As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 9 – Fall – Ladies of Metal
When I was asked to write an article about all-girl bands in the Heavy Metal era, which was a part of my colorful past, I thrillingly agreed. That is when I thought about gathering the troops from hair bands past from the Los Angeles music scene for some lively conversation!
As you will see, there are plenty of similarities as well as vast differences in each girl’s journey, either due to their location, age, or just an opportunity. I have also invited a couple of non-performers who lived through this era and have either photographs or published articles to prove it!
And now — enter, if you dare, our rock and roll party!
CZ: Hey! Who is all here?
Jan King: I was the lead vocalist and lead and rhythm guitarist for Puss ’n’ Boots.
Tami Peden: I was also in Puss ‘n’ Boots, first as a bass player and then drummer.
Janet Robin: I’m Janet Robin, original member of the all-girl band, Precious Metal. I was the lead guitarist, background singer, and one of the cowriters. We were signed to two labels: Polygram and then Chameleon/Capitol.
Liza Carbe: Hi! I’m Liza Carbe, and I play bass and guitar. I played bass with Vixen and with Puss ’n’ Boots.
Don Adkins: Instrument: the camera. I started photographing in the late ’70s during the heyday of the LA music scene that included the Starwood, Whisky, Roxy, and more. My biggest lucky break was being on the ground floor of bands like Mötley Crüe (I was at Nikki’s house when they came up with the name), Berlin, Poison, and a lot of the acts on Metal Blade Records. My greatest asset was being able to hang with and relate to music artists — no drama, being reliable, and trustworthy.
Katherine Turman: I am a music journalist, author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, producer of the radio show Nights with Alice Cooper, and DJ on Gimme Radio, etc. I was very much part of the music scene, more the Scream, Cathouse scene than the Gazzarri’s type, but I saw everyone in those days, from Poison before they were signed to Jane’s Addiction. My highest-profile gigs and times were the many years I spent at Larry Flynt’s RIP Magazine, covering metal, and as a columnist at BAM (Raw Power) where I wrote about up-and-coming bands.
CZ: How did you get started in the music industry? What led you to be in a band? What was the catalyst for you to be in a heavy metal/hard rock band?
Janet: I was lucky to have been one of the only female students of the late great guitarist, Randy Rhoads. I started taking acoustic guitar at age 6 and at 9 years old, I moved onto electric guitar with Randy. As for starting in this genre, really that was what I grew up listening to: Zeppelin, Sabbath, Deep Purple, all the classic rock bands. I didn’t really know that any of it was called “heavy metal,” but when I got offered to join Precious Metal, I thought that was a really clever band name, so I said yes! It was the ’80s, and that was the kind of music I had grown up on (in the ’70s). It was just a little heavier and somewhat more pop in ways. Precious Metal was more of a “pop-metal” band. Like Poison or Faster Pussycat.
Liza: My parents were artists and musicians, so they always encouraged me to play music and create art. I started playing piano and singing when I was 6. Then when we moved to California, I started studying guitar — I was 9. I took classical guitar lessons and eventually got my degree in music from California State University Northridge with emphasis on classical guitar and voice. All the time I was doing that, I would also sing popular songs and accompany myself on the guitar. While in college, I started to play the bass and perform in clubs in Hollywood. I’d always loved Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and Black Sabbath, but it wasn’t until I started to play the bass that I began to play that style of music. When I graduated from CSUN, Vixen was looking for a bass player, which led me to play with them for a year or so. They were the first group that I toured with — it was a very eye-opening experience!
Jan: As I was hitch-hiking around the country as a teenager, I made my money singing in the streets. I got tired of playing with guys, so I started my own all-girl rock band. I figured if Poison could do it looking like a girl band that a real girl band would be able to be just as successful — boy was I wrong!
Tami: I got started playing drums in a garage band when I was a teenager. I moved to LA in 1987 to go to PIT ( Percussion Institute Technology) and had met Jan through a mutual friend before moving. Through a twist of fate, Jan lost her bass player right before her first show with Puss ‘n’ Boots. I tried out and got the spot. When our drummer quit, I was able to move back to my instrument of choice. I’ve always loved rock and was so happy to be playing in a band!
