The Greatest Female Guitarists of All Time, A–G Issue #35 Issue #35
By Venus Zine Staff
Published: March 1st, 2008 | 12:25pm
Father knows best: Born in upstate New York and raised in California, Jennifer Batten got hold of her first electric guitar at age 8. The motivation to learn at such a young age, Batten says, was initially because she was jealous that her sister already had an instrument and she didn’t. After starting lessons, Batten loved and was inspired by songs on the radio, including the Beatles. “My father was a jazz lover and always had records playing,” she says in an e-mail interview. “He played guitar also and had deep respect for musicians.”
A little help from the King of Pop: In 1987, Batten got her big break when she was picked from more than 100 guitarists to join Michael Jackson’s touring band. Thanks to Jacko, she got to tour the world several times and play Super Bowl XXVII. Despite what sounds like a whirlwind ride, Batten describes the experience as a “paid vacation” and acknowledges it for playing a large role in kicking her career into high gear. “The gig immediately lifted me into the spotlight, and I became very high-profile,” she says. “[Michael Jackson] wanted me to stand out, so he created the look with the giant white hair. It allowed me to get a lot of equipment endorsements and other gigs.”
Signature styles: It was while attending the then Guitar Institute of Technology (now the Musicians Institute) that Batten learned and ultimately perfected the two-handed tapping style that other guitar gods like Eddie Van Halen made popular. Batten says she also uses the Digitech whammy pedal, which creates a sliding kind of sound that she can control with her foot. She also uses big intervallic jumps that she learned from Joe Diorio and his book on modern intervallic designs.
Additionally, Batten is a big fan of guitar string dampers, which help create a cleaner sound and control feedback when playing clean or with distortion. Batten says she couldn’t find a reliable source for them and decided to manufacture them herself, coining the Batten String Damper.
A little bit of everything: At one point, Batten was a member of six bands, playing various genres, which included rock, metal, fusion, and funk. But, Batten says, she doesn’t limit herself to any one form.
“The style I like best is the one that comes out of me, which doesn’t really fit any particular category,” she says. “It’s somewhere between electronica, jazz, fusion, rock, experimental, and world beat.” The results of this can be heard throughout her first two solo albums, Above, Below, and Beyond and Momentum.
Her latest album, Whatever, was released in September 2007 in Japan and will be available in the U.S. soon. Batten says her latest influences make her third album “very different in every way” from her first two. “I was turned onto a lot of electronica from my time with Jeff Beck,” she says. “I got into using the guitar synth to access any sound I wanted and I used a lot of vocal samples. All the tracks have very different textures from each other.”
On women in rock today: “The music industry, as with most arts, is extremely difficult. As far as instrumentalists, I think it's become more acceptable due to people like Michael Jackson, Prince, White Zombie, Jeff Beck, David Bowie, and Don Henley having an open mind about hiring female band members,” Batten says. “Once enough people see and hear it, it becomes more common and acceptable for other bands to hire us.” — Daniela Garcia
YouTube video of Jennifer Batten playing "Flight of the Bumblebee"
Christina billotteCHRISTINA BILLOTTE
Punk cred: Washington, D.C., singer-songwriter-guitarist Christina Billotte got her start in the math rock pioneer band Autoclave before starting the all-female punk trio Slant 6 in 1992. Five years later, she co-founded Quix*o*tic with her sister Mira Billotte (now of White Magic) and toured with Sonic Youth and Fugazi among others. Known in some circles as the queen of post-D.C. hardcore, Billotte later sang and played guitar in the Casual Dots, a sort-of indie-punk super group featuring Bikini Kill’s Kathi Wilcox and Deep Lust’s Steve Dore. The band released a self-titled album on Kill Rock Stars in 2004. — A.S.
Slant 6’s “I Love You A Lot” video
Kat bjellandKAT BJELLAND
Babes in Rocknroll Land: Babes in Toyland — featuring Kat Bjelland on lead vocals and guitar, Lori Barbero on drums, and Michelle Leon on bass — formed in Minneapolis in the late '80s and eventually released the last of their five albums in 1995.
