Wicked Lady - Girls Love Girls (1979)
That song is "Girls Love Girls," and it's from 1979, by an all-lesbian band out of the Netherlands, called Wicked Lady, and the song just knocks me out, and you'll hear all of it later, as part of an interview with the founder of the group. This is JD Doyle with Queer Music Heritage, and this is one of those shows I love to do. I call it my Songs I've Been Meaning To Play show. It's where I share with you some of the treasures I've collected that just have not fit into other shows.
Before I get to the band Wicked Lady I want to go back to the early 70's for another all-woman band, called The Deadly Nightshade. They were one of the first all-female band where the members played their own instruments. The group consisted of Helen Hooke, Anne Bowen and Pamela Brandt, and they began playing together around 1968, under the band name Ariel. They garnered some major label attention then, but in those days they just could not get signed, as female acts were not considered marketable.
That band lasted a short time but around 1972 they revived themselves under the Deadly Nightshade name. By 1975 they had built up enough of a following where they were able to record two albums for a subsidiary label of RCA called Phantom. The albums were called "The Deadly Nightshade" and "F&W."
On the release of the first album, their label released to radio stations only a promotional interview album, which is very cool. It's 26 minutes of them talking between song clips, and I'm going to give you the first few minutes of it. Notice how they define themselves as a band. They were many years away from being out of the closet and were not going for any lesbian identity as a band, or even a female identity. To them they were just a band. The radio interview starts out with "Keep on the Sunnyside" and then goes into "High Flying Woman."
Deadly Nightshade - Radio Show / High Flying Woman (1975)
That song was called "Comin' Thru, and was from their second album, called "F&W," which stood for "Funky & Western," and that was a good description of their style, though RCA didn't really know how to promote them. They were just too country to be the pop act the label wanted. I've got a piece of one more by them for you, and it was recorded as a joke, a joke that became their only charting record, making it to Billboard #79, in 1976. The TV show "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" was popular at the time, and they did a disco version of its theme song.
The Deadly Nightshade - Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1976)
Okay, enough of that, but there's a lot more to their history, so I encourage you to visit their fascinating website, at www.thedeadlynightshade.net.
And now I'm very pleased to bring you a lot more about the band Wicked Lady. You already heard at the start of the show a taste of their song "Girls Love Girls," and it was what inspired me to track down the founder of the band, Sue Exley, for a special interview. Sue is from the UK but now lives in Spain. This is some pretty cool history. She was the founder of an all-lesbian rock band, around 1974, one of the first in Europe.
As I said, the band was called Wicked Lady, and while they formed in the UK, they moved to Holland for wider freedom to do the rock music they loved. They became quite popular, performing all over the continent, and releasing three singles, between 1979 and 1981, when the band split. Now, it may take you a few moments to get accustomed to Sue's accent, but if you need help, all my interviews are transcribed on my site.
Interview with Sue Exley of Wicked Lady
I began the interview with the basics, asking how the band Wicked Lady got started.
When and where did the band Wicked Lady form?
Sue Exley: That was over in England, in a place called Mawkin, which is by the sea, and we started just as a three-piece, just playing pubs and things like that.
How was the name picked for the band?
SE: Well, I picked that, because everybody used to say, oh, you're very naughty girls, you girls get into all kinds of...you're very naughty. I thought, what's another word for naughty, I thought "wicked," yeah, that's a good name for a band.
Why did the band move to the Netherlands?
SE: Because over in England they kept sending us over to Germany, over to Spain, over to Holland, over to Belgium, back into England, catch the ferry, back on the circuit in the continent. And I was having more fun in Holland than what we ever had in England, because we started a bit of a rock band, where over in England we had to be cabaret and girly-girly.
Well, the type of music was going to be my next question. Would you describe the band as rock?
SE: That's how it ended up, yes. It started as a cabaret, into a pop, into getting more heavier, into a bit of punk, new wave, and then it started to even out from new wave into rock.
Yeah, I would agree with that, from what I've heard. This was an all-female band. Was this unusual in the UK and Europe at that time?
SE: There wasn't many bands then like us, because we played all our own instruments. There were plenty of girly bands that just sang with microphones or maybe one keyboard player, but we were the ones where everyone actually played an instrument.