Katherine: My first concert was Queen at the Forum. I was in junior high, and I just gravitated toward the heavy and the loud ‘n’ dirty, which today, means anything from Raconteurs to Slayer. The reason I got into journalism was 1) I loved reading and writing (and hated math), and 2) I wanted to write about music I liked and turn other people on to great music and musicians.
In the process, I met so many musicians, mostly LA locals. I loved blues-based sleaze-psychedelic-heaviness and dug a slide guitar. So, bands I’d see and love back then included Little Caesar, Broken Glass, I Love You, Masters of Reality, Junkyard, and Love Razors — many of them are friends to this day, some 30 years later.
Don: I started getting good at taking photos and got a lucky break when LA artist Dyan Diamond saw my work, then suddenly I was her photographer. This led to seeing a lot of her shows and meeting other artists on the bill for her shows. Then I got the label of being the “photographer of metal bands,” even though my primary passion was artists like Peter Gabriel, Genesis, Kate Bush, and other prog-rock bands.
CZ: Are you still playing/singing/performing/writing/photographing? If so, what changes have you made since those Aqua-net and kohl-lined eyes days?
Janet: I am still absolutely playing, performing, singing, touring, and recording. My music career basically got started in Precious Metal. In the ’90s we broke up. Grunge came along, and we lost our record deal. It had been about six years already. So, we all moved on. I was lucky and got a call to audition for Lindsey Buckingham’s very first solo touring band. Even though I grew up and liked harder-edged music, I was still a fan of many other genres, including bands like Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, Heart, and many more.
My own musical tastes changed by then although I wouldn’t say it changed, it just evolved. All of my tastes and influences of music got jumbled into my own style of writing, and especially a lot on acoustic as I couldn’t afford to tour with a band. So, I had to show my guitar skills on acoustic and I wanted it to be interesting.
Jan and Tami: Yes, we are still playing, singing, performing, and writing. The changes we’ve made are the following:
We have a guy in the band.
We don’t wear so much makeup.
And we definitely do not tease our hair or use hair spray anymore.
We are better players than we used to be and the music has progressed with our skills.
Liza: After Vixen, I started playing in some cover bands around town. From there I played bass and sang with Leon Patillo (former lead singer of Santana) who was doing an R&B thing that was very fun. I had an eclectic jazz/folk group called Red Van Go which put out a CD and did a couple of tours of Japan. Around that same time, I started to play with a female rock band called Puss ‘n’ Boots. We played all the Hollywood clubs that were happening around 1990/91.
Then in 1992, I had the good fortune to be hired by Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac) to play guitar and sing with his solo group. I toured all over the US and Canada with him for a couple of years and also did some recording. For the past 20 years, I’ve been touring, writing, and performing with my world music group Incendio. I also write a lot of music for TV, film, and music libraries.
Don: You can often find me on the LA scene at Ultimate Jam Night at the Whisky, KCRW School Night, Hotel Café, Grammy Museum shows, and major venue concerts. I have the dream studio that my wife and I built at our house that also is acoustically designed for concerts. Thanks to the state of the music industry, we host four to five house concerts a year featuring various headliners of Hotel Café, Troubadour, and more.
CZ: What bands did you love in this genre who you thought might make it big someday and either did or did not? Any big crushes?
Liza: I was a big fan of Ronnie James Dio and the Scorpions. I didn’t have any really big crushes. I didn’t have a crush on Jimmy Page – I wanted to BE Jimmy Page.
Tami: I liked Little Caesar a lot. I thought they would have made it big! I loved Dirty Dogs and Snake Rock as well. I had it BAD for a dude, Chris Grant, who played guitar and sang in a duo with his brother Vince called The Brothers. They weren’t hard rock or metal, so I don’t know if it counts!