Popular with fans of other grungy, noisy bands like L7, Jack off Jill, and 7 Year Bitch, the Babes were largely pigeonholed as a "kinderwhore" band, a media term for the babydoll-dress fashion popularized by Bjelland and Courtney Love. To simply listen to their music, Babes in Toyland and Courtney Love's Hole sounded like grunge, but because they were ladies, the "kinderwhore" term was used to differentiate them.
In 1992, the Babes released the critically acclaimed "Fontanelle" LP on Reprise Records, and went on to release two more in '93 and '95. Their successes in the early '90s included a coveted spot on the '93 Lollapalooza tour, magazine covers, bit parts on TV's "Roseanne," "Absolutely Fabulous," and the inclusion of their "Bruise Violet" video on the much-loved MTV cartoon "Beavis and Butthead."
Noise is a necessity: Babes in Toyland anticipated many of the rocknroll advances that would occur over the end of the century; Bjelland & Co. were eschewing traditional rock structures and embracing discordant noise right around the same time as the far-more-often–quoted Sonic Youth and Nirvana. Although never involved directly, Bjelland and Babes are widely reported as being an influence on riot grrrl bands such as Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill. "Kat Bjelland was a major influence on guitar players in the mid-’90s," notes Carla DeSantis, former editor of ROCKRGRL magazine. "She may be known for her banshee-screaming vocals, but she came up with some amazing chords as well."
Kat-as-trophy Wife: Bjelland has continued her musical career with Katastrophy Wife, another Minneapolis-based band. On their second full-length release as of early 2008, All Kneel on Rish Records, the band has enjoyed success with international touring and airplay on outlets like MTV2 and BBC Radio 1. Given the loyal following built up by Babes in Toyland, we hopefully won't hear the last from Kat Bjelland for a long time coming. — Dana Stewart
Babes in Toyland "Bruise Violet"
Babes in Toyland "Pain in My Heart" live
streaming BiT audio available on fuzz.com
Rory blockRORY BLOCK
Training ground: Aurora “Rory” Block was born in 1949 to two young parents with artistic hearts. “I grew up in a family where, on a good day, music, art, and poetry were the most important things in life,” Block recounts in Life Story, a memoir-like entry on roryblock.com. As a teenager, the New York–raised guitarist participated in Washington Park jam sessions and encountered blues greats such as Reverend Gary Davis and Skip James. At the age of 15, Block left home and traveled west.
No use for the commercial: In the ’60s Block recorded the instructional album How To Play Blues Guitar (Elektra) but dedicated the latter part of the decade and the early ’70s to starting and building a family. By the mid ’70s, Block did a few recordings that were not quite blues in an attempt to have a more commercial feel. This new sound was soon abandoned as Block became frustrated with trying to gain industry appeal. Her return to blues roots led to a record deal and the critically acclaimed 1981 album, High Heeled Blues.
In due time: After decades of cultivating her craft, the 1990s brought a sea of recognition and praise. She received the most prestigious award in the blues genre, the Blues Music Award for Traditional Blues Female Artist of the Year (1997 and 1998) and for Best Acoustic Blues Album (1996 and 1999). Her 2003 release, Last Fair Deal, left critics in awe of her ability to be both a traditionalist and an innovator in the world of blues. — Niema Jordan
Rory Block covers Robert Johnson's Crossroad Blues
"When You've Got a Good Friend" by Rory Block
Carrie brownsteinCARRIE BROWNSTEIN
Claim to fame: Though she played in early-’90s riot grrrl band Excuse 17, the 33-year-old’s most famous work came in the form of her tireless riffing for Portland’s Sleater-Kinney from 1994 to 2006.
A head start: At 15, Brownstein took a few guitar lessons from Sunny Day Real Estate frontman Jeremy Enigk. Her parents asked her to save up her own money to purchase a guitar, so she did — and kept at it.