So the band lasted roughly from, I think, 1974 to 1981, and I understand all of the members were lesbian, was the band known to the public as an all lesbian band?
SE: Yes, I would say that.
So, as far as lesbian bands that recorded, I do know there was one, the Flying Lesbians, in Germany, but I can't think of any others, can you?
SE: No, I don't think so neither. I think that we got more publicity when we came out of the closet by doing "Girls Love Girls" and doing a kissing routine on stage...halfway through a number we'd all kiss. Well, that send shivers down everybody's backs. And that was even in Holland, and it was alright to do it in Holland but we were doing it for the military bases, with all the guys, so that part of it didn't go down too well.
I want to do it in order, tell us about your first single, "Underneath the Neon Tonight."
SE: That was really a load of rubbish. That was our first single in Holland, but what they did in those days, we played in one key and then they used to speed it up a little bit. Well, I sound like Mickey Mouse. So I wasn't very happy about that. They said, well it won't be like that on the record, we'll have it right. Well of course when the record came out they didn't do it right. I still sounded like Mickey Mouse, so that was a load of rubbish. But on the b-side was "Manolito," and apparently in Italy it came out underneath some other record label, and everybody thought it was wonderful over there, but in Holland it didn't do nothing.
"Manolito" has kind of an Abba feel to it.
SE: Yeah, it's (sings) "Manolito." It's a bit slushy-slushy, something else that was.
I've seen two different picture sleeves for that single, and one had you all wearing silver outfits, with fringe, and the other was white long-sleeve shirts and short shorts and neckties and silver boots. What were you going for, for an image with these photos?
SE: Well, we started off all dressing all the same, then the harder the rock, the tassels got left behind, the fringes got left behind, and then came in the leather trousers, the leather jackets, the big butch look, don't smile, look mean...from cabaret to hard rock within about three or four months.
Before we get to the harder rock music, let's hear that first single, from 1978, called "Underneath the Neon Tonight" and it's flip side, "Manolito."
Lady - Underneath the Neon Tonight (1978)
For the next single it was all leather.
SE: Yeah, that's right.
And that was my favourite single. That was in '79, I want to hear about "Girls Love Girls."
SE: Oh, that one, (sings) "Girls love girls and boys..." that was written by a friend of ours. He wanted us to do it, "you know, you're all gay, and everything else, so you've got to do this." Of course we had all the gay supporters, no problem, but then we got a lot of bad publicity because of the military stuff. They weren't too keen about it but it was too late then, the single was out and we had all the gays on our side so we really didn't care if the military didn't like it. Mind you, we did stop getting a lot of bookings.
You keep mentioning the military, were you playing lots of events for the military?
SE: Yes, it was for the Dutch military, all their bases, and the American Army camps, and the British, all the bases we were doing...well, because of "Girls Love Girls," they didn't particularly want that, of course, because it was military. So we were dropping most of our military gigs, which was a shame, because we were doing them regular, once a month, and we had a good name. And as soon as "Girls Love Girls" came out, well, that was a different story. But what we lost on the military bases wasn't bad because then we started doing the big rock concerts. So we were doing more rock concerts, which we were more happy about, so we didn't have to lead two separate lives, and...don't do that song, and don't do that one, because we're doing a military base tonight. We could do what we wanted in the rock gigs.
So, in addition to losing gigs, did you experience other homophobia because of that record?
SE: No, not really everybody else was fine about it.
And, here's the song we've been talking about, from 1979, Wicked Lady and "Girls Love Girls."
Wicked Lady - Girls Love Girls (1979)
The flip side of that was "Daddy's Little Rich Girl"
SE: I wrote that ages and ages and ages ago. It was written about my thoughts and feelings.
Wicked Lady - Daddy's Little Girl (1979)
And the third and last single was, 1981, "Plastic Queen"....and again, you were all in leather, on the motorcycle, on that one. "Plastic Queen" had a saxophone solo on it and I was surprised at that, that was quite unusal.
SE: Yeah, they wanted to do a sax, and I said, how are we going to do this live? And so I ended up doing the solo, and it goes da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da, and I was playing that triple, triple notes on the guitar, trying to play the parts of a saxophone, and I don't read music, you see, so everything was in my head.