Janet: Well I’m from LA, so I grew up with Guns N’ Roses, Poison, all these bands. We all knew they would really get big. They were selling out venues here, and they had awesome songs and live shows. Precious Metal was doing just as well, but it was a bit different for the all-girl bands in this genre. Even though we had strong followings and were selling some records, we weren’t getting the same equal play on radio. Radio back then only allowed a certain amount of bands with female singers to be on their playlist. ISN’T THAT RIDICULOUS! I was a big fan of Bon Jovi back then, and of course, Heart.
CZ: I remember that too, Janet. It made me so mad when radio peeps would say, “We HAVE our girl band/vocalist.” It also happened a lot with the record companies. They would have tons of guy bands and one girl band and not sign another girl band because they already had one. One.
Jan: I was a huge Motörhead fan, and the local bands I liked were the Dogs, Little Caesar, Dirty Dogs, Snake Rock, and the Nymphs. They weren’t a local band, but I really like the band Smack from Finland. I thought WE (Puss ‘n’ Boots) would make it! Again, boy was I wrong!
Don: I loved the group London, very entertaining, and then saw London lose their lead singer, which then led to brief lead singing stints by Michael White and Blackie Lawless before they disbanded. This laid the seeds for Mötley Crüe (initially named X-MAS). From the beginning, I KNEW that Mötley Crüe were going to be big.
Also, I loved the great female bands of the time starting with the Runaways, then the Orchids, Obsession, and more. I got to know the Orchids well and continue with my friendship to this day with you, Che, my annual NAMM date!).
Crushes in those days? I was more likely to have a crush on someone like Kate Bush but did get to know one of The Orchids very well one night.
CZ: My lips are sealed, Don. (Readers: It was not me.) What gear did you use then? What gear from then are you still using now? I ask this because I recently started playing with a band here in the hinterlands and pulled out my old pink Charvel which still seems to do the trick. I’m using some of the same stomp boxes I used when in Puss ‘n’ Boots, most of them are being updated, and now I use ZT Amplifiers.
Jan: The same stuff I got now, a ’78 Marshall 50 watt head with a Bad Bones cabinet and a ’78 Les Paul Custom.
Janet: I used mainly Marshalls and my custom Jackson soloist guitars. I’m not really using that gear anymore as my style has evolved to Teles, my Fender Blues Deluxe, sometimes my Gibson Les Paul, my custom hybrid Turner-Renaissance Guitar, and, of course, my Taylor DCSM. I also use DR Strings and Martin SPs for my strings, along with Clayton Picks.
Liza: I played a Peavey bass and a Charvel for a while and was using a Gallien Krueger amp and a 2×15 cabinet. Then I was playing with 1×18 and 2x12s. Then for a while, I had an Ampeg with 8X10s. I loved it, but I couldn’t carry it.
I’ve been playing Tobias basses for years now. I love his basses and the sound of the Bartolini pickups. I also play Hanewinckel basses, which also have Bartolini pickups. I was an SWR endorsee for years, and now I’m back with AMPEG. I play their class-D PF800 amp with an SWR 4X10 cabinet.
Tami: I played a Gretsch kit back then, and still have it, but I now play a Pork Pie and can finally afford Signature Paiste cymbals!
CZ: Why do you think all-female bands are still quite a novelty? Did this era possibly push women musicians forward so we could be taken seriously? Thoughts?
Katherine: Well, I think there are a fair amount of bands with one or two women in them, which I think is also great. One of my faves is Le Butcherettes, female singer and drummer. Also love LA band The Regrettes, who generally have just one dude in their lineup.
The ’80s-era female bands like Vixen, the most prominent, were as good as the dudes in both the playing and looks department. Also loved Puss ’n’ Boots. I’d also see L7 and liked that they were dirty and gave no f**ks. (Like that in a dude band, too!). Also, love Kittie; two sisters who were metal af (as the kids say).
I think any heavy band with a female in it “advances” the cause because female fans then can see themselves in that position. Kittie and L7, in particular, didn’t use the “femininity” of their voices. Nor did the Runaways. This is simply my personal preference; I don’t love “symphonic” metal in general and even less with operatic female voices.
Why are all-female bands still a novelty? I wish I had an answer. I think we have to demand to be taken seriously because women in rock were not inherently taken seriously like guys were. It was a “given” for guys, but not for us. Now, we have history and empowerment on our side and can’t be afraid to speak up about anything. It’s been tough getting to this point, but we’re here and need to DO WHAT WE WANT.
