Gary James' Interview With Jean Millington Of
David Bowie once called them "One of the most important female bands in American Rock." Not only did David Bowie admire the group, but so did George Harrison, Ringo Starr, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, Deep Purple, Harry Nilsson and Rod Stewart. They toured the world as a support act for people like Slade, Jethro Tull and Humble Pie. The group we are talking about is Fanny. Jean Millington of Fanny talked with us about her group.
Q - Jean, I'm thinking the name "Fanny" for a group in 2016 might not go over very well with feminist groups.
A - I don't know. When we were a band and touring, I certainly thought by the time we got to 2016, t and a (tits and ass) would not be the biggest thing that's still selling, Like Beyonce and all those people. That's all they do. So I don't know that people would be offended by the name "Fanny." It just seems like the feminists movement isn't anything like it was in the '80s and '90s.
Q - I was going to add since George Harrison named the group, what a brilliant name!
A - (laughs) There's so many stories.
Q - Were you in fact friends with George Harrison and The Beatles? Is that story true?
A - I mean you could say we knew them as far as saying we were friends. We met them several times and hung out. We did record the third album at Apple Studios in England. But to say we were friends, I meant they certainly knew who we were.
Q - Do you remember when you first met them?
A - Oh, gosh. Honestly, I couldn't tell you. It was over a time period. I don't have it in my head. My sister June just wrote a book about her experience and our experience in the Rock 'n' Roll world. When did we do the album? I don't know. I'm thinking it was probably somewhere around 1979. No, it had to have been before that. So it might've been '75. Honestly, I don't have those facts and figures in my head. When we recorded at the Beatles' studio, Apple Studios, Geoff Emerick was our engineer. He was The Beatles' engineer. So that was a fabulous experience. I don't think they dropped in at the studio, but at some point while we were there, there was some big charity thing going on and Paul and Linda were there. Mick Jagger was there. There were a lot of luminaries at this place. So I know we met Paul and Linda at that time. And then at another point, after June had left the band, I guess the album would've been '72, '73 come to think of it and June was producing an album called "Isis" down in Sea Saint Studios down in New Orleans and I was traveling around. Just checking out stuff. Paul and Linda were there recording an album. So that was another time we sat down and chatted with Paul and Linda.
Q - Do you remember meeting John Lennon?
A - Well, of course. My first husband played on the "Double Fantasy" record. My daughter was maybe six months old and she was born in '79. So that had to be around 1980 when they were recording "Double Fantasy". I was in the studio, hanging out with my daughter and (Earl) Slick was playing guitar. Even June came by at one point. I was doing my best to be cognizant of keeping my daughter quiet. So I didn't really go in the studio a whole lot and hang out. June came by to deliver something to Slick and she went right into the control room. She had a conversation with Lennon for a least an hour. She's just that kind of a person. It was pretty funny. But I certainly was around for John Lennon and Yoko over a period of about two weeks. Not real close personal friends. They certainly knew who I was. And then Fanny sang on a Ringo Starr album. We sang back-up. That had to be more like 1970, 1971, which Richard (Perry) was producing him. So, we met Ringo at that time. He called us "Those brown girls" or something like that. It was pretty funny.
Q - "Brown girls." I don't get that.
A - (laughs) Or those "Asian girls," something. I guess he called us "Asian girls."
Q - You were on Casablanca Records. They had KISS, Donna Summer, Village People. How much promotion did they do for Fanny?
A - I don't think they did all that much.
Q - I was afraid you would say that.
A - Yeah. That was after June had left the band and Alice (de Buhr) had left the band. Brie Howard was playing drums and then Patti Quatro was in the band at that point. So, it was really a different dynamic.
Q - In 1968 you were already touring the West Coast as Wild Honey. You bought a old Greyhound bus. Where did the money come from to buy such a bus?
A - Well, it was an old bus. My Dad helped us fix it up. My Dad painted it. It wasn't like an expensive tour bus or anything like that. It was funky, but it was functional for us. It carried our equipment and transported us and all our stuff. We purchased that from band money, doing gigs.
Q - You father being in the military and moving around no doubt prepared you for life on the road?
A - Well, m father left the military when he married m mother. So we were not military kids at all. It wasn't that, but because we had each other, I mean my Julie left home and started touring at 16, 17 years old. First of all I can't believe our parents allowed us to do that. Things were a whole lot safer then than they are today, but because it was the four of us, we supported each other, protected each other and plus we were all rather innocent and just didn't think about terrible things that could happen to us. It really made life on the road a lot of fun.
Q - In 1969, Richard Perry helped you get a record deal with Warner Brothers. Where did he catch your act? At a gig? Did you get him a demo tape?
A - No, what happened was we did Hoot night at the Troubadour in L.A. and his secretary happened to be there that night and so she called Richard. The next day we had packed up and were sitting at the Tropicana Hotel. I can't remember who it was who showed up at the hotel and said, "No. You can't leave. Richard Perry wants to hear you." And so he arranged for us to go into Wally Heider Studios. So we set up and played and he recorded us and on the basis of that, that's how he heard us. Then he really wanted to sign us to Warner Brothers. He's the one that was quite instrumental in doing that.
Q - He's the one that got you to play on Barbra Streisand's album, "Stoney End"
A - Yes.
Q - What was it like to work with Barbra Streisand?
A - Well, the thing is, we had never worked with a singer who could sing the same song three or four times through and each time it was completely different. It was just stunning. I couldn't believe that she could change that much within the context of the same song and she was quite gracious to us. She hung out. She had jeans and a t-shirt on. She was very comfortable with us and seemed to enjoy the whole experience. We didn't know what to expect. She's a huge star and she brings us in, but she was quite down to earth and very friendly.
