Rock Chicks: The Hottest Female Rockers from the 1960s to Now

Rock Chicks: The Hottest Female Rockers from the 1960s to Now

by Alison Stieven-Taylor

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With profiles on hottest rock 'n' roll women spanning from the 1960s to current times, this book has everything there is to know about the most rockin' chicks in history—from Janis Joplin and Suzi Quatro to Courtney Love and Pink

With perceptive biographies and in-depth music critiques, this is an up-close and personal


With profiles on hottest rock 'n' roll women spanning from the 1960s to current times, this book has everything there is to know about the most rockin' chicks in history—from Janis Joplin and Suzi Quatro to Courtney Love and Pink

With perceptive biographies and in-depth music critiques, this is an up-close and personal look at the experiences, adventures, and musical passions of these extraordinary and talented women whose wild vocals and on-stage antics have made them rock 'n' roll legends. Through personal heartaches, drug addictions, public humiliations, and private nightmares, these rock chicks have risen to take the music world by storm—often facing great personal adversity, pressure, and scrutiny that would have destroyed mere mortal's souls. From Madonna spending years living in squats in New York before going on to sell 250 million records, to Tina Turner surviving the brutal bashings of her husband and then going on stage to perform with broken ribs and contusions—all of these women overcame great obstacles to make some of the most memorable music the world of rock has heard. Their inspiring and entertaining stories, compiled here in this profusely illustrated and thoroughly researched book, make for an adrenaline pumping and compellingly memorable ride through rock 'n' roll history.

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"A welcome addition to the rock history genre."  —Good Reading

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Rockpool Publishing
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5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

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Rock Chicks

The Hottest Female Rockers from the 1960s to Now

By Alison Stieven-Taylor, Tony Mott

Rockpool Publishing Pty Ltd

Copyright © 2010 Rockpool Publishing
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-921295-98-0



The birth of the rock band

The cultural revolution that was the 1960s actually began the decade before with the rise of the Beats, a group of American writers who composed riffs challenging the mores of the stuffy Western society of the post-Second World War years. On the surface everything appeared sunny and civil. But there was an undercurrent of fear and oppression darkened by the shadows of the A-bomb and the Cold War and stirred by the increasingly potent black rights movement led by Martin Luther King. And the tidy society of suburbs and wifely submission was about to be shaken by the introduction of the contraceptive pill and women's sexual 'liberation'.

The work of the Beats — most notably Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg — described the alienation of youth, was influenced by jazz and subjected to censorship. They lived on the fringe, experimenting with drugs and writing about subjects not discussed by polite society. Along with Marlon Brando and James Dean, they were 'rebels without a cause'. The Beats hung out in the North Beach area of San Francisco, smoking weed and chewing speed in open defiance of the authorities. Many of the rock chicks — including Janis Joplin, Marianne Faithfull and Chrissie Hynde — cite the writers of the Beat Generation as major influences.

In August 1961 Berliners awoke to find their city divided by an ugly barbed wire wall. Overnight the Soviets had erected a wall dividing East and West Berlin. Protests against racial segregation were splitting America and folk singers were beginning to top the charts with political protest songs. Two years later, John F Kennedy was assassinated, Martin Luther King gave his landmark 'I have a dream' speech and the US Congress held the first hearings into the fair treatment of women where terms like the 'glass ceiling' were heard. There had been a seismic shift in society.

Rock music was born into this world in turmoil. Whether it was a case of life imitating art or vice versa, the artists of the 1960s, and musicians in particular, were central to change. The music of the 1950s — the choreographed girl groups like the Chantels and the Chordettes, female singers Connie Francis, Rosemary Clooney, Patti Page, Petula Clark, Doris Day and Peggy Lee, and the male jivers Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Bobby Darin — began to look like crooning, left behind in the wake of a new genre in music.

The Beatles are acknowledged as the instigators of the revolutionary sound that became known as rock. It was a musical genre that morphed into new forms with a rapidity that was as mind-blowing as the psychedelic drugs that fuelled much of the creativity. It embraced a new culture based on personal freedom and experimentation, and endorsing psychedelic drugs, protest, 'free' love and 'free' living.

