2019 Rock Camp – Day 3: Today a little history lesson, and how it applies to the 2019 session of P.J. Olsson’s Rock Camp.
A few days ago, I watched the documentary “L7: Pretend We’re Dead” about the rock group L7 that formed in the 1980’s, but came to national attention in the 1990’s. Although from Los Angeles, they became associated with the Seattle grunge scene through their relationship with Nirvana. Notice how I labeled them, “rock group.” One of the band’s biggest complaints was that the press (and most everyone else) insisted on placing other adjectives into the label: girl rock group, female rock group, etc. They wanted to be noticed for their music, not their gender.
While jazz, rhythm & blues, and traditional (pre-rock) pop music have a long history of important female artists (Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Esther Philips, Patti Page, and Doris Day to name a few, but they were essentially vocalist – one exception, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who played a mean guitar) – when Rock & Roll emerged, it was clearly a man’s world. When looking at the history of Rockabilly, two female artists come to mind, Janis Martin and Wanda Jackson. Martin, who was nicknamed “the female Elvis,” was seen as a novelty, and Jackson raked up a bunch of country hits after she toned down her style. [Just a side note: Wanda Jackson was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which she fully deserves. However, she was placed in a lesser category: “Early Influence,” rather than with the main artists. Her career was contemporary with all the other 1950’s artists inducted – she even toured with Elvis. We should start a petition to right this wrong.]
There were many pop vocalists that emerged during the early rock era and throughout the 1960’s, but not really any rockers (I am speaking strictly of charted hits.) The British Invasion of 1964, nor in the American Garage Rock reaction gave us a all-girl (sorry ladies) band. The San Francisco scene gave us two rock groups with strong lead singers: Jefferson Airplane (Grace Slick) and Big Brother & The Holding Company (Janis Joplin), but it was still the men playing the instruments.
Next came a band that barely gets mentioned anymore (let alone Classic Rock radio airplay), the all-female band Fanny, who’s debut album was released in 1970. The band’s final line-up featured Patti Quatro, who had previously played in an all-female garage band in Detroit called The Pleasure Seekers, consisting of friends and her sisters. One of these sisters would emerge as the next important pioneer – not just a vocalist, but a bass player- Suzi Quatro. Huge in England, but barely made a dent on the American charts – however, often cited as a major influence.
1970’s area rock was an all boys club before the arrival of Heart (Ann & Nancy Wilson, vocals and guitar – but with a male band), and the previously all-male Fleetwood Mac now featured Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie. The New York punk scene had two strong female-led bands in Blondie (Debby Harry) and the Patti Smith Group, plus playing bass with Talking Heads was Tina Weymouth. London came calling with the all-female punk band The Slits, as well as Siouxsie Sioux, leader of the all-male Banshees, and Chrissie Hynde, leader of the all-male Pretneders. In Los Angeles there was Exene Cervenka leading the all-male punk group X. No list of important rockers of the 1970’s would be complete without The Runaways, which included the guitarist Lita Ford and Joan Jett.
One of the downfalls of early-1980’s MTV era, being so image driven, was now female musicians had to not only prove themselves as players, but also had to be attractive for their videos to get played. Important influential rockers from this period include Pat Benatar, The Go-Go’s. and The Bangles. A little later in the decade came Melissa Etheridge. This quick history lesson was not all inclusive, merely a review of some of the major female influences in rock & roll. Which brings us back around to L7.
The hardcore punk scene (and let’s face it – rock in general) was pretty male dominated in the mid-1980’s, even after 30 years of a female pioneers making inroads. This is what L7 had to rebel against, they just wanted to rock, but many did not take them serious. Soon other all-female punk bands started popping up, and of course a label had to be created, so they all got lumped together under the term “Riot Grrrl.”