Here's the song "Plastic Queen."
Wicked Lady - Plastic Queen (1981)
So that was the third single, and the flip side of that was "Play the Game."
SE: Yeah, I wrote that one, "play the game, play the game, don't you know we're all insane." We were working very hard and I was going through a really bad patch, because I was tired all the time, and in the end it was just a game to me. It was just get on with it, do it, I know you can do it. I think I wrote that one for my own personal feelings. If I don't experience things, I don't think I could ever write music.
Wicked Lady - Play the Game (1981)
I understand one of the songs the band covered was a Jimi Hendrix version of "Hey, Joe."
SE: That's right, yeah, it all started in Germany, and the drummer at the time, a blonde girl with very long blonde hair. And she was a Led Zeppelin fan, and Jimi Hendrix, and she said, why don't you play it with your teeth? I said, you've got to be joking! She said, no, just give it a go. And I just put it on my teeth, and at first I couldn't do it whatsoever, and I mastered it in the end, but of course that went down a bomb. And every time we used to do it, as soon as they knew it was the end of the show, they shouted "Hey, Joe," "Hey, Joe," "Hey, Joe," they were waiting for it.
Which of your singles was the most popular?
SE: Which of the singles? I would say "Girls Love Girls," actually. I think that caused more of a smack.
And, not counting losing the military gigs, how did your audience change over those three years?
SE: Very, very good. Everywhere we went we were always playing to full houses, every concert we did, we had a lot of support.
Well, even with a lot of support, the dynamics of a band do not always go smoothly. After a very successful concert in Berlin they were invited to record three songs in a studio there, and there were plans to do an album. Ironically it went so well that one of the members, as Sue told me, got a big head and decided to go solo. The drummer, Jan, went with her, and the band fell apart.
Of those three songs, one, "Standing in the Road," was a cover of a song by a band named Blackfoot Sue, and the other two songs Sue wrote with the rhythm guitar playe, Sally Dowle. They were "Put Some Money in Your Pocket" and "I Know Where You Run To." They have never been released, so I am delighted that Sue sent them to me for this show.
Of those three songs which did you like the best?
SE: I like "Standing in the Road," and I like "I Know Where You Run To When You Run" because I do a nice mean guitar solo right on the end.
Lady - Standing in the Road (1980)
Okay, the band split in '81 and you continued as a solo act for a while, called Only Sue, and then you went on to Spain, and you decided to stay.
SE: Yes, I was going to go to Spain for one year, and then I was going to go on to Portugal to see what Portugal was all about. So I bussed all the way down from Holland. I bought a camper, a big American camper van, and then off I went. And then I met this girl that I knew from ages and ages and ages ago, over when I wasn't doing Wicked Lady, on the cabaret circuit, and we had a relationship, and we lasted 23 years.
And that act was called Gypsy.
SE: That's right.
What kind of music did Gypsy do?
SE: It was country.
That was a big change.
SE: I'd never played country before, never, it worked out okay.
Well, you sent me a couple of those songs. One was called "Movin' On."
SE: I wrote that one. I wrote that in a carpark. I wanted to move over to Portugal, and I wrote that in the carport, just sitting outside me van.
What year was that from, roughly?
SE: It was '82.
Okay, it was right away then.
SE: Yes, yes.
You told me that duo lasted 23 years.
SE: 23 years we were together, yes. (until 2007)
And I understand the act was pretty popular in Spain.
SE: Oh, yes, it was. We did very, very well. Within the first two or three years we were doing very well, and we did the Entertainer of the Year, and we were doing the television. We were doing radio stuff, we were doing all kinds, and we were working seven nights of the week.
That's pretty popular.
This is JD Doyle, winding down this segment of QMH, and reminding you that there are more parts to the show on my site. I thank you for listening, and I especially thank Sue Exley for the interview and for providing me with the unreleased recordings and photos from her scrapbook for my website. Again, that's at queermusicheritage.com.
The band Gypsy did not release any recordings, but I want to close with a track by them Sue sent me, which seemed to fit her career, called "Movin' On."