Within a space of only two years, popular music went from Chubby Checker and doing the twist in 1961 to the Beatles, who started to hit the big time in 1963. The British embraced the new sound with fervor, just as they took to Mary Quant's mini-skirt and other 'Swinging London' fashions. In the first half of the 1960s, the Brits gave the world the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Yardbirds, the Pretty Things, the Kinks and the Small Faces, many of whom took their inspiration from rhythm'n'blues. And soaring above the crowds were the stunning voices of Dusty Springfield and her American counterpart Aretha Franklin.

Beatlemania soon swept the States and almost all corners of the globe. In the USA bands formed at the speed in which rabbits procreate. Live venues sprung up across the country and bands played in city parks, theatres, cafes, clubs and halls. Crosby, Stills and Nash were sharing the billing with the likes of the Lovin' Spoonful, the Mamas and the Papas, Simon and Garfunkel, Peter, Paul and Mary and Ian and Sylvia. Considered more folk rock than folk were Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Moby Grape, Three Dog Night and Janis Joplin's Big Brother and the Holding Company. To crown it all, Bob Dylan, the golden boy of folk scandalised the Newport Folk Festival crowd by going 'electric' in 1965.

The fashionista were encased in velvet, leather, short skirts, high boots and sex and sizzle. Style was everything, and the Beatles and the Stones were widely imitated, particularly Mick Jagger. His partner Marianne Faithfull had a hit with 'As Tears Go By' and was the poster girl for teenagers. Everyone wanted to be Marianne — or Twiggy, the wraith-like model who introduced a look later known as heroin chic.

Like other female singers of the time, Marianne Faithfull didn't threaten anyone (that came later). The big stars of the day — Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins and Joan Baez — were folk singers. One exception was Grace Slick, whose deep voice was ideally suited to the psychedelic folk rock that made Jefferson Airplane famous. But it took Janis Joplin to really shake things up, just as the women's liberation movement was becoming a force for political and social change.

The psychedelic drug, lysergic acid (LSD), had entered the collective consciousness by 1965 and advocates such as the Harvard professor Timothy Leary gave it celebrity status. Art, music and literature were under the influence, most famously the Beatles' 1967 groundbreaking Sgt. Pepper album, which introduced a new acid rock sound influenced by mind-altering drugs and Eastern mysticism.

The Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco was taken over by stoned hippies who were 'dropping out' of conventional society and embracing a 'holistic' attitude to life, in which spirit, earth and self come together. The hippie movement spread, fuelled by music, acid and disillusionment with the politics of war and discrimination. The young were leaving behind the beliefs and values of their parents' generation. Song lyrics shifted from love to environmentalism, consumerism, politics, war, drugs and personal freedom. There were anti-war songs, songs against segregation and songs like Jefferson Airplane's 'White Rabbit' about the effects of psychedelic drugs.

By 1967 — the 'summer of love' — the hard-edged London fashions had morphed into frills and flowers, and the hippie movement had blossomed into a community of tens of thousands, many of whom congregated in San Francisco. At the world's first large-scale rock festival, at Monterey in California, Janis Joplin gave the landmark performance of her career. Less blossom, more grunge, Warhol darling Nico was recording her first album with the Velvet Underground in New York.

It wasn't all peace, love and sex. By 1968, when Martin Luther King was assassinated, crime rates in the USA had increased nearly tenfold on the decade before, anti-Vietnam demonstrations were daily events and race riots were causing havoc. In some American cities the atmosphere was close to that of civil war. Musically, one of the positives was the rise in prominence of African-American singers such as Tina Turner. For the first time, black artists were being ranked in the mainstream charts and rock artists like Janis Joplin and the Rolling Stones continued to cover songs by old blues artists.

Joplin was a headliner at 1969's Woodstock, a festival held on a farm in upstate New York. For three days, over 400,000 people grooved — to Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Canned Heat, Sly and the Family Stone — as the heavens opened and rivers of rain turned the ground into a bog. Hippies got stoned, danced, rolled naked in the mud, made babies and freaked out on bad acid.

But the peace and love turned sour at the Stones' free concert at Altamont in California when a concertgoer was stabbed to death by one of the Hell's Angels, who were acting as security guards.