There are SO MANY more women playing heavier music now than ever before. Why not more all-female groups? I think and hope it’s just because they form or get in a band that’s best for them and what they want, rather than paying attention to gender.
Don: Novelty only got you so far, so girl bands that were novelty only didn’t last long. We all saw the Runaways develop and watched then grow into good music artists as typified by the later emergence of Joan Jett and Lita Ford as successful artists. The Orchids were also damn good musicians, unfortunately, did not get the traction they should have.
CZ: I love hearing the views from the non-band folks, Katherine and Don, thanks! How about the band chicks?
Janet: I think they aren’t as much of a novelty as they used to be. I think for sure bands during this time helped that, but also women musicians that were IN bands before the ’80s helped as well, like Heart, the Runaways, and more. In the ’60s, you also had strong women performers: Janis Joplin as well as some of the soul singers like Tina Turner. So as long as women keep pushing forward in music, showing their strengths and talents, we will become less and less of a novelty.
You must work hard to build your chops on your instruments or voice, be a great performer, tour, take your songwriting seriously, and take your music “business” seriously. You have to work hard, period. The business is different now. There aren’t big label deals anymore. You have to record, tour, promote, do almost everything yourself, and you have to do it 24 hours a day.
CZ: Thanks for that, Janet. I think a lot of people don’t understand how different the “business” part of the music biz is these days. You have eloquently wrapped it up in one paragraph.
Jan: Sexism is still rampant in our country because white guys are still in charge of the money. Yes, every step we take is a step closer. Progress is slow but steady.
Tami: I’m with Jan on sexism being rampant. I feel that this era definitely pushed women musicians forward. I do feel that we are taken more seriously now than before, but we have a long way to go still.
Liza: More women are playing than there used to be, but men still outnumber us by a long shot. So, even though there are more of us than there used to be, people still think it’s unusual to see a woman playing an instrument in a rock band. I think people take us seriously when they hear that we can play. Walking in on a gig, we are not on equal footing with our male counterparts. The best thing we can do is be the best at what we do, and bring that to every show.
CZ: What were your favorite venues to play, or see other bands play? My faves to play were the Starwood and the Whisky. Club Lingerie in its heyday was also pretty fun.
Jan: I liked Club Lingerie best, but I also liked White Trash a Go Go, the Gaslight, and English Acid as well.
Tami: My favorite was also Club Lingerie.
Janet: Well, out here in LA it was definitely The Roxy and the Whisky but I also really enjoyed the Troubadour and Club Lingerie. My very first live rock concert at a club was at The Starwood where I saw my guitar teacher, Randy play with his then band, Quiet Riot before he got the gig with Ozzy Osbourne. I was 12 years old. That was a cool venue. I also loved the Palomino and FM Station, which was the very first club I played.
CZ: Wow, I forgot about FM Station. They had a ton of live heavy bands playing there.
Liza: Playing the Gorge at George in Washington State was fun. I always like to play The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. I always love playing the Mauch Chunk Opera House in Jim Thorpe, PA — I always feel the ghosts of past performers on stage with me.
Don: The best venue ever was the Starwood, from a fan/photographer perspective. Monumental shows seen there included Judas Priest, Blue Oyster Cult, Blondie, Motley Crue, Ratt, and more.
Katherine: I loved, in no particular order, Club Lingerie, Wong’s West, Troubadour, Cathouse, the Palace, Scream, and went everywhere from Florentine Gardens to the Doghouse to the Music Machine (where they confiscated my fake ID) to The Palomino to the Coconut Teaszer.
Favorite clubs? Where they’d give me free drinks.
CZ: Any weird gig you want to share? Personally, I remember playing in some club with the Orchids and the band before us started kicking around a real (dead) pig head. Most of the girls in the band were outside throwing up. They had actually to mop the stage before we went on, and the scent of dead pig still lingered during our show. It was disgusting, but something I will never forget.