Gypsy - Movin' On (1982)
This is JD Doyle, welcoming you back to Part 2 of Queer Music Heritage, and a show I call Songs I've Been Meaning to Play. For the first song, I'm going to go to church on you, for about the next two minutes, with a song that may sound familiar.
Art Reynolds Singers - Jesus Is Just Alright (1966)
Of course you figured out the title was "Jesus Is Just Alright," and that version is the original, from 1966, by the Art Reynolds Singers. Reynolds is an openly gay gospel singer and writer and that song appeared on their debut album, "Telling It Like It Is," and that recording was the first gospel album released by Capitol Records. Back when Reynolds was a choir director, he took his five best singers to form his group, and one of them was Thelma Houston, which nurtured her start into the business. "Jesus Is Just Alright" is by far his most known song, and cover versions were done by The Byrds, in 1969, and more famously by the Doobie Brothers. Their version reached #35 on the Billboard charts in 1973. And a number of other artists, including the Christian group DC Talk have also recorded the song.
This next set is a treat for me, as I loved the music of Dusty Springfield. She died in 1999 and of course I could give you some of her huge hits, spanning decades...but you know me better than that. I always go for the obscure, and I'm going to give you hits and obscurity, with these next three songs. Here are "Wishin' & Hopin'," "I Only Want to Be with You," and "Will You Love Me Tomorow," sung respectively, in Italian, German and French.
Springfield - Wishin' & Hopin' (in Italian)
I have to show my appreciation to one of Dusty's fan clubs, called the Dusty Springfield Bulletin, and the fine work of its leader, Paul Howes. The bulletin stopped in 2009, after 21 years, and some of the projects it did for subscribers were the release of several CD compilations of her work, including one of foreign-language recordings, called "Continental Dusty," compiled in 2004.
Dusty Springfield was not the only English-speaking recording artist in the 60s to also record for the overseas market. Lesley Gore was another. Let me indulge myself by mixing together in one song Lesley singing "You Don't Own Me," in German, French and Italian, from 1964.
Lesley Gore - You Don't Own Me (in German, French, & Italian, 1964)
For a long time Lesley Gore was typecast as an oldies artist, but in 2005 she released her first album of new material since 1976. It's called "Ever Since," and I think it's an excellent album. In it she did give a nod to the past with a striking new arrangement of her old hit.
Gore - You Don't Own Me (2005)
Also from the album you heard the song "Out Here on My Own," which you may recall was a big hit for Irene Cara, from the movie "Fame," in 1980. It even got an Academy Award nomination for Best Song. But Lesley certainly has the right to record that one, as she co-wrote it with her brother, Michael Gore. Michael actually beat Lesley out of sharing an Oscar that year, as he and another writer nabbed it for the title track from "Fame."
This next song also won an Academy Award, as done by Doris Day, in 1953, but I'm playing for you the Johnny Mathis version, from his 1959 album "Faithfully." This song has long held special meaning for members of the GLBT community. It's "Secret Love."
Johnny Mathis - Secret Love (1959)
One reason I played Johnny Mathis was to introduce the next artist, and she probably played a larger role in our culture behind the scenes than as a singer. But I need to drop back and give you some history. In San Francisco in the 1940's one of the popular lesbian bars was Mona's 440, and it featured acts such as Beverly Shaw and Gladys Bentley. In 1952 the club was sold to Ann Dee, who kept same clientele and brought in performers like Charles Pierce, Ray Bourbon, and helped start the careers of Lenny Bruce and Johnny Mathis.
When Ann Dee heard Mathis sing she recognized his talent and gave him a job singing on weekends, while he was in college. This was September of 1955. Columbia Records producer George Avakian was invited to hear him sing, and was impressed enough that he did not leave the club that evening until he had signed Mathis to a contract. Of course, over 50 years later, Johnny Mathis has been a legend for decades.
But back to Ann Dee, she was a popular singer in clubs and recorded two albums. Her debut album was on Capitol, in 1967, and was called "Free Again." That same year she was in the movie "Thoroughly Modern Millie," singing "The Rose of Washington Square." Oddly she was not at the time given billing in the film or on the soundtrack. She had one other album, a private release called "With Love, Ann Dee," and it was recorded live at the Purple Onion, in Hollywood. It's not dated but judging from the material it was probably from the early or mid-70's. I'm giving you a song from each album.