I suppose a little disclosure. I really never got into a lot of the macho-posing, misogynist rock that teenage boys in the 1980s were “supposed” to like. Had you glanced through my vinyl collection in high school, you would have found most of the artists I mentioned above, plus many other female artists. While I lived in Detroit, many of the bands I hung out with were all-female, including those involved in the Mamapalooza movement. [check out Kate Perotti’s documentary Momz Hot Rock (2009), in the end credits you might just see a certain music journalist mentioned. Shameless plug, but a worthwhile film to watch.]
To me, one of the benefits of listening to a variety of music is getting different perspective. Now, one question remains: What in the world does this have to do with P.J. Olsson’s Rock Camp?
From the beginning, young people have been going to the Big Show, seeing their peers on stage, becoming inspired, getting instruments, learning to play, and then becoming rock campers. Because Rock Camp has always been co-ed, we have had young girls coming to the Big Show, seeing their peers rockin’ the stage, becoming inspired, getting instruments, learning to play, and then becoming rock campers.
From Wanda Jackson to L7…they paved the way, and I know they would all be proud of this…Of our 19 campers this summer, 15 are female – but really gender shouldn’t matter. Come to the Big Show – Saturday, August 10, Rosza Center – and you will see 19 serious rock & roll musicians dedicated to the craft of music-making.
Written by Anthony Daniel
When I was much younger, I hated when my parents sent me off to summer camp, but now that I am much older, I can tell you that I wait 50 weeks of the year for the first day of summer camp (and in this case, 152 weeks since our last session). The camp I am referring to is P.J. Olsson’s Rock Camp. Indeed, an opportunity that I wished I had. For years I had attended the Big Show concerts, and was blown away each time. As an educator, I would see many of these students in school, or through my association with Good Times Music. A few years ago I decided to further develop relationship with and help nurture the talents of these wonderful young musicians, thus I began volunteering with Rock Camp.
Today was the first day of camp. As each camper arrived and finished their registration paperwork, they congregated in the lobby of the Rosza Center, greeting each other and catching up with old friends. To me, it was like the beginning of the U.S.A. For Africa video for “We Are The World” – all your favorite artists gathering to make music together. Trust me when I say, these campers are some of my favorite musicians. If you come to the Big Show, August 10, at the Rosza, you’ll see what I mean – and you might just add them to your own list too.
After being introduced to staff (we’ll talk about them in a later blog), the 20 campers were divided up into 4 bands, assigned a rehearsal space, then released to start the magic. One of the first orders of business is selecting the songs they would like to perform in the Big Show. This is not always an easy task as the members of each group have divergent tastes, but a great lesson in compromise and working together. As I traveled from room to room they had their cell phones out and were sharing their choices with their bandmates. One common theme today was that many of these nominated songs had vocal range issues – but between the sheer talent of these young musicians and the guidance of the professional staff, I am sure will be a challenge met.
Later on in the day, while chatting with staff in the auditorium, I was beckoned by the voice of angels, thus I left to find the source. The trail led me to Caylin and Daryn singing an original song they wrote together, while being accompanied by Maclain. Daryn and Mclain are our two new campers this year. and both have much talent to share.
My next stop took me to the Paris Opera House – not exactly a place one would associate with teenagers attending a Rock Camp, but let’s just say, old Andrew Lloyd Weber is getting worked over. If you come to the Big Show, August 10, masks will be optional.
The third stop of the journey (pun intended), found another group working through some opera-related music as well. Inspired by one of last year’s top films, and one of the most successful music biographical films of all time…well, let’s just say this group will be giving you the “royal” treatment at the Big Show.
Finally, the last band I visited made my emotions clash – I didn’t know if I should hang out or leave. Honestly, these kids are great, just a thinly veiled hint at what you might hear them play at the Big Show. This band will also be powered up using both alternating currents and direct currents too. Oy!
Towards the end of the day, members of the staff commented that today was an amazing first day of camp. Glad I could be part of it, and thank you for letting me share today’s events with you. A special thank you to P.J. Olsson for suggesting my return to music journalism.
Written by Anthony Daniel