started the band, so they were definitely connected.

JD: So, did they ever perform together?

SA: I think we did. It was rare because we were so far away, but we did. I think we performed once, but when we did the recording we were all there in Somerville, with Rounder, so the Rounder collective was there, the New Haven Band was there and the Chicago Band was there, so there must have been about 35 people at the first meeting.

JD: I didn't know it was a joint recording at the same…

SA: Oh, yeah. Well, we didn't actually record all the music together. We each went into the studio at different times, but, yeah, we were on the same project so we had a vision of how we wanted the album to be.

JD: And your sister Jennifer was in the New Haven band.

SA: Yeah, well, when I went to visit her she had told me about the band in Chicago, and asked me to check it out, and audition, they needed a singer. That's how I got there.

JD: I gather musicianship wasn't the main motivator, it was like, we want to do this.

SA: Right, I think that they had the vision. It was a political vision of rock music as a vehicle for getting the word out. But I was going to music school at the time and Sherry (Jenkins), the guitar player was a really good guitar player, and we all loved music and we worked really, really hard to try to make the music better. And we focused on music, but we definitely were lacking, but the album actually still kind of carries itself. It's not too bad.

JD: I was doing some research and I read one comment that at times the music was almost secondary because it was the act and the adventure of doing it that was the driving force.

SA: Yes, yeah, I would agree with that.

Let's slip in a song by the New Haven Band, called "Abortion Song."

New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Band - Abortion Song (1972)

JD: Do you think those bands were the first feminist rock bands?

SA: I think they were, as far as I know. I mean, Kay Gardner was already out there doing her thing, as was Maxine Feldman, and Alix Dobkin had her "Lavender Jane Loves Women"…

JD: As far as a band…

SA: Yeah, and there was Jade & Sarsaparilla, but they weren't really political but they were out there doing rock & roll, kind of rhythm & blues, the two of them.

JD: To go a little further, you probably would say Fanny and Isis and Deadly Nightshade probably were not feminist bands.

SA: Well, they…they were our heroes, because Fanny's music was great and they became politicized, but that wasn't their…they were musicians, and there was politics in their behavior of wanting to do rock & roll, and liking women and wanting to do it with women, definitely Deadly Nightshade more than the other.

JD: Yeah, I think Pam from Deadly Nightshade told me that they were so concentrating on being a good woman band that politics wasn't a focus.

SA: Right, right, exactly.

JD: Cause those early bands had to prove themselves.

SA: Yeah, that's right, that's true, that's true. And Fanny did, they were awesome.

JD: Was there a lot of turnover in the bands?

SA: Well, before I came I had heard that there were 18 singers, and then they decided on two, so it was me and another woman, Kathy Rowley. And then, turnover, we had had some change but mostly we stayed the same.

JD: And my show is called Queer Music Heritage, so it would be natural for me to ask, about what percent of the group members were lesbian?

SA: I think there were…I don't know percentage, cause sometimes we had seven people and sometimes we had six people, but there were two women that were out that I know of for sure, and the rest I didn't really know, maybe three.

JD: What does the title of the album "Mountain Moving Day"…where does it come from?

SA: It comes from a poem by a Japanese female feminist poet Yosano Akiko, and it had recently been translated and we made a song using the lyric translation. And it comes from the idea that we're going to be able to move mountains one grain at a time, one piece of rock at a time. And that's what it's going to take, but we're going to move those mountains, in terms of women's rights.

JD: I gather the Mountain Moving Coffeehouse was named after the album.

SA: It was, yeah, it was.

JD: One of those places I wish I could have gone, but I never could have got in.

SA: Oh, my God, you're really stirring memories that, oh my God, does my brain work that far, but I remember Willie and I performed there several times. It was very much a sweet, sweet place.

Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band - Mountain Moving Day (1972)

JD: For the Liberation bands, how did the performances go over?

SA: Oh, my God, the audiences were…they were amazing. I remember the very first performance I did with the band was at a place called Alice's, and it was in Chicago and it was in a very long and narrow shop. I think it was like a restaurant, café, kind of thing, so I remember being in there and playing at the very back of the room, and the place was packed, standing room only, it was men and women. And we were not very good, but they were totally as if we were their children or something, as if we were their children. I mean, my first public performance I got standing ovations. It was really amazing, they totally embraced us and were very supportive. And we would go to rallies and progressive left rallies and stuff like that, so it was just great.

SA: There was only one time that we had a difficult time, which was at Cornell University, and that's when both bands performed, and there was some kind of mix up in the housing, and so there was a fraternity that got kind of riled up. I think the New Haven band went to the wrong place, and some kind of verbal scuffle happened and so these guys came over…it was a women's only dance, of which in the beginning, that's all they were women only dances, not lesbian, but women only. And these guys came in and they were pitching pennies at us, and then we got them out. I remember that was the time when Naomi was saying, well, maybe they'll be a sex war. It was scary.

JD: I think it was in the liner notes of the CD version that some of the performances got pretty wild and that the band was mocking the Rolling Stones.

SA: Oh, definitely, we had a song called "The Man," and it was taken from the Kinks "girl, you really got me going"…yeah, we acted out, we made fun of those guys, Mick Jagger and all those guys. And the audience would pretend to be crazy groupies. It was like guerilla theatre. It was really fun, really fun.

JD: How come the bands broke up or stopped?

SA: Well, I can't speak for the New Haven Band, but we broke up, I mean, Naomi moved to the East coast to go to Bell Labs, she has a job there, and we tried to be a collective, but Naomi was really kind of like the leader and when we didn't have her, we couldn't keep it up ourselves. She really was a powerful voice. And I was going to music school and I was needing to stretch musically, and we were all kind of getting tired and a little bit uninspired, because we didn't have Naomi. So I think that's the simple version.

JD: In the late 70s you wrote a series of articles for Paid My Dues on music theory, and a couple articles on jazz…is jazz your first love?

SA: It's become that, especially here in New Mexico. I've been singing more jazz and writing more songs about jazz. Recently I wrote a song about Ella Fitzgerald, and I hope I'm able to get it recorded soon

JD: I've seen you perform only once, in 2002 at an awards event, and I remember saying to the person next to me, "now, that's an entertainer."

SA: (laughs) Well, that was a very exciting time for me, because it was my own, my very first CD. I didn't even know I was being considered. And then I find out that there was a nomination and it was really, really wonderful. And I came there with a friend of mine, and it was just really a treat to get that kind of acknowledgement, and I was very proud. That's what I love to do.

JD: Talk about the CD itself.

SA: Oh, it was a very important thing for me because…because I had got sick in '86-'87 and music was just kind of like: what, am I going to be doing music again? I don't know. And I was able to do this I was just so excited. It's many, many years of songs that I've written. So it was a really big deal for me to have that made, that album, and I'm still pretty proud of it. It meant a lot to me, and then I started doing some house concerts locally and stuff like that. But my health kind of took over, and I had to start looking for another place to live, and I had made a film about my health stuff, with chronic fatigue and chemical sensitivities, in '95. By 2004 I needed another place to live, and I had already gone on the road and interviewed a bunch of people who had chemical sensitivities, and made some good connections with people here in Santa Fe. So that when I was really in trouble, and couldn't find a place to live, a friend of mine that I had made through that journey, got me here

SA: And I had no idea I was going to do music here. I thought I was done. I remember one of the first nights I was here, a friend of mine…we went to a taco place, and there was an amazing jazz trio playing in a taco place. Yeah, Bert Dalton on piano, John Gagin (sp?) on bass, and John Trenacosta (sp?) on drums. I was completely knocked out. And I went up to Bert at the break, and I said, I'm going to be moving here, can I give you a CD, take a listen and see if I'd be able to get some work around here, and where I might be able to work and, could you tell me some musicians who might be available, and he did. And he introduced me to Louis Winn, and I worked with him for most of the time I was here. And I just actually started playing with Bert's trio. They have a regular steady gig at a very nice venue here, and I'm the guest vocalist once a month, which is just delightful.

SA: So now that I've raised some money to try to finish this film, that I started in '97, I've got somebody working on the edit, and we're hoping to get it finished in September. And I've written a bunch of songs over the last couple of years, that I'd really like to make a CD of, so I'm hoping that can still happen.

JD: I watched some of the videos on your site and they are quite good.

SA: Thank you, thank you.

