360°Sound spoke with Bobbi Jo Hart, director of the new documentary FANNY: The Right To Rock, and Fanny’s drummer Alice de Buhr. Fanny were the first all-female rock band to sign with a major label and record entire albums. However, far too few people today even know who they are. The four-piece released four studio albums between 1970 and 1974 and a reunion album as the trio Fanny Walked the Earth in 2018.
David Bowie was among their fans. He told Rolling Stone in 1999: “They were one of the finest fucking rock bands of their time. They were extraordinary. They wrote everything, they played like motherfuckers, they were just colossal and wonderful, and nobody’s ever mentioned them. They’re as important as anybody else who’s ever been, ever; it just wasn’t their time.”
In addition to all the members of Fanny, the doc features interviews with Todd Rundgren, Kathy Valentine, Earl Slick, and Bonnie Raitt, among others. FANNY: The Right to Rock made its world premiere at Toronto’s Hot Docs Festival and will screen at more festivals in the coming months.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
360°: Bobbi Jo, what drew you to Fanny’s story as a documentary filmmaker?
Bobbi Jo Hart: Alice de Buhr is one of the main reasons, including other bandmates, June [Millington], lead guitarist, Nickey Barclay on keyboards, Jean Millington on bass. And there were some shifts in the band, Patti Quatro on lead guitar and Brie [Howard-Darling] came back on drums for the fifth album.
I was just freaking blown away. Luckily, nowadays, I can see all this fabulous footage. You can find them on Spotify. You can buy their music now through FannyRocks.com. It’s incredible. I was instantly in love and instantly pissed off that I hadn’t heard of them. I instantly felt like, “I’m fucking doing this film.”
While the documentary has archival footage and background information on Fanny’s ‘70s run, it also has a lot on the reunion and comeback album. Discuss the approach of showing the old and new.
Hart: This is my 25th anniversary as a documentary filmmaker this year. All the films are about a celebration of untold stories. There’s so much richness in the backstory of Fanny, but I really wanted a forward momentum narrative that was driving us into the present, because I love cinema verité filmmaking. So, when some bandmates were getting back together with a new rock record deal, I found out like three weeks before, I just jumped. I said I’m going to start filming this. I did my best to sort of juxtapose back and forth.
Alice, you’ve done a lot to keep the Fanny name alive, running the FannyRocks website and co-hosting a new podcast. Tell us about that and what you hope the documentary will accomplish in terms of raising awareness about the band.
De Buhr: I’ve been working for probably the last 20-25 years to keep the name alive – long enough so that Bobbi Jo would find us, and other fans would find us and do something about what we created. What Fanny did mattered.
We didn’t have huge record sales. We weren’t megastars at all. I think the music we created stands up for the most part to today. Actually, I think in some ways it’s better because it’s not autotuned. It’s raw. I think most of the albums were overproduced. I don’t like mariachi horns in rock ‘n roll.
I spent a lot of money. I don’t have a lot of money. But it was worth it for me to get all four of the albums put out on CD. That was one of my initial goals. I wanted to have music available on the format people could currently listen to and have them out there for an affordable price.
Bobbi Jo’s story arc, starting with Fanny Walked The Earth and going back to the original four members and albums and having that archival footage from the Beat-Club and Kenny Rogers [variety show Rollin’] and the French television show, she did a fantastic job. I think that it was an amazingly difficult story to tell because there is so little true footage. I think that the film is just going to help more people understand how Fanny started and why Fanny started and what we accomplished.
Bobbi Jo’s story in the right for women to vote, the right for women to rock, the right of women, the right of young girls, it’s time that women’s rights were recognized and equalized and hopefully with the Get Behind Fanny podcast and the documentary, I’m hoping that all those things start to mesh so more people can say, “Wow, these guys were there 50 years ago?” I’m 71 now. I was 21 when the first album came out. It’s been a while.
Hart: I don’t hesitate at all in saying one of my passionate goals for this was to bring such awareness to the band. I passionately believe they deserve to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Less than 8% of the inductees are women, and Fanny deserves to be one of them. Right now, Tina Turner and The Go-Go’s are in the running. In 2022, let’s get Fanny in there. It’s time.
De Buhr: I worked for the Go-Go’s when I quit playing drums. I worked at A&M Records, who distributed I.R.S. Records. They were very well aware of who Fanny was. They said, “Alice, if it hadn’t have been for you guys, we never would have thought about picking up instruments.” That story needs to be acknowledged and celebrated.
Alice, what do you think were some of the reasons Fanny didn’t get as big as they should have?
De Buhr: I think that sexism was [a factor]. To get to that level of recognition, the record company did what they could. But there was no roadmap like there is with a male band. We were the first that they were promoting on that level. We were too early for the time. Male musicians loved Fanny; they were some of our biggest fans. They were like, it’s so great to be able to talk rock ‘n roll with girls. It wasn’t that we weren’t good enough or our songs weren’t good enough. We were not a pop band. We were definitely FM radio at the time. I think the record company tried as hard as they could, but they just didn’t know what to do. We were just 10 years too early.
Hart: As David Bowie’s lead guitarist, Earl Slick, says in the film, “It’s always the ones that start it that get fucked.” Somebody has to lay that foundation in the mud and then put bricks on top of that, and that first brick is like, “Hey, hey, I started it all.” Fanny had to break glass ceilings. It was really hard what they had to do. Other musicians, especially women musicians, are standing on those shoulders of Fanny because of the sacrifices that they made. It’s great to see that being recognized more and more.
De Buhr: The Go-Go’s had gold albums and there have been some hit all-girl bands but not enough. Not enough to be an equal. I think that all-female bands are still somewhat looked at as a gimmick. Even if they are musically good, I don’t think that their skills are taken that seriously. I’ll bet you money that any female musician is still getting, “They’re pretty good for a girl.” They’re probably still getting asked the question, “What does it feel like to play drums as a girl?” Well, I’m not a guy so I can’t compare it, but it’s like playing drums, what can I tell you?
Hart: When you look at when Fanny hit the scene, they’re kickin’ ass in bellbottoms and rockin’ out. They’re not playing for the male gaze. They’re just living their truth. They’re playing for the human gaze. Let’s all rock out together. To me, that’s one of the most powerful elements that drew me to the band.