You can count on two hands the pioneering women of heavy metal and hard rock music. That said, these artists – from the Runaways to Vixen to the late Wendy O. Williams – set the stage. and set the bar high for those who came after. And there are many – the Butcher Babies, Lzzy Hale from Halestorm, Otep Shamaya from Otep, Angela Gossow and Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy, and Sharon Janny den Adel from Within Temptation – and their numbers are growing.
Once upon a time, folk music, a seated and often reserved acoustic guitar performance, was a “safe” musical pursuit for young girls. Then came the “Women’s Liberation” movement of the late 1960s, a phrase that now sounds as archaic as pantyhose. You’ve had a few women deeply exploring heavier, wilder music like, say, Grace Slick in Jefferson Airplane. But then, in the 70s, came the advent of heavy rock / metal, and the too few women who innovated by offering it.
While there is still a huge disparity between the number of women and men in heavy metal and hard rock bands, thanks in no small part to the pioneering women below, the doors have been blown away. These days the scene is more welcoming than it has ever been for a heavy music aspirant who identifies with women.
The story of the Runaways – five young teens from the mid-1970s in Los Angeles – is part of the movies. And their story indeed became one in the 2010s Runaways. While the Queens of Noise shocked some with now iconic songs like “Cherry Bomb” and were initially ruled by a true Svengali, Kim Fowley, The Runaways entered their musical chops. Several core members, including singer Cherie Currie, guitarists Lita Ford and “I Love Rock & Roll” hitmaker Joan Jett, have forged careers that continue to this day, and rightfully so.
Detroit firecracker Suzi Quatro created The Pleasure Seekers, a family pop group with her sisters. In the mid-1960s, the sight of the little Quatro singing and playing bass – playing with their fingers, not with a pick – was an anomaly. Quatro normalized sight and sound with her harsh, catchy take on rock in a solo career that saw her achieve international fame with glam-friendly songs like “Can The Can” and “48 Crash”. Although she is musically more popular abroad than in her native United States, her role in the late 1970s in Happy Days like Leather Tuscadero introduced Quatro in almost every TV set in America. The special one Rolling stone cover girl has also written books, including Hurricane and Decompressed.
Bam Bam / Tina Bell
Before Pearl Jam and Nirvana, there was the Seattle band Bam Bam, led by Tina Bell. Dubbed the “Queen of Grunge Punk”, a 1984 demo of Bam Bam’s “Villains” [Also Wear White]Finds Bell’s bluesy and powerful voice at the height of punk musicianship, while additional tracks, including the speed-demony, “It Stinks” attitude, are collected from various streaming services. A 2012 article in Seattle’s The foreigner felt that “Bam Bam struggled, in part because the audience disagreed with an African-American punk singer.” As the late singer’s son observed, “The press compared her to Tina Turner, like that made sense.” Despite their too short tenure and the subsequent death of Bell, Bam Bam’s influence and revolutionary songs are not forgotten.
Warlock’s compelling 1987 anthem, “All We Are,” was the introduction for many of German singer Doro Pesch. Like Canadian Lee Aaron, Doro has been dubbed “the queen of metal,” and it’s a title Pesch is sympathetic to and always busy with. First with Warlock, then solo under the name Doro, she released 18 albums, living between her hometown of Düsseldorf and New York. The singer, with her cool and engaging appeal, is on tour perpetually. At the heart of the coronavirus pandemic, his classic ballad, “Fur Immer” (Forever), has been remade, reminding audiences of his songwriting talent.
Lemmy Kilmister from Motor head Fools didn’t endure with pleasure, and since all-female British outfit Girlschool was one of their frequent collaborators, you can be sure they were the real deal. The main members, singer / guitarist Kim McAuliffe and drummer Denise Dufort, have been with the band since its inception in 1978. With an image of jeans and leather similar to their New Wave of Heavy Metal brethren. Iron maiden, they first broke with the years 1981 Hit and run album. Other highlights include their collaboration with Motorhead ‘Please Don’t Touch’, ‘Race With the Devil’ and ‘Cmon, Let’s Go’.
Mohawk singer Wendy O. Williams has been spitting out some intense punk metal with her band the Plasmatics. His character on stage was in the vein of Alice cooper, pushing the boundaries of rock in shock. Six albums featuring the Plasmatics, five solo albums plus screen work – including an SCTV sketch with John Candy in 1981 and the exploitation farce of 1986 Reformed school girls are just part of the legacy she left behind. The multi-faceted artist was an Amazonian force in everything she did, but despite the impressive niche she carved out for herself, Williams took her own life at the age of 48.
Vixen had big hair, sparkly, tight outfits, and plied his trade on the Sunset Strip in LA… just like most of the guy groups back then. Hailing from Minnesota, Vixen signed a major contract with EMI / Manhattan and their self-titled debut album in 1988. Vixen sold the gold and nearly fell into the Top 20. With millions of Spotify streams, Vixen’s irresistibly melodic 1988 single “On The Edge of a Broken Heart” still has legs; ditto for the air “Crying”. As of 2019, the group continues with Lorraine Lewis, a veteran of another LA-based all-girl group, Femme Fatale.
Goddess of the Rock
Even before drummer Julie Turner was 10, she was playing music with her sister, singer / guitarist Jody Turner, 13. By 1977, the siblings had formed a trio aptly known as Rock Goddess, joining the New Wave of British Heavy Metal alongside bands like Judas Priest and Girlschool. Songs like “Hell Hath No Fury” and “The Party Never Ends” captured 80s fans, as well as shrill rockers with skillful guitar solos, including the stellar “Raiders”. Despite a long hiatus, Rock Goddess now continues as a trio with the Turner sisters and bassist Jenny Lane. The trio record in 2019, This time, was an exciting throwback in metal.
Become a fan of Led Zeppelin, The Strawbs, Fleetwood Mac, Heart, and The Runaways, in her mid teens multi-talented Karen Lynn Greening was invited to join a band called “Lee Aaron”. As a singer, keyboardist and alto saxophonist, Greening took the band’s name as his own. She also became known by another name – the awesome track “Metal Queen”, after her album and hit song from 1984. With a dozen albums between 1982 and 2018, Aaron explored a variety of styles, even the jazz and blues. In fact, the years 2016 Fire and gasoline, was his first rock album in two decades.
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