JD: What's the name of your documentary?

SA: "Homesick," and the website is homesick-video.com.

And Susan's regular website is www.susanabod.com, and that's where I grabbed this bit of audio from one of her videos there. From 2011 she sings about pronouncing her name and then about caffeine.

Susan Abod - It's Abod / Caffeine (2011)

JD: There's a CD now of the Women's Liberation Rock Band. I was really kind of surprised and pleased that that was released, with some new tracks, that weren't on the original album, and Le Tigre.

SA: Yeah, I know, Naomi figured that all out. She made all those connections, in New York and I really didn't know much about it. It just kind of happened.

JD: It's great that this was a preservation of history, but also tying it into the present and future, in a way.

SA: Oh, definitely, it was just terrific, it was terrific that that happened. Naomi is really the reason why it happened.

JD: Well, I research a lot of women's music stuff and I run into her name all over the place.

SA: Oh, yeah, well, she wrote amazing stuff, and I was kind of like…she took a liking to me. I think I was 18 at the time…18 or 19…and she was kind of like my mentor. I think I was the youngest one in the band. You know, I had has just some consciousness raising in New Haven. I had gone to a couple of groups. But, sitting in her kitchen, eating Sara Lee desserts, I was just like, in awe, and she would go on and tell me.

JD: It was like a graduate course.

SA: It was amazing. It was really amazing.

JD: To finish up this part of the story I asked Susan if we had left out anything important…

SA: Well, I think what's really important to me is that my introduction to feminism…you know, within a few months of my introduction to having my consciousness raised, I walked into the Women's Liberation Rock Band, and got swept up in something that was really quite magical. And it led me also to not only being in other bands later, but I produced women's music, in Chicago. I produced a concert of Meg, a concert of Margie, and a concert of Casse, cause I wanted to bring more music, and political music to Chicago.

Pat Ouellette Interview

Okay, that was quite a bit about the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, but of course their sister band was the New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Band, and I'm pleased to share with you some comments from Pat Ouellette, who was in that band, and later was in the New Harmony Sisterhood Band, and also more recently, in the group One Journey.

JD: Tell me about being in the New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Band? Which band started first?

Pat: I think probably Chicago started a little sooner, but not by much. The two people who were kind of the basic energy behind the two bands were friends, Virginia Blaisdail, and…I'm not going to remember her name [ Naomi Weisstein ] yes, so they were friends so I think they kind of hatched this together, and started getting people involved, maybe about the same time. I'm not sure which one started first actually, but probably Chicago, a little bit.

JD: I saw where they wrote a song together, on the "Mountain Moving Day" album, and I wondered, hmm, they were working together. From your knowledge, what do you think the differences were between the New Haven and Chicago bands. I mean, were they similar in musical approach or politics, or what?

Pat: I think politically we were pretty much on the same page. It was the early women's movement in New Haven, and Chicago, so we were kind of getting in on the ground floor, in both places. Musically, I think different. We were a much more sort of straight ahead rock & roll, and I think they were much more…I don't know…they were sort of a combination. They were sort of a rock and maybe some jazzy pop thrown in there, cause they had different instrumentation. They had a keyboard and they had two drummers and they had a guitar, but we were much more of a bass, drum, guitar. We had a horn section that consisted of a trombone, a French horn and a flute, and then later developed into adding a tenor sax.

JD: It was almost an orchestra.

Pat: Yeah, it was interesting instrumentation but we were doing rock & roll, and…it was good, it was good.

JD: Was the drive to make music or was the drive to get music and politics out there?

Pat: I think it was more the latter. I think we were in an age when the…when rock & roll was especially male-dominated and certainly not with any kind of feminist sensibility. I would have to say it was more that, because some of us…I didn't play the bass when I joined that band. I played the guitar, and then the bass player left, so I became the bass player, so some of us had to be learning our instruments as we were developing the band, so I think probably we were initially more interested in the political aspects of it. Then afterwards we really took the musicianship seriously, and we all took lessons, and tried to improve, we weren't going to be sort of an agit-rock arm, we were actually were going to be making some music that was decent.

JD: Can you hazard a guess, and I know the times are different now, on about what percent of the New Haven band were lesbian or openly lesbian?

Pat: Well, when we started out…let's see…there were, one, two, three, four, certainly four of us were lesbians, and then as time went on I think that everybody was. But you know, some people were probably more bi than actually choosing for a life to be one or the other, so some of the people who were in the band now are married to men, but at one time everybody identified as lesbian, I think.

JD: Were lesbian issues that important to the band, or were there other politics that were more important?

Pat: I think…when I look back at the issues that we sang about…we were really about feminist issues, and that included, you know, abortion and having more power, more female power [ the general oppression of women ] yeah, that's right. We didn't sing very much about gay issues at the time, so I think we were more into liberation issues.

JD: I think that's indicative of what was going on.

Pat: Yeah, I think that's right, in 1970 when we started, you know, lesbians weren't exactly welcome in the women's movement either. It was kind of a poorly kept secret.

JD: Right, like the organization NOW let them in and kicked them out right away.

Pat: That's right, so that was going on at that time. I think we were not taking on that issue at the time.

Let's slip in some more music. By the New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Band is "Shotgun."

New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Band - Shotgun (1972)

JD: Why did the New Haven band break up?

Pat: Well, I think there were different reasons. A number of people decided to move to New York, to get involved in a therapy movement that was happening then, and I left to go to law school, actually, and the drummer left to go to school also, in Cambridge.

JD: Do you have any special memories of the New Haven Band?

Pat: Yeah, I mean, there are some funny things. Like one time we were going to play at Cornell, so we were driving out there. It was cold, it was wintertime and they had told us where we were going to stay, in which dorm we were going to stay, and we got there…it was the middle of the night and there was nobody to show us around, so we went to the dorm we thought we were staying in. And we kind of looked around. It didn't look exactly like the kind of dorm that was going to be, you know, a place where women could stay. It looked fairly funky and didn't look very inviting. But we were pretty tired so we just kind of crashed wherever we could find, in the lounge, and in rooms that seemed empty and so on. And it turned out that it was the wrong building. It was this really sort of heavy-duty jock fraternity. These guys woke up in the morning and there we all were, and they were not very happy that we were there. So that was kind of a funny episode that happened.

Pat: You know, it was a difficult time in some ways, because we were all kind of struggling with our own identities and we were trying to be…you know, we became in New Haven the sort of glue in some ways that held all the different groups together. Anybody had an event, we would go play, and people would dance, so we were kind of the common denominator. And that was nice, it was nice to be viewed that way.

JD: Looking back these 30-some years, what do you the legacy is of the New Haven and Chicago Bands?

Pat: Well, I think we were very important groups, because we were the first ones to be doing what we were doing. Before us there was Fanny, I don't know if you ever…

JD: Yeah, Fanny and Deadly Nightshade and Isis…they were not political.

Pat: No, they were not, but we all went to hear Fanny, because this was the only the only women's band around that was playing drums, and doing…kick-ass music, so you know, we went to hear them, because it was important. But I think, yeah, we were the first ones, and Chicago, to be doing political music and putting ourselves out there as a political rock & roll band.

And you never know what's going to come up during an interview.

Pat: One thing you didn't know was that there was a band in Japan…the album was called The Onna Club Band, "I Love Women's Music," 1985, and they covered two tunes from "Mountain Moving Day." One of them was "Mountain Moving Day," which was originally written in Japanese, of course, and translated into English, it was a poem. They redid it in Japanese. And they also did "The Abortion Song," in Japanese.

JD: No, I didn't know that. Were the lesbian or feminist or do you know?

Pat: Both, I only found out about this because a friend of ours went to live I Japan for a year, and she saw them perform, and when they started singing these songs, she went up and talked with them and said, "I happen to be friends with somebody who was on that record." So then she got a copy of their record, and sent it to me.

JD: Tell me about One Journey.

Pat: Well, One Journey is a five-woman, four of whom are lesbians and one not. We have guitars and keyboard, and I play bass, still, and we have a flute, and it's kind of folky, with a little jazzy stuff thrown in sometimes. It's a very kind of uplifting kind of music.

JD: If I were to track down a song to play, what would you recommend?

Pat: I would recommend…gosh, hard to pick one. "Grateful Heart" is a very good one, and "Make Those Changes" is also a very good one.

