June Millington :: still jammin’, still cool & always gay

by Bill Biss

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday October 4, 2011

What began as a genuine interest in a new CD release called "Play Like a Girl" unraveled like a ball of yarn into a rich rock n' roll tapestry of musical history in discovering more about June and Jean Millington.

Way before The Runaways or The Go-Go's, the two sisters formed the very first professional all-girl rock group called Fanny. Signed by Warner/Reprise label in 1969, the group had major international success and cut four albums on the Reprise label. A major fan of Fanny, since the beginning, David Bowie has been quoted as saying, "of the most important female bands in American rock has been buried without a trace. And that is Fanny. They were one of the finest... rock bands of their time, in about 1973. They were extraordinary... they're as important as anybody else who's ever been, ever; it just wasn't their time."

Fast forward to 2011 and June and Jean Millington have returned with an incredible excursion of rock that is layered with all their talent, skill, musicianship and lyrics. Their passion for music has stood the test of time in all regards. Here for EDGE Media Network, June Millington talks about the early years, the incarnation of the return of the two sisters and why she considered it "no big issue" to be a lesbian rock n' roll guitarist... and a phenomenal one at that.

Recalling Fanny

EDGE: Before we talk about your new work that you created with your sister, Jean... I wanted to ask you a few questions about your all-girl rock group, Fanny, that was created in the late 1960s. You were on the Warner/Reprise label at that time. Does the name, Mo Ostin [Vice-President of Reprise] ring any bells for you?

June Miillington: Yes! Of course!

EDGE: What was your working relationship with him when you were at the label?

June Miillington: He was the head of Reprise, when we signed. It was producer, Richard Perry whose secretary saw us at The Troubadour... that’s how we got discovered and signed. Richard auditioned us and left for London. He got Mo Ostin to sign us sight-unseen. I’m pretty sure Mo signed us because Richard was a hit producer for novelty acts. I suspect Richard and Mo thought Fanny would be a successful novelty act because no one had ever seen all girls play before. Also, at the time, The Beatles had such success and that rested on the foundation of them being discovered as a novelty act, actually.

We met Mo many times... he’d come over to our house and saw us play in the basement and all that stuff. I kind of considered him a friend.

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Watch June Millington perform "Terrible Things":

Working with Barbra Joan

EDGE: How would you describe the vibe at the label during the time you were there?

June Millington: Wonderful, it was very musical. The first time we went to Warner Brothers to see Richard [Perry] in his cubicle, literally, it was all a bunch of cubicles for the producers, it was in a Quonset hut on the movie lot. As we passed each cubicle, we could hear the music that each producer was playing... which was really cool! The producers there at the time were Perry, Lenny Waronker and Ted Templeman, all now famous legends and we were friends with all of them. They were experimenting with three or four acts at the time.

The three artists, I’m going to mention, recorded their first album twice. That was Fanny, Randy Newman and Ry Cooder. The vibe at Warner/Reprise was incredibly artistic and musical.

EDGE: Another aspect of your career which is fascinating is you and your sister, Jean played guitar and did back-vocals for the 1971 Streisand album, "Barbra Joan Streisand." Based on the technology at the time, you must have cut the tracks with her?

June Millington: Yes, all live and at various times, some of us individually had played on her tracks as overdubs. We knew Barbra, because she used to date Ryan O’Neal and they’d come to The Whiskey A Go-Go to see us. So, she was out on dates when we met her. (laughter)

Recording their new CD

EDGE: Do you have a favorite track that you did on that album?

June Millington: I’d have to say I like "Where You Lead." I love that song. Of course, it’s a Carole King song. I like the way Barbra belted it out and we had a great time recording it live in the studio. We were all in the same room. She was standing on a podium and we were playing and looking right at her.

EDGE: Your guitar playing is really exceptional. I was reminded of Santana, ZZ Top and Jimi Hendrix in the quality, especially on the new song, "Apocalypse Deferred."

June Millington: Thank you and by the way, you can’t leave out Duane Allman. The two-octave guitar parts in the middle of the solo on that... that’s very "Duane." I never jammed with Duane but certainly I jammed with Lowell George from Little Feat, Skunk Baxter, who was in Steely Dan, when we first met... those guys had a huge influence on me.

EDGE: What was the initial spark to create this new music?

June Millington: Well, I shattered my kneecap in 2009. I had surgery and had to stay in bed for a month. During that recovery period and learning how to walk again, I had a dream one night, where the second verse of the title track, "Play Like a Girl" just appeared. I woke up and the words were right in front of me and I could actually kind of hear them. "Two little girls staring out at the sea, water touching China, it’s as blue as can be," and after thinking about it, I realized we went to my mother’s hometown in the Philippines, when we were kids, we stood or swam in the sea and it was in fact...The China Sea. The next day, I had the whole song laid out, it was pretty incredible.

So, I called Jean up and said, "I’ve got this song and I think we better record it and record all the stuff that we have in the can. We had a lot of songs that we had been sitting on since 1999."

"I love your hair"

EDGE: Wow, I’m really enjoying the song "One For Change" right now.

June Millington: "One For Change" was actually written during one of our "rock n’ roll" girls camps here that Jean happened to be teaching. I wrote that during the camp while she was here.

Two girls who love the camp and love the fact that they got to play guitar solos on that. "One For Change" happened during our camp, which was really amazing. The three-part guitar solo that leads to the guitar solo, it is actually a girl from the Netherlands, a girl from Connecticut and me. I designed that so the girls could take their individual solos... and boy! Did they ever!

EDGE: There is another track that’s a lot of fun and that’s "I Love Your Hair." In the lyrics, are you referring to fans and your time in the business...

June Millington: It’s kind of both, you actually hit upon it. For about a decade, people have been stopping me everywhere. They’ll come up to me and say, "I love your hair," with a huge smile and then just walk on. That’s actually people speaking to me but the verses all contain my career, as seen through my hair. (laughter) That’s what I tell people on stage because it’s the absolute truth.

EDGE: Being in rock n’ roll, was it always a case of "she’s a lesbian and that’s cool?"

June Millington: Certainly in Fanny, everybody knew I was gay, who was around us. It wasn’t anything I tried to hide but I really appreciated that that wasn’t featured at the time, or needed to have a huge amount of attention on it. After I left Fanny, which had nothing to do with my being gay, I met and played with Cris Williamson [feminist singer and lesbian political activist] on her first album.

That was a big synthesis/ turning point for me. It was something I was searching for internally, that was not being addressed in my life in Hollywood. All of a sudden, a lot of elements started to come into play. Playing with Cris solidified my playing, my spirituality, my involvement in playing with other women... those were very fruitful years. In the 1980s, I started playing solo albums and co-founded The Institute for The Musical Arts [ima.org] with my partner, Ann. Now, we are in 2011 and all of it is in "Play Like a Girl." I’m passing on what Jean and I have learned, let’s say, from a lifetime of service.

EDGE: Thank you so much, June.

June Millington: Good speaking with you. Thanks a lot.

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