Q - Since you were around in the late '60s, would have crossed paths with Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin?
A - No. They were playing different venues. I think when I was 15 and June was 16, we were at Winter Wonderland and saw Jimi Hendix there. I mean it was just an unbelievable experience.
Q - How so?
A - Because of his persona, how he played, the energy he put out, the vibration. It was just so powerful. It really was quite inspiring to us. And as far as Jim Morrison, not playing with The Doors, but I gotta say when we were 14, 15, something like that, we auditioned at the Fillmore and the band that auditioned before us was The Doors!
Q - How much do you remember?
A - I remember the name and seeing them, but they were not personas at that point, so it wouldn't have stood out being Jim Morrison.
Q - They weren't The Doors then!
A - They weren't The Doors then.
Q - Just another band.
A - Yeah. We were probably Wild Honey and so none of us had started on the track to success in that way.
Q - At one point your sister June left Fanny. Why?
A - She was quite disillusioned with the male dominated record company and how they did business. They were trying to move us in that Glam direction and more the t and a and we were really a funky, down home Rock 'n' Roll band. Jeans, t-shirts, that kind of thing. There was so much pressure on us to change the direction of the band, wear a lot more revealing outfits. That kind of thing. And there was enough internal strife in the band with Nickey (Barclay) that just unraveled June. She just couldn't take it anymore.
Q - Is there a Fanny today?
A - Well, interesting you should ask that because last February; my sister lives in Goshen, Massachusetts and it's near Northampton. There's five sister colleges there. Anyway, she has a Rock 'n' Roll girls camp that was established about ten years ago and it's been building every year. And so what happened is, she's brought a lot of... she's been recognized by the people in those towns. For instance, she said there were two different college professors who had said to her they know the students that had gone through the Rock 'n' Roll camp. They were much more articulate, really clear-headed. Knew what they wanted. That kind of thing. So the Arts Council apparently in Northampton do fund raising late Winter, early Spring and there's somebody there who decided that one of the shows for fund raising should be a tribute to my sister and the band. So in February I flew back there and we played at the Academy Theatre. It's an 800 seater and it was sold out. Alice de Buhr, who was our drummer at the time, her mother was dying. Her mother died March 31st. She was the primary care giver for her mother and she said she just couldn't leave and so Brie, who was our drummer back in the Svelts and Wild Honey days, we had reconnected. I'd seen her over Christmas time and we asked Brie did she want to come and play drums. And so she did. When we were rehearsing we really went back to our Motown roots in that the vocals are so powerful with Brie. We rehearsed. We did the performance. We did all this stuff and then at the end of it people were saying, "You really should do the show on the West Coast." June and Brie and I were saying, "It was so comforting being together. So powerful. It's a shame we had all this rehearsal and we're not doing anything with it." What ended up happening was, Brie's husband, whose name is Dave, is a record producer in L.A. He produced Glen Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy". He's one of the few working producers in L.A. and one of the companies he's been doing a lot of producing for is a small record company about two years old called Blue Elan. It turns out that Kirk, who is the man who started Blue Elan and owns that record company, is a big Fanny fan. My son is in a band and we went down to support him, they were doing an album release and a professional video release in the beginning of April. It turned out we had a meeting with Kirk, the owner of Blue Elan. He offered us a record deal. So, funny enough, year we actually have a record deal.
Q - And now you have to put some material together so you can go out on the road to promote the CD?
A - Yeah. I suppose that would be down the line. Kirk's whole thing is I think he's signed ten artists over the last two years and these are people that he greatly admired. He loved their music. He wants to give people a second chance to come up to the forefront.
Q - So many of the artists I interview these days say don't sign a record deal. They want you publishing, your merchandising.
A - He's not that way. He is not in that head space. First of all, from what I understand he already has plenty of money. He's a movie business lawyer so he made a lot of money there. So, music is his passion and his hobby. Dave has been working with him the last couple years. Dave would never involve us with somebody who's that way. Kirk has said things to us like he's not interested in a seventy or eighty page contract. He said, "My contracts are seven pages." And one of the things included in there is tour support, non-refundable. He doesn't collect that back. The advances are non-refundable. He doesn't collect that back. He is one of the few people offering a budget for recording an album. I think it's probably around $50,000 is what he said. So it's pretty unbelievable now 'cause most everybody records at home and presents it and the record company puts it together, if they even get a record company interested. But this is a whole different thing. Kirk wants to go back to returning how records are not done anymore. I'm sure they have a different game plan. They're not looking for us to be Beyonce. That's not the goal. The goal is to get our music back out there and there are a lot of Fanny fans. There's just always a lot of interest in Fanny. It's just unbelievable. Well, the good news about us having a record deal is we're all in our 60s and none of us is desperate. So now it can really be fun. I think that's what we're all kind of thinking and looking at. (laughs)
Q - You're totally free.
A - Yeah, that's right. None of us is desperate to become a star.
Q - It sounds like Kirk isn't breathing down your neck to give him a hit record?
A - No, not at all. He wants us to do what makes us happy. June is quite the prolific songwriter and she has sent Dave a couple of songs in the rough. She went to Hawaii for a couple of weeks and my brother, David Scott, is a musician and he also does sound. He has a studio. So she went in and cut two songs, really rough and Dave just loved them. He thinks they're great. And Dave is going to produce us.
Q - You've got it all mapped out!
A - Yeah. There's a whole lot of energy that is going on.