One Journey - Grateful Heart (2010)

From the 2010 CD "Encompass Me" by One Journey, that was "Grateful Heart"

This is JD Doyle with Queer Music Heritage, and this is just Part 1. You can find Part 2 on my website, logically at queermusicheritage.com, and that segment is all about the New Harmony Sisterhood Band. Part 3 includes an interview with Nancy Vogl telling us about the Berkeley Women's Music Collective, and there's a smaller bonus segment with some other goodies.

I'm closing with a song by the Chicago Rock Band, co-written by Susan Abod, of the Chicago Band, and Jennifer Abod, of the New Haven Band, called "Ain't Gonna Marry."

Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band - Ain't Gonna Marry (1972)


New Harmony Sisterhood Band - Can You Imagine (1981, live)

This is JD Doyle with Part 2 of Queer Music Heritage for April, and that song, called "Can You Imagine," was introduced by its writer, Katie Tolles, and it comes from a 1981 cassette tape called "New Harmony Sisterhood Band Reunion." She and Deborah Silverstein, Kendall Hale, Pat Ouellette and Marcia Deihl were the members of that band, and Marcia is going to give us kind of a guided tour of its music and history. And then I also got Katie Tolles to add some comments later in the segment. I'll mention that Marcia has been in quite a number of bands since the 70's and was in the New Harmony Sisterhood Band from 1973 until it broke up in 1980. And, for some trivia, she also played on one of my favorite historic albums, "Walls to Roses." My first question for Marcia was how the New Harmony Sisterhood Band got started.

Marcia Deihl Interview

JD: Tell us about the how the New Harmony Sisterhood Band got started?

Marcia Deihl: How the New Harmony Sisterhood Band got started. I was attending a school called Cambridge-Goddard Graduate School for Social Change, starting in the fall of 1973. I had graduated with a music degree, music history and education degree with a harpsichord major at Boston University, in 1971. And I had become so radicalized by the Kent State and Martin Luther King Jr. killings, and feminism, and I had friends that I worked for who were socialists and Marxists, and I just decided not to go to graduate school, because it was so elitist. So for two years I just worked and I couldn't do any music, because the music that I knew was classical and it served almost always a certain portion of the population, the one percent, and friends. And I was really depressed, because I loved music and I couldn't see a way to do it that made sense to me, given the political…the revolution that was in the air.

And then after two years of that I saw an ad for a women's music component for a feminist culture master's degree, and so I ate my words and did go back to graduate school, and this was a wacky…it was an outpost of Cambridge, in Goddard. The different seminars were really very, very radical. One of them was organizing in factories, and that's the one that Kendall, the fiddle player, was in. So I was in the music one, and my advisor was named Lannie Liggera, and then we found a couple wanted to audit it, Deborah Silverstein and Katie Tolles. They were interested in women and feminism in music.

Even before that I had joined a group called the Red Basement Singers. There was a radical feminist bookstore in Cambridge called the Red Bookstore. Somebody put up an ad "you want to sing radical songs?" and I answered it and so did Kendall and so did Deborah. Actually we met there, and sang international solidarity songs, old English ballads about killing the landlord, all kinds of stuff. So we realized in this auditing class that everybody in the class played an instrument, and we just started playing songs together. We had three guitars, and I was living at Rounder Records at the time, and so we were hearing songs like "Lavender Jane Loves Women." They always, Rounder always carried all kinds of not just folk music and bluegrass, but alternate music. So they had Kay Gardner's "Lavender Jane" in their huge library. There wasn't any furniture, it was just records. We heard Hazel & Alice's (Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard) first album. We found out about Meg Christian, and so we would just study these songs and learn Hazel Dickens and we played them with our three guitars. And eventually over time we played for Cambridge-Goddard women's events and people said, this is good, keep doing it. And so over the next couple of years people wrote songs. I decided to play mandolin, and fiddle, cause I was just getting into old-time music. Deborah started writing songs. Kendall was always a great violin and viola player. Katie stuck with guitar and so did Deborah, and that's how we started.

And then Kendall, who was the lesbian, we were learning a lot from her, and over time everybody in the band, except for Lannie, was either a lesbian or bisexual, over the six years we were together. You know, I was getting this degree and had to write a thesis. Kendall wanted to organize factories and write gay songs. Deborah was kind of more a folk singer, from Pennsylvania. Katie was kind of a Quaker, wrote songs about peace and love. And then Pat joined the band after I'd met her in a bank, and told her she should be in the band, cause I knew she had been in New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Band. So that's about two year's worth, and it gelled with Pat came. So that's my answer.

JD: I want to get to some of the individual songs, let's start with "Sojourner Truth"

Marcia: Lannie…Lannie Laggera wrote it, in probably '74 or so and brought it to the band and sang it, and she put the pretty famous speech by Sojourner Truth, which actually was recorded, when she testified that women should be able to vote, and she said "I've worked harder than a man, and I've had 13 children and how dare you tell me I can't vote. And Lannie wrote it and we worked it up.

New Harmony Sisterhood Band - Sojourner Truth (1977)

"Ain't I a Woman" is the name of the album and the main line from the song "Sojourner Truth." My next question had kind of a preamble. In an article written by Kendall Hale, in 1976, she described herself as representing Marxism-Leninism, and the various members as being a feminist anarchist, a socialist feminist, a lesbian feminist anarchist and a libertarian. Did these different approaches cause any friction within the band?

Marcia: Oh, boy, did they. I think they pretty much split it up, in the end. I mean, we played material, and everyone wrote songs, so one person would bring in a song about women of the world throwing off the chains of oppression. Another one would bring in a song about her lesbian lover, peace in the world, and people wrote songs from their experiences. Kendall wrote great songs about trying out as a go-go dancer. So people would fight for their songs, lobby for their songs. The way I can put it is Kendall came from a middle-class family and a pretty academic background, and she had about a year or two of college and then became a radical. And she was working in a factory or on a shipyard at one point, and she was in a…out of her class came a group of people who were undercover Marxist-Leninist organizers, in the factories, so they had their factory identity, and they considered themselves the vanguard and the only true line. And Pat came from working class French-Canadian parents, and was in law school, working hard to raise herself up in law school. And the two of them were just really not happy about each other's choices. I mean, Pat could not see how anyone would want a factory job. And Kendall felt why was Pat selling out and becoming a lawyer. What do they say, the personal is political.

JD: People were very passionate about their views in those days.

Marcia: It was their identity, yeah, so there definitely were clashes but I still think a six-year run is as good as the Beatles, and when we were hot, we were great.

JD: What kind of venues did you play?

Marcia: Everything, started out in the feminist studies program, did a lot of playing in colleges for women's centers, women's events, peoples' feminist studies classes. But when we went on tour in 1979 it was kind of a capsule. The first night we stayed with this guy who had a place called Ramblin' Conrads, in I think it was Virginia, kind of folkies, and we just kept staying in people's houses, and the next night we'd be at a Unitarian Church and another night we'd be in a lesbian…some kind of lesbian community event. It was a whole range from young womyn with a "y" to kind of straight Unitarian liberal people and to the most radical of the radicals, socialist feminist, lesbian feminist. And there was also a lot of stuff with separatism going on, within the band and outside the band. And we played at both National Women's Music Festivals. We played at the second Michigan (Womyn's Music) Festival, and I think the first place we played was Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.

JD: How about the song "Ballad," which Deborah wrote?

Marcia: Yeah, again it was one of the early ones and she wrote it and brought it in. In her case it was pretty much about friends, women friends and the possibility that they could be lovers and that men came first, of course, because that's the way it was in the 60's. You know, I had a very best friend, in high school, and that really moved me and made me realize that we coulda, shoulda, woulda been lovers, but we didn't know that you could do that, and that men didn't have to come first. And it was just another beautiful song, and I think women heard it, and it had a certain vulnerability…like, I was so shy, you were so brave…and I think a lot of people just related to it.

New Harmony Sisterhood Band - Ballad (1977)

JD: Were these events…I guess it's not fair to look back on them…were they mostly straight, mostly lesbian?

Marcia: I would say half and half.

JD: I was thinking to myself in those days it might have been like one of those diagrams, with the overlapping circles, with women, feminists and lesbians, and some were in all three groups and some were not.