Liza: The weirdest gig by far was playing at a Christian festival in Toronto, Canada with a Christian artist. It was run by a bunch of ex-drug addicts. They thought we hadn’t played a long enough set, so they weren’t going to let us leave or pay us. Luckily, our manager had been the manager for Ike and Tina Turner, so it all worked out; but not before we got followed back to our hotel by a bunch of Christian bikers. Then this weird little Christian woman came into the hotel and started throwing her jacket at us and screaming scriptures. There is a lot more to the story. It’s pretty damn funny looking back on it.
Janet: Once Precious Metal was performing, and some guys afterward came up and asked us were our “boyfriends playing behind the curtain?” Omg. Such idiots. Also, we played a gig somewhere, and some other idiots were throwing dildos on stage during our performance. So demeaning. But honestly, those instances were rare. For the most part, we had loyal fans, both guys and girls, and they were immensely respectful.
Jan: Once, in my first band Spitfire, a fan came up to the edge of the stage and grabbed a mic stand with a heavy bottom and started slamming himself in the nuts with it and screamed: “You girls make me so horny I could cum!” There were a lot of comparable incidents.
CZ: It’s only rock and roll.
Tami: Not as many crazy/weird things that I can remember but there was this one time that our sexy little roadie, Chris, did a pole dance for us backstage at Club Lingerie before our show. It was epic!
CZ: Don, I think you have some of the best ones here.
Don: There are too many to list but examples include seeing John Waite joining Dyan Diamond for a show, seeing John Belushi join the Dead Boys on drums for a show, seeing Divine (from the John Waters movies), seeing WASP throw raw meat into the audience and working the crowd into a frenzy, seeing concerts at Flipper’s Roller Rink (the bands would play in the center while all of us skated around them), and watching glam metal artist Kery Doll light his crotch on fire and blow himself up on stage (metal plate on his chest with an M80 that would detonate and spew a bag of tripe all over the crowd).
CZ: If you could have a do-over in the era we are chatting about, what would you do differently?
Janet: Really not much. I have had an amazing career thus far. Maybe have PM have better management at the time. This is my life experience, and I live with the choices I made at the time. Who knows what would have happened if we had gotten bigger. It might not have gone so well. I am proud to at least still be a working musician, with my own solo work, and now a newer band called The String Revolution, a four-piece virtuoso instrumental guitar band. I’m happy to be alive and healthy, that’s the most important thing in this crazy business.
Jan: I would have picked up guitar sooner.
Tami: I would have studied more with Bruce Gary. I had a one-off lesson with him, and it was very cool. One regret is that when Hunt Sales called me to audition for the all-girl band The Blue Bonnets, I didn’t go for it. (Readers: this is the Go-Gos Kathy Valentine’s band in Austin.)
Liza: I don’t like to think about what might have been. I could be dead if I’d made a different choice. Who knows?
CZ: My sentiments, exactly!
Don: There are some “wish I could’ve been there” moments like 1) seeing AC/DC at the Starwood (I discovered them a couple of months after they played there); and 2) seeing Peter Gabriel at the Whisky (couldn’t get tix).
CZ: I was at that AC/DC gig at the Starwood. Before I met you! What an amazing band with GREAT tunes and the most energy I think I have ever seen in any band, ever.
Katherine: I would have learned to play guitar or bass. Or drums! I took acoustic guitar lessons when I was 12, 13, but didn’t keep up with it. Now, I’m living (and successful proof, ha!) of that old dis, “If you can’t do it, write about it.” But I had a column for Guitar One Magazine, and can “talk the talk,” but I still wish I played, just kinda for the f**k of it. I didn’t have a burning desire to be on stage or write songs, I’d just like to know an instrument well.
Also, I wished I’d joined up with the female-fronted movement of the ‘90s like Rock for Choice, etc. — done more to empower and join with my “fellow” (ha!) women in music.
CZ: What recent bands or even groups who are decades old, both female and male or mixed, do you find yourself listening to these days? I am still old school, in my rut, listening to mostly Zeppelin and the Stones.