Dee - Free Again (1967)
The song "The Rose of Washington Square" was in the middle of that set, and I wrapped around it the standards "Free Again" and "This Is My Life." I very much need to thank a friend of mine, Robert Bouvard, for sending me that last album, as it's very rare. He was a performer in the Jewel Box Revue and went by the name Robbie Ross. In fact we had a phone call about Ann Dee and he gave me permission to share a bit of that call with you.
Robbie Ross Comments (2011)
RR: A couple years ago a friend of mine, who was a singer, his name was Barry Kinder, passed away, and I was settling his estate, and going through the records I found this album of Ann Dee, who I was a fan of in Hollywood for quite some time during the 60's and 70's.
JD: Were you a fan, or did you know her at all?
RR: Well, I had met her on occasions, at the club where she worked and I knew a lot of the same people. She knew a lot of the same people that I did in show business, Michael Greer and Lynne Carter and people like that, that kind of hung in that same circle in Hollywood in those years.
JD: So you got the impression she was indeed lesbian?
RR: Oh, I know she was, yeah, I never met her partner. She lived in Rosarito Beach, which is right across the Mexican border there, so she didn't work steadily. She was kind of laid back in a lot of ways, and you know she had a lot of vocal trouble during her career too.
JD: You know, I emailed the (GLBT) Historical Society in San Francisco, to find out if they knew if she was lesbian, and they said they had already tried to research that and could never find out.
RR: I'm positive she was gay.
JD: Well, my position it, yes, I want to feature her, because there's a lot to her story, but I want to be responsible...if I want to say someone was lesbian on my website, I kind of want, you know, a little bit to go on.
RR: You should be, yeah, you should be. I mean, you can take my word for it, as far as I know, she was, I mean, I never heard anything different or to the opposite of that.
JD: Did you see her mostly in L.A.?
RR: Only in L.A., I never saw her at Ciro's, and she performed a lot in San Francisco. She was in that ring of very excellent performers, and some of them made it and some of them didn't. And she was one that never made it big, but I always said that she could have made it big easily. Had she lived twenty years later she probably would have been a huge star.
After our talk Robbie also commented that she had a huge gay following and always packed the clubs when she performed, both in L.A. and San Francisco.
Well, this next artist is straight, but the song isn't and she's been very popular with gay audiences for many years. She's Sharon McKnight. The song is called "Your Son Isn't Going Through a Stage," and it was inspired by an old Noel Coward song. It's from her 2001 album "Songs to Offend Almost Everyone."
McKnight - Your Son Isn't Going Through a Stage (2001)
Following Sharon McKnight was Rip Taylor, and I guess he took time out from telling jokes and throwing confetti to record that 45 rpm record. It's from 1971, and was called "How Does It Feel?"
Up next I'm going to give you two different sides of Rod McKuen. Most of us know him for selling millions of albums of his low-key poetry, many backed by the Anita Kerr Singers. A couple of those albums were atypical of him, as they took on a more gay slant. Those were two albums of the poetry of Walt Whitman, called "The Body Electric," and were released in the early 70's. One of the most gay of Whitman's poems was "We Two Boys Together."
Rod McKuen - We Two Boys Together (1970)
Being familiar with this style of recording for him, I was very surprised to find something from earlier in his recording career that was very different. I was record shopping in Los Angeles last year and found an old 45 by him and it was truly a WTF moment. It was called "Oliver Twist Meets the Duke of Oil." Of course when you couple the Twist and the Duke of Earl, it means you're in 1961, trying to capitalize on what was on the radio then.
Rod McKuen - Oliver Twist Meets the Duke of Oil (1961)
When I got back from that trip to L.A. and had time to do some research, I was almost more surprised to find that the song is from an LP, called "Mr Oliver Twist," and it's packed full of cover versions of twist songs, and perhaps odder yet, it's been reissued on CD.
This is JD Doyle and I'm winding down Part 2 of my Songs I've Been Meaning to Play show. One more comment about that trip to L.A. I mentioned I spent some time looking for records, and I was also surprised to find this next one. It's a 45 from 1982, and I was surprised because I have a CD I quite like by the same artist, from 2008, sixteen years later. The artist is Barry Goold, and he lives in Los Angeles now, but in 1982 he was in his native Canada, and there's even a youtube video of him performing both of the songs from the 45, and being interviewed, on a Montreal television show. Of course I gravitated to the more suggestive A-side, call "Do Me Again."