Signature moves: During Sleater-Kinney’s energetic live shows, Brownstein sometimes swung her arm around, windmill-style, before hitting a note. Another element of Brownstein’s show — her many high kicks — miraculously never interfered with her playing.
Activist roots: As a band on Kill Rock Stars’ radical roster, Sleater-Kinney injected new energy into feminist rocknroll. Their 1997 release, Dig Me Out, wore its gender-equity agenda proudly and gained mainstream acclaim to boot. Not only did Sleater-Kinney pen songs mocking rock-star swagger and early-2000s jingoism, the trio did so in an urgent and cathartic way that mobilized would-be political apathetics.
The balls-out encore recording: On The Woods, Brownstein and company played songs that spanned their impressive range of musical styles in a seeming nod to their long-term fans — “The Fox” sounds reminiscent of punk-inflected Call the Doctor–era Sleater-Kinney, “Jumpers” like the straight-up rock of Dig Me Out, and “Modern Girl” recalls the sweetness of the closing tracks on All Hands on the Bad One.
Current projects: While Sleater-Kinney still maintains its indefinite hiatus, Brownstein does an Internet comedy show with SNL’s Fred Armisen called Thunderant. She also writes a blog on NPR’s Web site called “Monitor Mix” (npr.org/blogs/monitormix) in which she opines about bands she likes and asks questions of her audience. — Arianna Stern
"Jumpers" by Sleater-Kinney
"Modern Girl" by Sleater-Kinney
Elizabeth cottenELIZABETH COTTEN
The legend: Born in 1895 in Carborro, North Carolina, Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten was a traditional folk and blues guitarist. Cotten was self-taught and didn’t use traditional guitar tunings, instead opting for a unique style in which she strummed left-handed and held the guitar upside down. By doing this, Cotten had to pluck the bass with her fingers and strum the melody with her thumb. Her style, as music writer Katy Henriksen notes, "was so inherently and distinctly hers" that it has since been dubbed “Cotten Picking.”
An early start: The youngest of five children to musically inclined parents, Cotten picked up her first banjo — her brother’s — at age 7 and began playing songs by the age of 8. Cotten eventually purchased her own guitar named “Stella” and began writing songs, including the classic “Freight Train” at age 11.
Time off: At 15, she met and married Frank Cotten. Elizabeth took the time to stop playing guitar and focus on the church and her family life after the birth of her daughter, Lillie. Cotten didn’t pick up the guitar again for nearly 25 years, save for the occasional church performance. Once her daughter Lillie married, Cotten divorced and moved in with her daughter and grandchildren.
Career jumpstart: Cotten began working as a maid for the family of a young Peggy Seeger, an American folk singer, while she was in her 60s. It was her time with the Seegers that reignited Cotten’s love of the guitar. Mike Seeger, brother of Peggy and a noted American folk singer and folklorist, helped Cotten in making reel-to-reel recordings in her home in 1957 and 1958. These recordings would later be known as Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar.
A large “freight”: Cotten wrote “Freight Train” when she was 11 years old. Based on her experiences growing up next to railroad tracks, the song was eventually included in Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar. It has since been covered by the likes of Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, and Peter, Paul and Mary.
Later career: Although Cotten’s career took off in the later years of her life, the legend quickly established herself on the folk scene. Cotten began to work within the burgeoning folk music scene of the ’60s with musicians such as Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. In 1967, Cotten released Shake Sugaree with her grandchildren after the resurgence of interest in her career. Cotten continued to record and play shows throughout her later life. In 1984, she won a Grammy award for “Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording” for her album Elizabeth Cotten Live. She died at the age of 92 in Syracuse, New York.