Katherine: I listen to EVERYTHING (last night, Father John Misty), love Fantastic Negrito, a NY band called Beechwood (throwback glam-influenced trio), and Walking Papers, but when I’m home hanging out, I go mellow with Cat Stevens, Donovan, Joni Mitchell, etc. Then, when I’m getting ready to go out, just like I did with girlfriends in the ‘80s when we were heading to the Rainbow, I’ll play like Motorhead or Judas Priest or Ramones!
I have a radio show called “Fabulous Disaster” on gimmeradio.com. It’s two hours of metal a week, and I try to play as many bands with women as I can, from Doro to new groups like Windhand and Dead Sara, and also everyone from Cactus to Amon Amarth to Gozu to Monster Magnet to Graveyard to the Bloody Beetroots.
Janet: I still love all the classic bands — Zeppelin, Stones, the Beatles, too and some solo singer-songwriters. I teach some guitar students classic must-know songs, but there is still some good music out there. I love the new Hozier record and Kacey Musgraves’ Grammy-winning record. I’m a proud Grammy voter, and I try to stay on top of what’s out there.
Jan: I listen to old jazz and ’70s and ’80s rock a lot. Humble Pie, James Gang, Roxy Music, and old R&B. I still listen to Hendrix.
Tami: Lately I’ve been listening to an all-girl band from the ’60s that I just became aware of called Ace of Cups, they are effen awesome! I also listen to Hendrix, Soundgarden, Georgia Satellites, Coltrane, and Brubeck to name a few.
Don: Old school. This year’s KISS End Of The Road tour was a highlight — biggest darn production of their career, very innovative staging. But still to this day, I am always eager to see bands like The Cult, Judas Priest, and Sammy Hagar.
Newer era. Saw The National last year — what an incredible live act that gives me hope for where music is going. Other recent/current acts that I listen to and think they are great live include The War On Drugs, St. Vincent, Beck, and Spoon.
Earlier this year, I saw Rosanne Cash the night after seeing KISS and think she is one of the best performing artists of our time. Her shows are perfect.
Liza: I listen to the Foo Fighters, Led Zeppelin, Richard Thompson, Jaco Pastorius, and Vicente Amigo. Stravinsky is a favorite. I love Stevie Ray Vaughan.
CZ: Wow, such a variety of great music! I need to check out some of these artists now, especially the newer ones.
OK, now please promote yourself if you would like. Everyone wants to know what so and so from the band such and such is doing these days. And Don and Katherine, both of you, too.
Tami: Jan and I have been playing together for 32 years. Our current band with Keith Wakefield on bass is Jan King and Medicine Ball. We are just finishing up our fourth record; it will be called Point of Departure. We hope to have it out in the Fall. Our other albums are available on iTunes. Our website is JanKingandMedicineBall.com.
Liza: Incendio is my group along with my husband Jean-Pierre Durand and our partner Jim Stubblefield. We’ve been together 20 years, and we just released our 11th album Summoning the Muse. We kick some serious ass, and you should all check us out on Spotify, Pandora, at incendioband.com and on Facebook and Instagram.
Jean-Pierre and I also have the Carbe and Durand guitar duo that you can check out at all the same places as above and at carbeanddurand.com.
Janet: Well, some of the girls from Precious Metal got back together, and on occasion, they still perform. I will sit in if I’m in town and free.
Don: When you do a live show, send me an invite – I’ll shoot the show. Access for me is everything! I enjoy music, love getting behind the scenes, love getting to know artists, and of course selling stock images that I shoot.
Need studio photography images? We have the coolest studio space in Redondo Beach, reasonably priced. Website and social media sites:
Facebook – Don Adkins Photography
Instagram – @donadkinsphoto
Katherine: A lot of my writing can be seen at: katherineturman.com
Listen to me Tuesdays at 11 am ET on gimmeradio.com
Listen to Nights with Alice Cooper (FM, terrestrial radio, but also streaming from some affiliate stations.) @ nightswithalicecooper.com and check my book at https://www.amazon.com/Louder-Than-Hell-Definitive-History/dp/0061958298.
THANK YOU for hanging out with me and bringing back the vibe of the fun ’80s/’90s metal daze!