Marcia: Absolutely, yup, and then we had our fans from all those groups who would come when we did…when we self-produced a concert and rented a hall, they'd all come.

JD: And each group was probably thirsty for what they wanted to hear about…play the lesbian song!

Marcia: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. Our audience was a microcosm of the band, and the ones we actually agreed to play on it was a huge range, so they all had their own main audience.

JD: Tell me about how the album happened?

Marcia: How the album happened…I know that a guy named Tim Patterson had moved to town, and he was connected to Barbara Dane and Irwin Silver in New York. I know that Tim Patterson came to hear us, and he was kind of a scout from Barbara Dane. She may have seen our songs in "Sing Out" and contacted us and said I want to do a record of your band. And she didn't like our song "Amelia Earhart, which was kind of a very bourgeois bluegrass song. And she actually wanted us to change some of our songs so the endings were more Marxist-Leninist, cause she and Irwin were Marxist-Leninists. So meanwhile they weren't…they didn't object to the lesbian stuff…it was kind of an uncomfortable fit. So basically they had a record label called Paradon, and they'd done international liberation songs, but we were their first, I think their first women's album.

JD: Also, from the LP "Unfinished Business" is the most openly gay song, lyrically, talk about that one and how it was received in concert.

Marcia: Very well, I mean, we just always had women's audiences. The thing was, you notice the name on the credits?

JD: I.M. Reluctant

Marcia: Yeah, which is Deborah. She wasn't out to her parents yet, when she wrote it. It went over great. We basically never sang for bigots, I guess, and evidentially Deborah did come out, but it was really…you know, people's parents were not cool with this stuff, and I think we were supposed to stay at her parent's house in Pennsylvania when we toured, and then they said, you're not welcome. I mean, there was a lot of pain involved.

JD: I'm going to play the song after this comment, so kind of set up what the song is about for me.

Marcia: It's about a woman who realizes she's a lesbian, and it's kind of on her mind and she actually talks to the person she's thinking about, and then talks about how society is stupid for being bigoted.

New Harmony Sisterhood Band - Unfinished Business (1977)

JD: Deborah Silverstein wrote "All Our Lives," could you talk about that song?

Marcia: Yeah, that's about the band, cause when we started playing, and men came to our concerts…nice, liberal, well-meaning men came to our concerts. There was also a men's movement, anti-sexist, feminist men's movement…like, the record "Walls to Roses" came out of that. And men would come up…it didn't happen to me but apparently it happened to Deborah, which is why she wrote the song…to say, gee, you don't write love songs and it makes us feel…one of my friends in one of my other bands came to our concert, I was in a string band with a bunch of men, and Joe was this big, funny bass player, and he says, "Marcia, your songs made my hooter swivel up." Apparently we were swiveling up hooters…but you know, these men are trying to be supportive to women and trying to be good feminists, and they were wondering why we didn't sing about them. And I would always say, look, I love men, I love any individual man. What I'm against is sexism. It's a power structure thing. So I think the song is totally self-explanatory, when she says other people are singing love songs…you turn on a radio, and you'll hear a woman who lives and dies for her man. And our band doesn't need to cover those, cause there's so many others.

New Harmony Sisterhood Band - All Our Lives (1977)

JD: Now your band had a solid musical background. There were some bands who were not so solid, but it was important for them just to be able to do it.

Marcia: Oh, yeah, well, we always had conflicts about professionalism, and I was usually the snobby one, that thought we weren't tight enough, or arranged enough, and I would get called on, being elitist and bossy. And, you know, a lot of the male bluegrass bands were pretty pissed because we packed the halls, we could get 500 people, playing bluegrass, this would be a bluegrass audience, but it would also be a huge women's audience. And they would get 50 people, and they were like, we play much better than you, how come you get so many…I mean, I had a boyfriend at the time, who was in the music world, and he would get so upset that we had so many people and we weren't even that good. And I just kind of said, oh well.

JD: There's more to the pie than what he was thinking of.

Marcia: We had more political and…we had more content and it wasn't just music. It was music and politics.

JD: What do you consider the legacy of your band?

Marcia: Well, again I think of us as a microcosm of the Boston women's movement at the time. The only thing that we didn't have in our band was liberals, like you went thorough that list…socialist, feminist, Marxist, anarchist…we were leftists and women, and when the six of us were at our height there was a magic from all those points of view…musical magic, I listen to some of our stuff and at the time it was, oh, we should be so much better, and I'm really blown away by some of the things on our album, and our reunion tape. I'm really…I'm impressed by myself, in spite of myself, because we didn't make money. We met once a week and practiced, but we really had a magic, musically and sociologically, I guess, and we were such good friends.

JD: I know you did in concert "Ode to a Gym Teacher." That's kind of unique because I can't think of anyone else doing that.

Marcia: Well, we brought in songs we liked, as well as songs we wrote. That was always a huge hit. I still sing that one, I've sung it fairly recently. We all just played each other's stuff all the time.

New Harmony Sisterhood Band - Ode to a Gym Teacher (1981)

JD: How about Bev Grant's song, was that fun to do?      [ see Paid My Dues, V1-4, P.38 ]

Marcia: Fuckers.

JD: "Tired of Fuckers."

Marcia: We loved that, I mean, that separated the girls from the boys, or…it separated the grandmothers from the women. In fact, I was trying to publish the songbook, "All Our Lives," and I worked for a publisher, and he kept taking my book to New York, and all they could talk about was the f-word. It was like, you can't put that word in there. And then Bev originally wrote it as bastards, "tired of bastards, fucking over me" and she changed it because bastards were just people of unmarried women, and that wasn't a bad word. And now I don't think she likes to sing it anymore. I see her at peoples music festivals, and she's leading choruses, and singing in prisons, and she's a fantastic person. You should interview her.

JD: Is she lesbian?

Marcia: Nope.

JD: Okay, then I wont.

Marcia: (laughs) Sorry, I'm half-way so I get to be interviewed.

New Harmony Sisterhood Band - Tired of Fuckers (1981)

Bev Grant's song "Tired of Fuckers."

Katie Tolles Interview

If you were listening to Part 1 of the show, you know I spoke with Pat Ouelette about the New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Band. She was also in the New Harmony Sisterhood Band, as was her partner, Katie Tolles. So, while I was talking with Pat of course I asked Katie for some comments.

JD: I understand for the New Harmony Sisterhood band the personal politics of the band members were quite varied, do you think this helped the band, in getting a broader range of material out there, or just made things difficult?

Katie Tolles: Well, I think it probably broadened our material, and that was probably a good thing, but you know it was a struggle to sometimes to deal with those differences. In some ways it was about choosing the music, but we were pretty eclectic, so I think that we did something that was sort of from everybody's point of view, but it got in the way of some of the decisions we needed to make, or choices people made about their time, or the interpersonal dynamics, because I think we just basically decided we would do something of everybody's, and we had a lot of common ground. So, yeah, I think it probably contributed more than it than it took away, but it was a challenge at times.
JD: Do you have a favorite track from the album?

Katie: Well, probably, my personal favorite would have to be "Amelia Earhart," because it was such a joy and kind of a signature song for me personally. But I think one of the other best songs on the album was probably "Draglines." It was a wonderful song that Deborah wrote and it kind of had our classic harmony thing that we just developed organically.

New Harmony Sisterhood Band - Draglines (1977)

You and Pat co-wrote "Fat Farm," can you tell me about that one?

Katie: Well, it was her words and I did put some music to it. We never did it a whole lot, but as I said, everybody kind of got to do their own individual interests, and that was something that she at some point felt strongly about, and I was fine about writing a tune for things like that. I seem to respond well to assignments. I don't do a lot of songwriting but if somebody says, well, could you do this? Then I usually can come up with something.

The song is from their 1981 Reunion tape, and it has Pat introducing it.

New Harmony Sisterhood Band - Fat Farm (1981)

JD: I understand you met a partner in the New Harmony band.

Katie: Absolutely, yes, I did, the five of us I guess were playing and we wanted to have a bass player, and Pat came along and we just hit it off. And now we've played music together in another band for another bunch of years. Music has must been a wonderful connection for us in our lives.

JD: Do you have a favorite memory of being in the Harmony Band?

