June Millington is unstoppable. The singer, guitarist, bandleader, and songwriter was born with music in her blood and has been playing in bands since she was a teenager. While growing up in Sacramento in the early ‘60s, she started The Svelts—one of the very first all-girl bands—with her sister Jean Millington on bass and two girlfriends they’d met at hootenannies. Brie Darling, their second drummer, joined the band after a few personnel shifts.
Later on, the Millingtons moved to Los Angeles, evolved into Fanny, inked a major label deal, and released the first complete album by an all-woman band, 1970’s Fanny. In the years since, Millington has been a record producer and a cofounder of the Institute for the Musical Arts, a school that teaches girls and young women about the vagaries of making music and the music business. She also wrote an autobiographical novel, “Land of a Thousand Bridges,” published in 2015. Her most recent project is Fanny Walked the Earth—released via Blué Elan Records on March 2—the first genuine and directly Fanny-related album since 1974.
“We were raised in Manila, in the Philippines,” Millington says. “Our dad was in the U.S. Navy, and our mom was Filipina, so we weren’t full-on brown. When we got [to Sacramento], nobody knew where the Philippines was.” The sisters had a hard time making friends, so they consoled themselves by playing the guitars they’d picked up just before they moved to the States.
In high school, Millington and her sister started The Svelts. They played school dances and parties. “We were having fun, learning to play, finding our groove, and tossing our hair around,” she says. “I’d learn the hits from the radio and teach them to the rest of the band. The best compliment we got was ‘not bad for chicks.’ I didn’t even know about feminism until the mid ‘70s, when I started playing with and producing Cris Williamson.”
The Svelts morphed into Wild Honey and moved to L.A. While playing an open mic at the Troubadour, they got discovered by Richard Perry’s secretary. They signed to Reprise/Warner, changed their name to Fanny, and made four albums with the band solidified as June on guitar, Jean on bass, Alice de Buhr on drums, and Nickey Barclay on keyboard. When June left, de Buhr did too, and the shifting cast turned into Jean, Barclay, returning drummer Brandt, and new guitarist Patti Quatro, who recorded a fifth Fanny album, Rock ‘n’ Roll Survivors, in 1974. That iteration of the band landed a single, “Butter Boy,” in the Top 40 before disbanding.
June Millington made three solo albums in the ‘80s and got involved in the women’s music movement. She produced records for Cris Williamson, Holly Near, and other luminaries. “Women’s music basically reshaped my view of the world and my place in the world,” she explains. “I began studying with various spiritual teachers, mostly Buddhist, and learned how to develop and sustain mindfulness.”
In 1986, Millington and her partner Ann Hackler started the Institute for the Musical Arts. The organization boasts a 32-year history of mentoring female musicians, with inclusive programs aimed at women of color and women from the LBGTQ community.
In February 2016, Laudable Productions and the Massachusetts-based Northampton Arts Council put on a tribute honoring Millington’s lifetime of musicmaking. The evening included a reunion of Jean, June, and Brie Darling. When they started playing, they felt like they’d stepped into a time machine. “From the first downbeat, it was, like: ‘Holy shit, man, we still got it!’” she exclaims. “What we heard and felt was exactly what was going on when we were 17 and 18. We thought it was going to be a one-shot, but we immediately decided to make another album.”
Millington continues, “We were girls then; we’re women now. That’s why Fanny Walked the Earth is so important. I dealt with racism, sexism, and all the other isms, and now, I’m dealing with ageism. I’m surprised I’m still alive and, at almost 70, still slamming. We’re really good, and we have something to say.”
The basic tracks for Fanny Walked the Earth were recorded at IMA studios in Massachusetts. “Jean flew in from Davis, Brie Darling flew in from L.A., and we wrote and rehearsed here [at IMA] in a barn that’s been converted to a performance center,” Millington says. “It was basically a trio, with Jean’s son taking a role as a co-engineer. He’d also played percussion and second guitar on a few songs at the tribute show.”
David Darling, Brie Darling’s husband, produced the album and cowrote some of the songs with her. “The final parts were solidified in the preproduction rehearsals we had in 2016,” Millington adds. “It’s the kind of groove we were doing in The Svelts, just choosing the licks and the sound, rehearsing and writing in the months after the tribute. We did whatever our bodies and the passion for the music told us to do.”
The album resonates with the sound of Fanny’s classic releases and may be the best record they’ve ever made. “Storm-Crossed” is a rocking love-in-the-outer-limits-of-the-universe song, with a Jimi Hendrix feel, that showcases Millington’s guitar prowess. “One” is a funky ode to the unity of the human race, while “Girls on the Road” recaps the band’s career, mentioning the concerts they played for soldiers going off to Vietnam. “When We Need Her,” a celebration of the indomitable spirit of women, features a backing chorus of musicians who cite Fanny as an inspiration, including Cherie Currie of The Runaways; Kathy Valentine of The Go-Go’s; and Susanna Hoffs, Vicki Peterson, and Debbi Peterson of The Bangles.
The trio were going to tour to support the album, but Jean had a mild stroke in January. “We started a GoFundMe page to raise money for her ongoing therapy,” Millington says. “She’s a national treasure, one of the best bass players around. We’ll play again as soon as we can.”
You can contribute to Jean Millington’s recovery here.
Top photo by Marita Madeloni