"Elizabeth Cotten was a true innovator," says Henriksen. To this day, Cotten remains one of the most influential folk and blues guitarists, which she was well aware of when she once said, “You're gonna miss my playin', you're gonna miss my everyday talk. You're gonna say, ‘I wish Elizabeth was here,’ and you're gonna look and I won't be there.” — Brittany Julious
Elizabeth Cotten on the origins of “Freight Train”
Cotten performing in 1969
Cotten performing “Freight Train” with Pete Seeger
Brody dalleBRODY DALLE
An Aussie ex-pat embraces American DIY: Brody Dalle started punk band the Distillers after moving to L.A. from Melbourne, Australia around 2000. As a young 20-something, Dalle and the Distillers grew a fan base with their first, self-titled album for Epitaph Records. The Distillers (with a regularly changing lineup) released 2002's Sing Sing Death House (Hellcat) and 2003's Coral Fang (Sire), whose single "Drain the Blood" made it to No. 23 on the Billboard Modern Rock Charts. After touring for Coral Fang, the Distillers took an indefinite hiatus so each member could pursue different projects.
Carrying the punk torch into the new millennium: "The Distillers picked up where Hole left off," says Carla DeSantis, former editor of the now-defunct ROCKRGRL magazine. Media coverage of the Distillers almost always focused on Dalle's personal life, but DeSantis reminds us that "Brody is an accomplished guitarist and punk rock role model," not just the girlfriend of some dude or a girl with a mohawk. In the vein of Green Day, At The Drive-In, or back to bands like X or Social Distortion, the Distillers will go down in history as a true American punk group, fronted by an indisputably fierce frontlady.
No rest for the true rocker: As of early 2008, Dalle is in the studio with fellow musicians Tony Bevilacqua from the Distillers, Jack Irons of Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Alain Johannes of Queens of the Stone Age working on a new band, Spinnerette. "Brody had a good groove, and I felt like it was easy to get into it,” says Spinnerette’s Jack Irons, who plays drums.
From Dalle’s scarce interviews and the material available on spinnerettemusic.com, it's obvious that Spinnerette will be more rock and less punk than the Distillers. Although she has dismissed her role as "[M]ainly a rhythm player ... just downstroking, you know," (in a 2004 interview with Guitar Player), her solid punk guitar was the constant force that kept the Distillers going. Regardless of future projects, Dalle's signature growl and intense presence will no doubt bring Distillers fans along for the ride. — Dana Stewart
Conversation between Brody Dalle and Shirley Manson of Garbage
Distillers perform "Drain the Blood" live
Distillers perform "The Hunger" live
Kim dealKIM DEAL
Familiar face: Kimberly Ann Deal’s iconic status solidified as the bassist and occasional singer for the legendary punk-surf-indie rock band Pixies. However, she immersed her guitarist-songwriter talents in many other projects including supergroup the Breeders — with identical twin sister Kelley Deal and Throwing Muses’ Tanya Donelly — as well as a short-lived stint fronting a rougher sounding quartet the Amps.
Multiple personalities: Deal has flirted with stage-name pseudonyms such as Mrs. John Murphy during the Pixies’ Doolittle and Surfer Rosa years. While with the Amps, she went under the name Tammy Ampersand.
Rebellious nature: Deal has never been a conformist. She's always had problems with authority, often running into conflict as a cheerleader in high school in her home state of Ohio. This continued with her constant clashes with Frank Black in Pixies regarding her input — not wanting to lurk in his creative shadows — eventually leading to the band’s breakup and leaving room for Deal to fully concentrate on the Breeders.
A rock purist: Deal is adamant about using organic methods to compose her music. The Breeders’ latest album, Mountain Battles, was comprised with producer Steve Albini using the “new wave” philosophy to create an all-analog record despite the digital revolution. Deal pushed to do things the lo-fi way regardless of her critics. “I still don't like the ProTools thing, but I guess I'm kind of a dork,” Deal said in a December 2007 interview with Pitchfork Media.