Katie: Well, the thing about it that was so amazing and was over and over again positive was that we were kind of expressing…we were sort of the voice of this movement that was going on, and we were singing about it and then in return being supported incredibly by our audiences, who were just kind of relishing this music, and seeing us play music as an all-women's group. It was a very high kind of experience, because it felt like we were the voice of this movement, like this energy was coming through you, so it was just this fantastic experience. And then if you love to sing, like I do, like that's sort of my favorite thing in the world to do, so what could be better, really.

JD: Pat kind of indicated to me that you played at so many community events, gay and lesbian events, that you were kind of the glue that held the community together.

Katie: Yeah, it felt like that, because people came together for concerts and rallies and demonstrations, so we got to be there and I think we served a purpose of gluing people together. But also we got to feel a lot of that energy, cause we were in the center of it.

JD: I can relate to that. In '79 I was editor of the gay newspaper in Norfolk and it's one of the experiences I'm most proud of in my life.

Katie: Yeah, that's the same kind of thing, cause you were hearing about all that was going on in the community, it was coming through you it was a remarkable experience.

JD: What lesbian feminist bands or artists were influential to you personally?

Katie: You know I would have to say that probably Meg Christian and Holly Near, probably the most influential, and then people who would probably not identify as feminists and definitely not as lesbian were also influential in terms like Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard were influential on our style of music, because they played traditional songs, similar to some of what we did.

JD: What other feminist or lesbian feminist bands were around at that time that did that style?

Katie: Well, there weren't a lot of them. When we went on a little tour we ran into some folks in…ooh, I want to say North Carolina…who were called the something-or-other string band.

JD: The Reel World…

Katie: The Reel World String Band. Right, so they did something like what we did.

JD: Not quite as political, I don't think.

Katie: No, they were not as political as we were. Gosh there just weren't very many groups like us, I think. There were tending to be some more rock & roll bands that were around at that time, but not many doing stuff like we were doing. Cause there was the women's band out in the Bay Area…

JD: Berkeley Women's Music Collective.

Katie: Yeah, right. Yeah, well, the Berkeley Women's Music Collective was more along the same lines as we were, I would say.

And I couldn't resist getting Pat back to also comment about the New Harmony Band.

Pat Ouellette Interview

JD: I asked you earlier if you had any special memories of the New Haven band. Do you have any favorite memories of being in the New Harmony band?

Pat: Hmm, yeah, actually we did a little tour, sort of south and west. We were down in Virginia and we went to also Kentucky, I think. We went to a few states there, but at one of the places. This was really great. We stayed with some people who were willing to put us up for the night, and it turned out that one of the people who lived in the house in which we were staying had been a student in the alternative school that shared a space with the place that the New Haven band rehearsed. Oh, I'm sorry, you had asked me about New Harmony. It was sort of a connection to both because she had been there when the New Haven band rehearsed, but now I was seeing her again as a grown-up when we were touring with New Harmony. So it was kind of a nice little connection there.

JD: Why do you think the New Harmony band broke up?

Pat: Well, I think it just at some point became a little difficult to accommodate everybody's needs in the group, and I think it just was…it just became more of a difficulty than it was fun, so I think that's probably why.

JD: Right, right, I've been in projects where you realize this isn't fun anymore.

Pat: Right, that's exactly right. And soon after that Katie and I moved to Western Massachusetts, so it wasn't long after that, that we left the Cambridge area

JD: What lesbian-feminist bands or artists were influential to you personally?

Pat: Well, you know, I mean…Holly Near. Holly Near is, I think, is probably one of my most amazing influences, just in terms of performance. I think she is just really a wonderful and continues to be a very skilled performer, so at ease and at home on the stage. And she combines everything. She talks about politics and she talks about her life and she talks about the music and she talks about her travels. To me that's been I think the most influential person, musically, in my life.

This is JD Doyle thanking you for tuning in for this edition of Queer Music Heritage. I thank Marcia Deihl, Pat Ouellette, Katie Tolles, and Susan Abod for the interviews, and I'm finishing up with Marcia telling us about the last song.

JD: Y'all did a concert in '81

Marcia: It was a cassette tape that Pat produced, yeah, it was called Reunion Concert.

JD: And there's an interesting list of songs on there. One of them caught my eye, Bonnie Lockhart's "Still Ain't Satisfied." I know that's kind of an anthem that's been over the years…lines have been changed to fit the situation, for example, the Occupy Movement. And I want to insert that Bonnie Lockhart wrote this around '74 and went on to be in the band Berkeley Women's Music Collective.

Marcia: Yeah, I thought she was in that when she wrote it.

JD: No, she was in an earlier band, which I just learned, called the Red Star Singers. And their album is available online for download, and it's on there. Talk about singing that one.

Marcia: It's about co-optation and it came out when things like Virginia Slims, you've come a long way baby, and it's pretty much saying, look, we don't want your condescending pats on the head in marketing. We want to change the world. "So they got women on TV but I still ain't satisfied, cause co-optation's all I see." It was a radical criticism of mainstream women's culture. And we added a verse for nukes. I sing it today and I have to change some of the verses, because abortion rights are not better off, they're worse off. So I have to sing "no reform or overturn is gonna change my tune" and I've had to update it in a negative way, cause we're worse off with those issues. It covered day care, it covered sexuality. That's one of my favorite lines. They say okay we'll sell the butch look, but they don't put queers back in the history books.

JD: I was surprised to hear that line.

Marcia: I love that line.

Here's the song "Still Ain't Satisfied."

New Harmony Sisterhood Band - Still Ain't Satisfied (1981)


Berkeley Women's Music Collective - No Thanks, Mister (1976)

"So rise up, Sisters, we need each other to demand equality." The song "No Thanks, Mister" is one of the tracks from one of the first very out of the closet lesbian bands of the 1970's, the Berkeley Women's Music Collective. This is JD Doyle bringing you Part 3 of my show on lesbian feminist bands of the '70's.

And the Berkeley band is one I just had to cover. Over its 6-year career the band had six different members, with the first main group being Nancy Vogl, Debbie Lempke, Susann Shanbaum and Nancy Henderson. An early member, Jake Lampert, left to be in the band Bebe K'Roche, and around the time of the recording of their first album, in late 1975. Nancy Henderson left and was replaced by Bonnie Lockhart. They toured the country extensively and released two albums, a self-titled one in '76, and "Tryin' to Survive" in 1978. And their music was full of feminist and lesbian politics, as you might know by their anthem "Gay & Proud." But you'll hear more about that later.

That's the nutshell version, but I'm delighted to go into more detail with a special interview with Nancy Vogl. Naturally, my first question was how the Berkeley Women's Music Collective got started.

Nancy Vogl Interview

Nancy: Well, what seemed to be occurring were hot pockets of cities where women were gravitating to certain key hot pockets. Iowa City, believe it or not, was a hot bed of radical feminism in the late '60's, and Boston of course, and so Berkeley was starting to generate some kind of scene for the '70's. And so Debbie Lempke moved down from Oregon where she was living, and put up a notice at the local food co-op, and I moved into what was called Derby Dyke House, and so there were 13 women living in the old Governor's Mansion, in Berkeley. And so it was this kind of rotating dyke house and we lived collectively. So I moved there and Debbie put up her sign in the co-op and then Nancy Henderson, who saw the sign…two weeks later we had a meeting at Derby Dyke House, and so the four of us just started a band, and then Susann Shanbaum moved down from Oregon, and we needed a bass player, cause that's how people played bass in those days..oh, everybody played guitar but we always needed a bass player, so Susann played bass. And that was it, and so she put up the sign and then two weeks later we started practicing.

JD: Do you know what year this was?

Nancy: Yeah, let's see, that was…it would be November of '73.

JD: So, did the band live together?

Nancy: Just two of us. Nancy was in Derby Dyke House and I was there. Everyone else lived in Berkeley.

JD: Okay, I was wondering how literal the word collective was for the band.

Nancy: Oh, we took that word because collectives were the new iconic symbol of a new world. So there was the press collective, the print collective, the food collective, everybody was doing collectives, so we just took that model.

JD: I love that on the back cover of your first album (1976) it starts out 'we are lesbians'….

Nancy: Well, at that time we wanted to be as radical as possible.

JD: You were probably the most out early lesbian band

Nancy: We were the maddest, I think.

JD: The angriest.