As the 1960s came to a close, man [sic] walked on the moon with a greater certainty than he was treading the earth.

But few can deny her impact. Her on-stage flamboyance, bravado, raw vocal style and drug-ravished rock-star behaviour shocked a society used to women being compliant and polite.

Janis could sing like an African-American blues singer then pick it up a tempo and roll her voice around the new hard-core rock sound. She was the first real rock chick, shaking up the music scene with her powerful performance and strong personality. Her influence extends far beyond her musical output — she only recorded four albums. She was a role model for young women who were inspired by her apparent fearlessness at being herself, of embracing the times. Some thought her hard. But Janis was struggling, caught up in the moral dilemmas of eschewing the established social mores.

she had disastrous relationships with cruel
men and emotionally dysfunctional women. She got
stoned and beaten up on the street

David Dalton, one of the founding editors of Rolling Stone magazine, interviewed Janis numerous times. 'It is really important the way she is represented because she was a wonderful person,' he told me. 'I did a lot of the Rolling Stone interviews and I love a lot of the people I interviewed, but Janis absolutely was my favourite person.'

Port Arthur, Texas, where Janis was born in 1943, was an oil town, a bastion of redneck conservatism. The American South was still segregated and racial tensions were high. Janis was the black sheep of a conventional, church-going family, always questioning the status quo, but she excelled at school. As a child she loved to perform. At high school, she was always singing or starring in plays she wrote. She developed a talent for drawing and instead of painting landscapes, as expected, she specialised in voluptuous sexy nudes — and delighted in the scandalised reactions.

Bill Haley and the Comets and Elvis Presley were dominating the radio waves, but Janis gravitated towards the rawness of the blues, preferring Bessie Smith and Big Mama Thornton. She sang in the church choir and in glee club as a child, but never thought of being a singer until she was in her late teens.

An avid reader, Janis devoured the Beat writers, in particular Jack Kerouac whose seditious take on the world appealed to her. Adopting the rebellious idiosyncrasies of Kerouac's characters, she took on mannerisms that were masculine and concealed her insecurities. She felt unattractive. She began dressing in a mannish manner, with trousers and long shirts, her unbrushed hair pulled back into a rough ponytail. Her face was pock-marked with acne scars, her skin dry and patchy. She never wore make-up. Janis attached herself to a group of male musicians and writers who fancied themselves the ultimate rebels. But her outrageous antics rattled her male companions, who were bemused and horrified at the same time. Her 'unladylike' manner and penchant for profanity landed her in hot water wherever she went.

In 1961 she enrolled to study arts at Lamar State College in Port Arthur, but she barely lasted the year. That summer she took off for Los Angeles. It didn't take her long to gravitate to Venice Beach, then a seedy suburb where dealers, pimps and con artists littered the boardwalk. Grass, benzedrine, heroin and codeine-based cough syrup were readily available. Janis began a wild ride of drugs and indiscriminate sex with men and women. She exuded confidence, but her bravado concealed her anguish. Janis just wanted to be loved and accepted.

Whatever she was looking for in LA didn't materialise. The following year she was back in Port Arthur to resume her arts studies. She started singing at a club in Austin, Threadgill's, every Wednesday night as part of the Waller Creek Boys, a trio with Powell St John on harmonica and Lanny Wiggins on bass. They played the club circuit around Austin and on campus at the University of Texas, where Janis was now studying and where she was named 'ugliest man on campus'— an incident that reportedly drove her to despair and haunted her for years to come.

By 1963 Janis was back in California, living in North Beach, San Francisco, where the Beats had hung out in the 1950s. The area swarmed with artists, poets, writers, musicians, painters and actors, the accepted lifestyle was dionysian and LSD was becoming the favourite party drug. For the first time, Janis felt she belonged.

She began singing at small venues like The Coffee Gallery, sometimes alone playing her autoharp or with guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, who would turn up later in Jefferson Airplane. On the personal front she was turning from one disastrous relationship to another with cruel men and emotionally dysfunctional women. She got stoned, beaten up on the street and ended up in hospital after a motorbike accident.