On stage fright: Although Deal is no rookie to the business, she still occasionally gets performance jitters. Speaking of the Pixies’ triumphant reunion tour in 2004, Deal explained her feelings when facing a crowd of 50,000. “Terrified,” she says in an interview with Venus Zine in February 2008. “Yes, that was the emotion. Pixies started off the Coachella 2004 set with a song called ‘Bone Machine.’ I could hear noise, but I couldn't actually follow the drumbeat. I was so scared looking at that sea of people that my ears were ringing. I was so overwhelmed that my senses were incapacitated. Like feeling extreme rage. Anyway, I fucked up ‘Bone Machine,’ and my world went from super big to microscopic in a second. All I could do then was to just play the next note.” — Gina Pantone
Clip from 2002 documentary of the Breeders
Interview with Frank Black of the BBC
"Cannonball" music video
Ani difrancoANI DIFRANCO
The true story of what was: Born in Buffalo, New York in 1970, Ani DiFranco started playing guitar at age 9. With a little bit of money, DiFranco released her first album in 1990 on her own label, Righteous Babe Records. Aside from releasing an album almost every year since, DiFranco has also handpicked several musicians to add to her label's roster, including Andrew Bird and Toshi Reagon. In addition to writing her own lyrics and music, DiFranco has done much of her own production work.
Little folksinger, 'lotta nerve: DiFranco's words, always fusing the personal with the political, have been the soundtrack to many women's lives, including RBR label-mate Anaïs Mitchell, who started listening to DiFranco as a teenager. “I think the most inspiring part of the Ani model is that she didn't wait for anyone else, some record company or whatever, to give her the green light to make her art,” Mitchell says in an e-mail. “She just put out a record and then another and another, and then … she was Ani DiFranco! A lot of great artists got fucked just waiting for their ship to come in.”
Now at 37, DiFranco remains one of today's most fiercely independent musicians. “I'm not sure anyone has had more impact, at least on my generation of women in music,” Mitchell says. “She cut a wide swath, she expanded our sense of what was possible, and certainly she's been a model for the independent music movement. When she started RBR, you didn't just do that, start your own record label.”
Also a committed feminist and activist, DiFranco in 2006 was the first musician to be honored with the National Organization for Women's Woman of Courage Award.
Music reaching millions: Mitchell says she was first moved by the “raw emotion” in DiFranco's music. “First of all, Ani's just a really excellent guitar player,” she says. “She gives the guitar a voice in her songs — it's not just accompaniment. To me, it's like she's got punk rock in her right hand, jazz in her left hand, and folk coming out her mouth.” Leigh Marble, who has been running the largest DiFranco guitar tablature Web site since about 1996, also said his love for DiFranco came from a mix of her words and her sound. “I just connected really strongly early on with the combination of pithy lyrics and the kind of funky music behind it,” Marble says. “It was a connection I was trying to make in my own writing and it just really clicked with me.”
Learning her songs: For fans who want to play DiFranco's songs, they first need to decipher the guitar tunings — Marble's site has 100 guitar tabs with more than 30 different tunings. “I used to listen to some early bootlegs of hers and she'll be retuning almost between every song 'cause that was before she had guitar techs and stuff,” Marble says. “Back then, there was a lot of that 16th-note pumping … a lot of hammer-ons and pull-offs, and a lot of 16th-note stuff flying by, so that was one challenge right off the bat, just trying to figure out what all those notes were.”
Just trying to evolve: While most associate DiFranco with her rapid fingerpicking prowess, her sound is ever-changing, which Marble says comes partially from performing with a band. “When she started working with bass players, which was pretty early on, she was able to move into more complex or delicate stuff on the upper range of the guitar, because she wasn't having to hold down the bass line herself all the time,” he says. “So like, there's some stuff on Little Plastic Castle where she's playing a tenor guitar that sounds pretty twangy and is in no way living in the bass sequence. It's all twang and character, so I think that was one of the first steps she made away from her early style.”