Nancy: Yeah, you know I had grown up my whole life never practically hearing the word lesbian. And when I did I remember I looked it up in an old psychology book and there was this woman who looked like she'd been strung out on heroin for thirty years. She was smoking a cigar, wearing an old suit and a tie. And she just looked like a decrepit …I don't know…so we thought if that's the only image people have we have to blow it up.

JD: Right, right, let people know there are other images to look at.

Nancy: Absolutely, yeah.

JD: So how did the music gel with the band?

Nancy: Well, we were all songwriters, because at that time women in music had certain role models, I mean, Joni Mitchell had come out in the late '60's, Judy Collins, a lot of us listened to jazz, so we just brought whatever we had listened to, and then we all had a pile of songs that we had written in our teens and late teens. And we were all 22, 23 at the time when we all met. So we each had a storehouse of about ten songs and we just threw them all together and then arranged them. But Nancy Henderson was the only one who knew how to read music. They joke about everything is process in early lesbian days, because we didn't have the tools. We didn't have any tools to work with, so it all had to be from feeling. So we would say, "go from, you know where it goes dut dut, go add one more dut dut dut there." And it was excruciating, it was just excruciating. "Where do you mean?" "No, not at the end of the chorus, right at the end of the verse." And so half of our time was taken up with this ridiculous effort to try to communicate. And so then in '76 Susann and Debbie enrolled in Berkeley School of Music and so they went back to Boston during the school year, and then we would come play music during the summer. So they learned a lot of music tools of course cause they learned the language.

JD: Talk about Susann's song "Tryin' to Survive."

Nancy: Yeah, so there's Susann in L.A. sticking out like a sore thumb, and wanting to come out, and at that time, it's sixty…she was in high school, so it would have been '67. You know, that wasn't done, you know what I mean. And so she had a lot of baggage. So that's why she wrote "Thorazine," and "Tryin' to Survive" is that it was just almost impossible to be who you wanted to be in a context where you were vilified and shouldn't exist. Basically the message was you shouldn't exist. And I think that "Tryin' to Survive" was again an expression of the personal is political.

BWMC - Tryin' to Survive (1978)

JD: I read an article that Susann wrote for PMD in 1979, and it's interesting because she didn't talk about the music, but instead mostly about the business end, the mechanics of the band, how work was split up, etc. There must have been a challenging aspects to all that.

Nancy: We didn't know anything. We didn't know how to do anything. We made everything up. So I kind of used to do art; I was the hippie type, so I did t-shirts and the graphics. And Susann had actually been trained as the first woman Xerox repair person in, I think, the West Coast, and she ran around Berkeley fixing all the Xerox machines. So she was technically-oriented so started doing sound. And so we would just divide up our roles based on what we had a proclivity for, what we enjoyed, and then you became the boss of that.

JD: How did figure out whose songs got performed or included in the albums?

Nancy: You know, it was pretty much…doing our sets we would divide it equally, so each of us got two songs per set. And then we would just, through a lot of agony, really…what we learned is that if everybody throws out what they want on the table, then you negotiate about getting your wants and needs met, rather than not saying what you want, and having it come up in some bizarre non-related way later. So what we learned to do is say "I think these are the two best, I'm going to fight to the death, and if I don't win, then I'll just be a good sport and move on.

JD: I figured it had to be pretty democratic, cause I did the math with the writer's credits, and on both albums they were split almost exactly evenly.

Nancy: Oh, really, well that didn't come out consciously. We just made it happen, I suppose.

JD: Other than the slightly different personnel, what were the main differences between the two albums, made two years apart, in musical styles and overall messages?

Nancy: Well, I think the messages were pretty much the same, because we kind of embodied lesbian-feminist-socialist…you know, separatism was a big deal then, and whether it was a political ideological separatism, or it was just how we happened to…how we happened to roll in our personal lives…you know, all my friends were lesbians, I hung out with lesbians, and I just didn't know many men who could be comfortable in that scene. We saw power dynamics and the corruption of power, so a big part of the band was really deconstructing power in terms of who had it, how they got it, and what they did with it. And those were the three things that I think embodied a kind of a wing of lesbian culture.

JD: I'm curious, the two albums were distributed by Olivia, but were not on the Olivia label, what were the factors involved with that. Did you all just want them to be on your own label?

Nancy: No, Olivia at the time had their own…what do you call it, stable? Artists thing…and they had their own collective. They were a collective and they had their own artists, and yet on the other hand here they had a national distribution network because of the artists, and because they were in business. So it seemed reasonable to just piggyback on what they had already created. But we weren't Olivia artists in the way that they would provide tour support, backing, booking and all that. So we were on our own but they just decided to distribute it, cause it made sense.

JD: Right, more of a business decision.

Nancy: Yeah, and the way that Redwood Records started distributing a lot, cause they again had the infrastructure

JD: Was it common in the 70s for women musicians to perform songs by other musicians? Like, at the music festivals.

Nancy: Well, not as much cause we were all such frustrated singer-songwriters. That was pretty much the ID of the genre, is that you would bring your own stuff to the table, and express your guts out from your own personal experience. But some songs became really popular, and so if you didn't have enough material, or you wanted to cover somebody else's tunes. But I mean for the most part I think it was our own stuff.

JD: What prompted that question was, I believe the Clinch Mountain Backsteppers were singing "The Bloods" before it was actually on your album.

Nancy: Well, right, because Mary Wings and Debbie Lempke were together up in Portland. So Debbie was playing the banjo, and Mary…that's where Debbie wrote "The Bloods." So then Debbie and Mary broke up and Deb moved down to Berkeley. So then Mary still knew the tune, and then Mary and Robin started playing together with Woody Simmons, and so we were all friends. That's why the co-mingling of material.

And here's a very rare recording, from the 1974 National Women's Music Festival of Robin Flower, Woody Simmons and Mary Wings, aka the Clinch Mountain Backsteppers, singing live, "The Bloods."

Clinch Mountain Backsteppers - The Bloods (1974)

The Clinch Mountain Backsteppers. And I also asked Nancy about that song.

Nancy: Well, Debbie was a little ahead of us and was writing this material, and I think she felt it…as I say, all of our songs were an expression of our personal experiences, cause the personal is political, that was such a big part of movement, when we were finding each other. And so, Debbie was pretty butch, and frankly not classically attractive in the dominant cultural iconic look for a young woman. And so she stood out more and she felt it more, and she got a lot of shit when she was a kid. And she was a tomboy, that she didn't outgrow. Her self-expression, her survival had to come out, and she came out in her music sooner than us…I could pass a little bit more, I mean, I was certainly angry but I didn't experience the vilification that she did. So my political music came later. But hers was a personal, real personal expression, so "Gay and Proud" she wrote, and "The Bloods," for her was just her own view of the world coming out.

So, lets hear the same song, by the Berkeley band, from their 1976 LP.

BWMC - The Bloods (1976)

JD: Well, Susann wrote "Fury"

Nancy: Yup, we were all in Berkeley so there was a lot going on. We could see the inequalities around us, and Susann's class background gave her a lot of hostility toward middle and upper class. All of our experiences we all threw together. So class, not so much ethnicity, but Susann and Debbie are Jewish so culturally we had some struggles around that. It was an educational time to throw everything together.

BWMC - Fury (1976)

And not all songs were full of politics. Here's a sweet one Nancy wrote for the second album, called "Back to Boston."

BWMC - Back to Boston (1978)

JD: Considering the lifespan of many bands, this one lasted a while. Why did the band end? And when?

Nancy: Hmm, let's see, why did it end? It was '79. We played Michigan (Womyn's Music Festival). So we were together from '73 to '79. I think Susann and Debbie, after going to school in Boston, they really wanted to move back East. Debbie was from New York, and love the East Coast feel, and so she wanted to move back to Boston for a while. And then Susann loved being back East, and so she wanted to move there. And it just got too hard to do a bi-coastal band. And I think we maybe thought we had said everything that we wanted to say then, in that configuration. And I was starting in my off-times to play with Robin Flower. So Robin and I were starting to think about touring together, so we did that, so I think it was time. Six years is plenty.

JD: Yeah, that's a good amount.

JD: What do you think is the legacy of the Berkeley Women's Music Collective?

Nancy: You got me. You know, everything's in a context, so not to be a revisionist you have to think, what were we in a movement and in an awakening of what women had never experienced. And so, what we saw, we were a band, we were trying to work collectively. We were trying to counter sort of the individual idolization that we saw from the dominant culture. But you can't take people out of a dominant culture and stick them into a subculture, without having lots of trappings of what came before.