The next year Janis was in New York, singing in Slug's and other East Village clubs. Her outfit had morphed into black pants and a V-neck jumper. She cut a slender figure, thanks to an increasing flirtation with the city's newest drug craze. Janis hung with the speed freaks. But it wasn't long before she returned to the more mellow vibes of San Francisco and the nascent Haight-Ashbury scene. The city was rocking along with Dylan and the Stones and overloading on grass and acid.

Chet Helms, an old Texas friend who was managing and promoting bands, suggested she hook up with Big Brother and the Holding Company, who were looking for a female singer. Janis was her usual unkempt self when she arrived to meet Big Brother but wowed the band with her deeply drawn blues voice.

She was raw, emotional, sexy and at times
agonisingly ugly in her pain

Big Brother — Sam Andrew, Peter Albin and James Gurley on guitars and Dave Getz on drums — was transformed by Janis's powerful stage presence. Within months the band, along with the Grateful Dead, Country Joe McDonald and the Fish and Jefferson Airplane, had a big following. They became an instant attraction on the touring circuit, spending much of the year on the road playing halls, theatres and campuses around America. Through it all, Janis was consuming vast quantities of pills, powders and heroin. She was loving recklessly, often with strangers, and drowning her sorrows with hard liquor. The first album, Big Brother and the Holding Company, was released on Mainstream Records. Then it was into the studio to record Cheap Thrills, which was released in 1968 and reached number one. The album features one track written by Janis, 'Turtle Blues'.

But it wasn't the record that catapulted Janis into rock stardom — it was her live performance which rocked in a way no white woman had ever done. She was raw, emotional, sexy and at times agonisingly ugly in her pain. Her stage performance — fuelled by the copious quantities of Southern Comfort that she slugged before, during and after a concert — lifted the audience to great heights and spun them around with the emotional urgency of her voice. When Janis and Big Brother performed at the first Human Be-In Festival in Golden Gate Park in 1967 — on the bill with Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead — each performance was more dramatic and flamboyant than the last.

The turning point was at the Monterey Festival later that year. Taking to the stage in a silver lurex pant suit, Janis mesmerised the audience, crews and other performers with her electrified performance. She sang Big Mama Thornton's 'Ball and Chain', one of the songs she'd listened to as a child, and Bessie Smith covers. The press went overboard in their praises and began to seek Janis out for interviews. She was featured in Newsweek and Time as the woman who had infiltrated the male rock world. Her Monterey performance made Janis an instant celebrity and the media swarmed, delighting in her bad behaviour. Soon she was signing a deal with Albert Grossman, Bob Dylan's manager. Grossman had the reputation of behaving like a pit bull, but with Janis he was caring and understanding.

Rolling Stone compared her to Judy Garland:
a tragic artist hell bent on self-destruction

Her dependency on Southern Comfort was growing to such an extent that she wrote to the distiller pointing out how much free publicity she was giving its product, making her one of the first artists to leverage product endorsement. The company responded by sending her a fur coat.

Photos of Janis were appearing in journals like New York magazine, the Village Voice and Vogue and the rock sections of the major dailies such as the New York Times. The rash of new music titles led by Rolling Stone, the first issue of which was published in San Francisco in November 1967, were fighting to feature the wild woman of rock. The Janis of Big Brother jangled with jewels, bangles, rings and bright swirling scarves. She often wore pants, lots of black and lots of bling. The press loved her flamboyance and theatricality, her multi-coloured hair and the layers of fabric. She rarely disappointed in her raw emotional crudeness. Reviewers raved about her as if she were a new species.

But Janis was more than the performing, partying animal, although few had the opportunity to know the real person. She was intelligent and outspoken, her rebellious statements stabbing at the heart of conservatism. Janis topped the list of rock stars not permitted to perform in Texas because of their liberal views.


Excerpted from Rock Chicks by Alison Stieven-Taylor, Tony Mott. Copyright © 2010 Rockpool Publishing. Excerpted by permission of Rockpool Publishing Pty Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Alison Stieven-Taylor has been a freelance journalist for more than 20 years, and has written for such publications as Rolling Stone magazine. Today she is the director of a successful PR consultancy working with bands across the world. She is the author of The Price of Love

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