Even today DiFranco is still hard to classify: With 20 albums under her belt, she has spanned every imaginable combination of folk, punk, blues, jazz, and beyond — all created by a folksinger and her guitar. — Laura Leebove
Interview with Ani DiFranco
DiFranco performing "32 Flavors"
Tanya donellyTANYA DONELLY
Growing up guitar: Tanya Donelly began playing guitar alongside her stepsister, Kristin Hersh, when she was a teenager traveling between the East and West coasts. Donelly says she grew up listening to the classics of her parents’ generation — the Rolling Stones and the Beatles — and learned to play guitar by strumming with her dad. As late teenager-hood crept up, so did the boundary-breaking punk influence of the Clash and the Ramones on the two sisters. By the ripe age of 15, Donelly and Hersh had formed the front line of Throwing Muses, a popular East Coast alternative band. Throwing Muses took the honor of being the first American band signed to prestigious U.K. label 4AD, which released their self-titled solo debut in 1986.
A life on tour: Throughout the ’80s, ’90s, and into the new century, Donelly has been a prolific and popular recording artist. After parting ways with Throwing Muses in 1991, Donelly joined Kim Deal on lead guitar for the Breeders in Boston, filling out the ensemble for the recording and tour of the Breeders' highly influential 1990 album, Pod. After her work with the Breeders, Donelly formed her own group, Belly, which released two full-length albums, including the chart-topping “Feed the Tree” off the band’s 1993 album, Star. Since the late 1990s, Donelly’s focused on solo work, releasing three full-lengths on 4AD and one on North Carolina’s Eleven Thirty Records.
‘Anyone can play guitar’: “[In Throwing Muses,] Kristin and I were always confident in the music, in what we had to say. We weren’t always so sure about our actual playing abilities,” Donelly says. “My advice [to young girls playing guitar] would be first that you actually can play guitar as well as anyone else.”
After years of playing, Donelly has settled on the perfect conduit for her particular voice, a custom-made Campbell American acoustic guitar. She says the guitar is perfect for her, and that whatever it takes, aspiring musicians need to find the instrument that will fit their voice. Donelly takes the same approach to music. “I think women [especially] need to trust in a good melody,” she says. “It’s really fun to play power chords, and that’s totally fine, but it’s important to recognize a good melody and play it up if you hear it.” — Dana Stewart
Tanya Donelly's "The Bright Light" video
The Breeders' "Safari" video
Rosie floresROSIE FLORES
Background: Calling herself the "Rockabilly Filly," the Austin-based singer-songwriter pens catchy country-rock songs and has an innate sense of timing.
Genre bender: On her 2005 Christmas album, Christmasville, Flores plays a Tex-Mex version of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” that sounds startlingly familiar despite the unconventional instrumentation. She manages to inject even the Christmas staple “Blue Christmas” with her own rootsy style.
Rockabilly’s Kathleen Hanna: As a tween, Flores asked her audiophile brother to teach her a few chords on the guitar. At 16, the now–57-year-old formed an all-girl psych band called Penelope’s Children and in the ‘80s, a rockabilly band called the Screamers. From there, she developed a solo career that fused her interest in country music with her rocknroll sensibility. “Rosie brought new life to the careers of classic rockabilly icons Wanda Jackson and Janis Martin,” says Bloodshot Records’ Nan Warshaw. “As a lead guitar player Rosie Flores has been grossly underappreciated, perhaps partly because onstage Rosie has fun and makes [playing] look easy.”
Every day should be a holiday: In 2006, Austin City Council declared August 31 Rosie Flores Day.
Radio-friendly unit shifter: In 2004, Flores’ song “Single Rose,” off the LP of the same name, reached number two on XM Satellite Radio. Other songs from the record, “BoxCars” and “Daddy’s Lullabye,” have enjoyed “heavy and medium rotation.” — Arianna Stern
Performing Butch Hancock's "Boxcar's"
Performing "Little Bit More"
Lita fordLITA FORD
Girls rock: The London-born, U.S.-raised legend found stardom in the form of an all-girl group in 1976. At age 17, Ford became a lead guitarist for the Runaways. The band was marketed as “Jailbait Rockers,” but in actuality, the group was not a gimmick as some critics suggested. The female five-piece consisted of talented young women who wrote and played their own songs, a rare concept at the time. The Runaways’ self-titled debut was released on Mercury Records, followed by 1977’s Queen of Noise and Waitin’ For the Night. The band split up in 1979, but the brief time the Runaways were together cemented the girls’ place is rock history.