Nancy: So for us this is an awkward question because it was really so much projection. So that we would go to these concerts and the woman on the stage embodied everything that we wanted to be or say. And so women began to live out their lives through the fantasies of the artist that they saw. And so it was much easier to throw your heart into Meg Christian, Teresa Trull, Cris Williamson, Tret Fure…you know, these individual women, and so what we saw in our own experience was that it was challenging for a women's audience to embrace a band, in the same way that they embraced a solo performer, because there was a certain amount of projection and fantasy going on. And I don't say that with a pejorative attitude. I'm just saying, that's what was going on. The big book that hasn't been written and the big movie that hasn't been created, is what it was like to be in a band in the early women's movement when one performer would get paid three times what the band was getting paid. And so we would divide it amongst four musicians and a sound woman, and yet we would get one third of the salary of the solo performer who was there the week before.

Nancy: And I'm not saying this in a bitter way. I'm saying if you look at the way reality was, that was the way the movement broke down, and so it was challenging for us. It was part of the frustration.

JD: Well, you were one of the first openly lesbian bands.

Nancy: Absolutely.

JD: Like, Mountain Moving Day, they weren't openly lesbian, or even all lesbian.

Nancy: Well, at this point for us it was like, give it a break, we were all wearing motorcycle boots and flannel shirts, no one's going to take us for Mary Tyler Moore.

JD: Did your band perform Bonnie's song "Still Ain't Satisfied"?

Nancy: Oh, sure, yeah, yeah. I mean, that's a classic.

JD: But you never recorded it. That's too bad.

Nancy: Didn't record it, Robin Flower recorded it on her second CD, second album, sorry.

Well, I do have a live recording of the song to share with you by the band, as done in 1976 at the National Women's Music Festival.

BWMC - Still Ain't Satisfied (1976)

I've got another live recording treat, and this time it was from the 1979 National Women's Music Festival. The song was not on their albums, although it did show up later as an instrumental on Nancy's first solo album. She wrote it and there's lots of fine guitar work on this one. It's called "Do You Remember?"

BWMC - Do You Remember (1979)

I sent Nancy a mp3 of that song and she wrote me back that she was floored. She said she had not thought about that song in 30 years, and didn't even remember ever performing it.

JD: From the second album you had a song called "Darling Companion"

Nancy: Yeah, just total personal expression, I was looking at our lives as young women, and the role models that we had as our mothers and how they were just diametrically opposed to what the expectations were of what our lives would be. I grew up in a very, very, very sexist household, and I was pretty critical of my mother, although again, it just shows my intolerance and my attempt to decide that my mother should think what I think. But it was certainly my expression at the time, this whole idea that we were pre-ordained. I was going to grow up and marry a second lieutenant. That was what my childhood fantasy was up until, I don't know, I was ten or something. And I wouldn't have to think about anything, because my husband would do everything for me, cause that's the way my parents were.

BWMC - Darling Companion (1978)

I want to insert a bit of bio info for Nancy Vogl. After being in the Berkeley band, she toured extensively, mostly with Susann Shambaum and Robin Flower, she played on a number of albums by other artists, like Woody Simmons, Trish Nugent, Holly Near, and others. She released two solo albums, "Something To Go On," in 1984, on Redwood Records, and "Flight of the Dancer," in 1986, on Olivia.

I asked her to talk just a moment about her "Something To Go On" album.

Nancy: Well, I guess "Something To Go On," the whole second side, those are guitar duets that Susann and I did together. And I think…I think what makes that unique is that to this day I don't think that I have heard two women playing the guitar doing duets that are like that. I mean, Susann and I fit together musically just unbelievably…we known each other since we were 23, I'm 62. Her lines are just these delicate…both delicate and powerful, and what I do is set a pretty sophisticated rhythm, and she just takes off across the top. That album, the second side, those I guess are the pinnacle of my guitar playing, for the most part, I'd say. And I think that album, the second side I'm super proud of.

And then she began her career in youth counseling, and that's what she wanted to talk about when I asked her near the end of our interview if there was anything I had not asked her yet, but I should ask.

Nancy: Well, anything, just the last, is to say that I work with young people today. I run a gay and lesbian and bisexual, transgender youth group, and I also work in another job. I work with kids on probation in the juvenile justice system, and I can only say to all your listeners that…one of the things that we say in Positive Images, which is the youth group here, is that so many of us didn't have children…our own…but I can only leave this with your audience, that anybody who lived through the '70's, and is an active senior now, there is so much to contribute to today's youth, and to share the history that we had…not like we know everything…but just give them a sense of continuity, mentoring and getting out there and working with young people.

And I was also glad she remembered to update us on her old band.

Nancy: Okay, I just want to make sure I've talked about all my bandmates as much. Susann is still playing music…oh, oh, oh, one more thing…Susann and I play in a band called Polkanomics.

JD: I have your CD.

Nancy: Oh, you do! Oh, awesome. So Susann is still playing and we play out here in Northern California, and just have fun, it's a blast. And Debbie has a music store back in Boston, Wooden Strings Music Shop, so if anybody goes to Boston, check her out. And then Nancy Henderson teaches Special Ed in Berkeley. And Bonnie Lockhart is still playing music and is pretty big in the Occupy Oakland movement.

JD: Right, she has a version of "Still Ain't Satisfied" on Youtube, with different lyrics.

Nancy: Excellent, excellent, yeah, Bonnie's always out there.

Also during my conversation with Nancy, she told me she has a new CD that's almost ready for release, and she'd mail a demo copy to me. And she did, and I think it's excellent. She had a lot of impressive help on it: produced by June Millington, with musicians and vocalists including Erica Luckett, Barbara Higbie, Robin Flower, Libby McClaren, Linda Tillery, Jean Millington, and a few others. It's like a mini-Women's Music Festival.

The CD is called "Every Gift, Every Dream," and she said even though it's not released, I could play from it on my show. I can't pass that up. This song she described as an homage to Woman's Music, and is called "She Knows Just Right."

Nancy Vogl - She Knows Just Right (2012)

JD: In the 70s you were right in the middle of women's music history, and you worked with the cream of the crop: Holly Near, Robin Flower, Woody Simmons, Barbara Higbie, there has to be almost no words to describe those experiences, but, could you try…

Nancy: Well, I think in other times in history where you have a confluence of some kind of mercurial indescribable confluence of historical context, plus personalities. I mean, the only thing I can describe it as is the way that they talk about Paris in the twenties, where you had people who were starving intellectually or artistically…had to come together…really and again I guess it comes down to survival, is that there's something so stultifying about the dominant culture, that you have to find each other, to remind each other that there's another way of being, or expressing, or being alive, or something. And so, that's what I felt like was happening. Women were beginning to look dialectically at the dominant culture, the stereotyping, the image that we were supposed to be, and yet none of us felt.

Nancy: Growing up in an expanding 1950's and 1960's economy, we had more privilege…many of us…had more privilege, we had more education, and suddenly the expectations no longer suited who we were. And so it was an exciting, invigorating, absolutely heady experience, because instead of saying, okay, your life is this, do this…it was, what we said to each other, is what's your life and what are you going to do about it. That's like turning life upside down on its head from what we knew. And so from town to town we were meeting the most creative, the most independent, the most exciting, the most…sort of the most alive women in all the towns who were getting together and making things happen. And yes, you're right, it was just an absolutely exciting time to be alive, and really kept us waking up everyday.

JD: Is there a BWMC song of which you're the most proud?

Nancy: Well, that's a good question. You know, our anthem, really, I mean, to say that we recorded this song…I guess we did our first album in what…I think it was seventy…we recorded in '75, I think it came out in '76. I suppose at that time, that fact that we had written a song "Gay & Proud," that Debbie wrote, that says a lot about who we were.

JD: Would you want to expand on "Gay & Proud" any?

Nancy: Well, just the title alone speaks volumes for where the movement was at the time, because it was before lesbians had split off. Gay meant what it means now if you're not really aware that…gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, I mean that…it was the gay movement. And so that's why she wrote "Gay & Proud." That speaks volumes about where we were as a movement, because from then on we were lesbians, we would never write "Gay & Proud." I think our being willing to shout it out gave permission for other women, and other people, to shout it out.