Barry Goold - Do Me Again (1982)
Barry Goold's 2008 album is called "Knockin' on Another Door," and from it, closing the show, is "Walking and Running."
Barry Goold - Walking and Running (2008)
Steve Swindells - Living in Sin (1974)
This is JD Doyle, bringing you Part 3 of my Songs I've Been Meaning to Play show. I do one of these shows once, maybe twice a year, and in the 11 ½ years of QMH, this one happens to be #11. And that artist is from the UK and his name is Steve Swindells. At various times during the last 35 years he's been a rocker, band member, promoter, journalist, activist, and he currently is in the band Hawklords. The opening song, "Living in Sin," was from his 1974 album "Messages," and this next one, called "Easy on the Night" comes from an album recorded in 1975 but not released until recently. That album was called "Swallow."
Swindells - Easy on the Night (1975)
And those last two were from Steve's 1980 album, "Fresh Blood." They were the songs "Figures of Authority" and "Shot Down in the Night."
Okay, he's from Canada, and I've seen this next artist's 1973 album described as gay rock, but I'm not sure I'm convinced. The lyrics and album cover imagery sure at least flirt with the idea, but remember this was around the same time David Bowie and his then-bisexual glam was gaining lots of attention and record sales. So, I'll let you see what you think of Justin Paige, and his song "Rough Trade."
Justin Paige - Rough Trade (1974)
Back to England we go, with a female impersonator named Foo Foo Lammar, who was very popular in the UK for decades. This song was kind of an underground hit, widely sung at music halls, and the 45 is quite hard to find. Here's "Around the Old Campfire."
Foo Lammar - Around the Old Campfire (1980s)
And, no, I don't think the Sunset Bombers were gay, but their 1978 song "Drag Queen," seemed a natural to follow Foo Foo Lammar.
Here's a band with great credentials. It was formed in New York City in the late 80's with the goal of being a mixed gay and lesbian band. The members were Michael Callen, Richard Dworkin, Jan Cleary and Pam Brandt, and they called themselves Lowlife. It varied as to who sang lead on their songs. Two of the songs, with Michael on lead, ended up on his 1989 album, "Purple Heart," and on this particular track, called "Who Hit Me," it was Jan Cleary on lead. Oh, if you were paying attention in Part 1 when I played the band The Deadly Nightshade, you'll remember that Pam Brandt was in that band. Here's Lowlife and "Who Hit Me?"
- Who Hit Me? (1988)
And those last two were by New York City rocker Jan Tilley. She released a 3-song cassette in 1995 and from it I played "Scarlet Letter" and "First Lesson in Love."
Okay, this next song is very different from anything else in this segment, and I'll tell you about it in 2 minutes and forty eight seconds.
Cindy Bullens - Freddy My Love (1979)
The recording career of that artist really got a boost in 1978, when she got to sing three songs on the movie soundtrack for the musical "Grease." That track was "Freddy My Love." Her name is Cindy Bullens, and that same year she released her debut album of material more down her street, as you should be able to tell with the song "Finally Rockin'"
Bullens - Finally Rockin' (1978)
"Finally Rockin'" came from the album "Desire Wire," and "Sensible Shoes" was from "Neverland," from 2001. That album featured Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle, and Cindy Bullens often has her music business friends, like Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams, and Bryan Adams, join in on her recordings. For example, on this next song, the title track from her 2005 CD "Dream #29," Elton John is on piano.
Cindy Bullens - Dream #29 (2005)
This is JD Doyle, and that's it for this show, but I thank you for listening. I've got one more song for you, and musically it will definitely be a change from the last few, but there's a connection. In 2007 Cindy Bullens, along with Wendy Waldman and Deborah Holland, formed their own group. They called it The Refugees and the CD is excellent. The closing track on it I think it is gorgeous, and it's their take on a song Wendy Waldman helped write, and is one made famous by Whitney Houston, called "Save the Best for Last."
The Refugees - Save the Best for Last (2007)