The solo life: Ascribing more to heavy metal than punk, the ’80s saw a new version of Ford. As a vocalist and guitarist in the heavily male-centered genre, Ford held her own and further solidified her position among rock greats. She got her first Grammy nomination in 1985, and when she switched labels and picked up Sharon Osbourne as a manager, Ford attained some commercial success with tracks like “Close My Eyes Forever.”
Guitar hero: During her solo career, Ford also picked up an endorsement from B.C. Rich guitars, which are known for their unique construction. She often showcased her undeniable skill on one of three models including the Bich double-neck. Ford’s legend continues today as Xbox 360 users strive for the “Joan and Lita Award” on the wildly popular game, Guitar Hero II. — Niema Jordan
"Kiss Me Deadly" music video by Lita Ford
"Close My Eyes Forever" music video by Lita Ford featuring Ozzy Osbourne
Suzi gardnerSUZI GARDNER
Angry, young, and motivated: After sitting through performances by bands like Quiet Riot one too many times as a teen, guitarist-vocalist Suzi Gardner was inspired to take on punk metal herself. In 1986, Gardner took her love of aggressive, raucous guitar parts and banded them together with the styles of Donita Sparks (vocals, guitar), Dee Plakas (drums), and Jennifer Finch (bassist) in the band L7. "I remember getting really drunk and angry at how lame [Quiet Riot] was," she says in a 1993 Spin interview. "If these guys in Spandex could get away with being so lame, I could do it too."
Before L7: Born in Sacramento, California, Gardner moved to Los Angeles for the active music scene. As a teen, Gardner played guitar and sang with the Los Angeles band, the Debbies. At 15, she appeared on the Black Flag single "Slip It In," which featured her moaning and doing vocals.
Suzi meets Donita: Although they frequented the same hangouts, and mutual friends urged them to meet, the friendship of Gardner and Sparks was a work in progress. When they finally met, the chemistry was instantaneous. Their friends said, "Told you so." Gardner and Sparks went on to spend a five-day bender together in 1985, confirming the attraction, and forming L7 the next day.
Provocateurs at heart: For 12 years, Gardner and Sparks' unbridled feminism and tough attitudes spurred tensions with meatheads and Lilith Fair'ers alike. Because of their edgy exterior and heavy, riff-oriented sound, L7 was often mistakenly associated with the riot grrrl movement. While L7 considered themselves feminists, they were not part of the largely Olympia-based movement.
The hit maker: L7’s third album, Bricks Are Heavy, was released in 1992 and produced by Nirvana’s famed Nevermind producer, Butch Vig. By focusing their energy onto songwriting and abstaining from aggressive albeit occasional sloppy force, Bricks came to be considered L7's tightest album.
Talk about feeling your music: While filming a music video for their MTV hit, "Pretend We're Dead," a camera crane fell on Gardner's face, fracturing her cheek bone. Around the same time, another ominous event occurred when the group was involved in an 11-car pile up. Fortunately for L7, the track’s title did not ring true of their wellbeing in the future.
Gardner does Plaster Caster: Cynthia Plaster Caster, famous for her casts of musicians’ penises in the ’70s, bestowed Gardner with the same honor in 2000. Gardner was Plaster Caster’s first set of breasts ever and the start of her “tit wing.” "I'm a lucky gal to have my rack hanging in the same room with those rock cocks," Gardner tells NY Rock. — Katie Heath
"Wargasm" by L7 live
The Greatest Female Guitarists of All Time, H–M
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