BWMC - Gay & Proud (1976)


Flying Lesbians - I'm a Lesbian, How About You? (1975)

This is JD Doyle, and I'm back with kind of bonus segment for the show this month. I introduced it with a lesbian band from Germany not usually thought of when we discuss the lesbian bands of the '70's, and that's a shame, as they deserve some of that spotlight as well. It would be hard to be more blatant than a band calling themselves The Flying Lesbians, and as you heard, singing "I'm a Lesbian, How About You?" That was one of only three songs sung in English on the self-titled 1975 album.

But the main reason for this extra segment is that my interview in Part 1 with Susan Abod was so good that all of it would not fit in Part 1 of the show, and we covered I think some quite interesting areas of this history, so I'm sharing that here. Before we start I want to play a song by Casse Culver, as we'll be talking about her right away in the interview.

Casse Culver - I'm Late Again (1976)

That came from Casse Culver's 1976 LP "Three Gypsies. Yes, I know that wasn't a band, but her project of recording that album was almost like its own women's music festival, as helping on the album were at least a dozen well-known women musicians. So of course I would ask Susan about that.

Susan Abod Interview, Part 2

JD: Well, You have a bit of women's music history outside of the liberation bands, and one is working on Casse Culver's album. Could you talk about that? It's kind of historic grouping of people.

SA: Yeah, it was great. We were in Maine, and yeah, Margie Adam and Willie Tyson and Kay Gardner was there, and…

JD: I'm looking at the album, I'm cheating, Maxine Feldman, Robin Flower…

SA: Yeah, it was really great, and we were staying at Shirley Watt and Joanie; they had a beautiful cabin in Maine. So we stayed there and we did the recording at Noel Stookey's recording studio, of Peter, Paul & Mary. That was just fantastic.

JD: The feeling of that must been extraordinary, with all these vital artists together.

SA: Yeah, it really was fun. We had a lot of fun. Maxine was there and we had a blast. You know, I fell in love with Willie, we started our relationship there, and it was great to have that happen at the same time, it was very romantic and it was like a collective and it was really fun. So I loved it, I had a great time.

JD: And you worked on at least a couple of Willie's albums, right?

SA: Yeah, I was the music director for two of her albums. I was totally blown away that she asked me, and it was a great leap of faith on her part, and I really grew a lot. Yeah, "The Debutante" album we were in D.C. together and I was the music director for that, and arranged the music. And then her last one was "Willie Tyson," which we did in Nashville.

JD: In this show if I play one song of Willie's, which one should I play?

SA: I think "Debutante Ball" has a great, feminist wonderful story. "Stealing Heart" is also great, "Witching Hour," they're all wonderful.

Okay, I know I introduced this entire show as about feminist bands, but I've been wanting to spotlight WillieTyson for some time, and as she and Susan were partners, well, this is a great time. So, let's hear the first one Susan suggested I play by Willie. From the 1977 album "Debutante," here's "Debutante Ball"

Willie Tyson - Debutante Ball (1977)

JD: One of the songs you co-wrote, and it's "You Look…

SA: Oh, "You Look Swell in Nothing," I still do that.

JD: And it's on your CD.

SA: That's right, that's right, you know that.

Okay, let's hear Susan's version of "You Look Swell in Nothing," from her 2001 CD "In the Moment."

Susan Abod - You Look Swell in Nothing (2001)

And now here's Willies version, from 1979, and remember this at the peak of disco.

Willie Tyson - You Look Swell in Nothing (1979)

I'm going to insert a bit of info on Willie Tyson. I understand she was a very funny storyteller. Her songs could be humorous and biting, and she performed all through the 70's releasing three albums: "Full Count," in 1974, "Debutante," in 1977, which included as musicians Robin Flower and Kay Gardner, and "Willie Tyson" in 1979. "Full Count," was advertized in Women's Music magazines, like Paid My Dues, as her first album, but I only recently found that was not correct. In 1972 there was a very rare album released under the name Selah Willola Tyson, called "Sweet William of the West." It would be essentially impossible to find, and I saw one eBay reference from 2008 that a copy sold for $393. So I'm very appreciative of a fanatic collector in Italy who's been uploading rare music to Youtube. The entire album is there. And here's a bit of one of the songs, "Hard Movin' Woman." It has a touch of Bob Dylan to it.

Willie Tyson (Selah) - Hard Movin' Woman (1972)
Willie Tyson (Selah) - Pat Thomas (1972)

And, Pat Thomas won that election, to the Florida House of Representatives, and I surely would not have expected a campaign jingle by Willie Tyson, but it was also on that 1972 album.

So, that was the rest of my interview with Susan Abod, but there was also some conversation that did not fit into Part 2 of the show.

After the interview part of my conversation with Marcia Deihl, of the New Harmony Sisterhood Band, we talked a few minutes about what other feminist women's bands I might include in this show if there were time. So here are a couple of those. First, the Arlington St. Women's Caucus. This was a large group that spring out of a Unitarian Church in Boston in 1972. In 1973 the Mother's Day service at the church opened with a large procession of women, singing Carolyn McDade's song "We Might Come In A-Fightin'." And they were wearing signs on their backs that said "bitch." It was recorded on their first, of two, albums, "Honor Thy Womanself," in 1974, and it's sung here by Carolyn McDade and Terry Dash.

Arlington St. Women's Caucus - We Might Come In A-Fightin' (1974)
Reel World String Band - What She Aims to Be (1982)
Reel World String Band - Trouble in Mind (1988)

After the Arlington St. Women's Caucus was the Reel World String Band, which has been active since 1977, and the coal mining song "What She Aims to Be" was from around 1982, and I also played by that band "Trouble in Mind," from 1988.

In my Nancy Vogl interview it was mentioned that a very early member of the Berkeley Women's Music Collective was Jake Lampert, and that she left to join the band Bebe K'Roche. They had an album in 1976 on Olivia, and were much less political. They had kind of a jazzy, sometimes Latin sound, and I think their best known song is probably "Kahlua Mama."

Bebe K'Roche - Kahlua Mama (1976)

Now, I don't normally think of Alix Dobkin as being in a band, but if you look at her first album, it's billed as being by Lavender Jane, and that trio was Alix, Kay Gardner and Patches Attom. So, from that first openly lesbian album is the song "Talking Lesbian."

Lavender Jane - Talking Lesbian (1974)

Up next is a recording that rivals that Casse Culver album, when you think of the sheer talent that was helping out. The album is "Oregon Mountains," by Woody Simmons, and before it was released, in 1977, Woody had already been in the Clinch Mountain Backsteppers, with Robin Flower and Mary Wings, so they are on here. Add to that just about all the past and current members of the Berkeley Women's Music Collective, and Debbie Saunders, Laurie Lewis, and three members of the band Alive: Carolyn Brandy, Suzanne Vincenza, and Rhiannon, and more. For Woody Simmons album, I picked the title track, "Oregon Mountains."

Woody Simmons - Oregon Mountains (1977)
Clinch Mountain Backsteppers - June Apple (1974)

I got to meet Woody, at an awards event in Chicago, in 2005. She was backing up Kitty Rose, who was nominated for an award that year, and won, and when I went up to meet Kitty at a party I was totally surprised when she introduced Woody. I think I was more excited to meet Woody, but please, don't tell Kitty. And the short instrumental after Woody was the Cinch Mountain Backsteppers. Again that trio was Robin Flower, Mary Wings and Woody Simmons. That was an unreleased song by them, called "June Apple," from the very first National Women's Music Festival, in 1974.

This is JD Doyle and I'm closing this segment with a band from Australia called The Lavender Blues. In 1978 they released the very first album by a lesbian band in that country, and called it "Wake Up Sister." Ten years ago, on my March 2002 show I interviewed one of the band's members, Nikki Mortier, and that interview is still on my site. She told me about several of the albums songs. For example, their song "Lesbian Nation" talks about the division in that country at the time, similar to what we saw here, in the women's movement, with people in NOW booting the lesbians out of that organization. So the bitterness was very real, as in, we are working for women's causes but you won't work for lesbian causes. I'm closing with three songs from the album, "Lavender Blues," "Wake Up Sister," and "Lesbian Nation."

Lavender Blues - Lavender Blues / Wake Up Sister / Lesbian Nation (1978)