The mid- to late '60s were an exciting time for music in Nashville. Never mind countryГ‘all manner of music was being made here. WLAC radio deejays Hoss Allen and John Richbourg were working with some of the South's finest soul singers, the former producing Earl Gaines for Hollywood and Deluxe Records, the latter producing Roscoe Shelton and countless others for Monument's Sound Stage 7 imprint. Robert Knight took Mac Gayden and Buzz Cason's "Everlasting Love" to the national charts, while local kid Bucky Wilkin had a few hits of his own with his group Ronny and the Daytonas. Meanwhile, the city's combo scene was hopping: Charlie McCoy and the Escorts, the Kapers, the Lemonade Charade, the Anglo-Saxons, and the Fairlanes all worked the local circuit, playing dances, frat parties, army bases, skating rinks, and teen hangouts like the Hullabaloo Club.
So it shouldn't be such a surprise that Nashville would be home to the Feminine Complex, one of the greatest coulda-been stories in the history of '60s pop. Locals who remember the group will tell you that the Feminine Complex were one of the most unforgettable combos around Г‘ and not just 'cause they happened to be all-female. Granted, such a phenomenon was a true rarity a tthe time, but once local kids got over the initial surprise, they were won over by the music of these five talented teams.
And well they should have been. Mindy Dalton, Judi Griffith, Lana Napier, Pame Stephens, and Jean Williams spent countless hours in practice; as they remember it, if they weren't in school, chances are they were in Mindy's or Jean's basement, instruments in hand. In retrospect, the Feminine Complex weren't notable just for their live show, which featured choreographed routines and stylish matching outfits. At a time when many bands simply worked up their own sound-alike versions of hits of the day, the Feminine Complex generated dynamite material of their own.
Teen-Beat's previous reissue of the Feminine Complex features all original compositions and provides two glimpses of the band: the slick, production-heavy sound of the group's sole LP, Livin' Love, released in 1969 on Athena Records; and the stripped-down, more immediate sound captured by engineer Lee Hazen in a demo session the previous summer. This collection provides, in some ways, a more honest portrait of the band, tracing their development from the basement to the recording studio to serveral live appearances, including one on national TV. In the process, we can hear a band developing not just confidence and skill, but their own distinctive approach to the music. While early tunes like "Stepping Stone" are rough and a little primitive, "Jaguar Jimmy" (the group's take on "Mustang Sally") show a group clearly coming into its own. And the sequnce taken from a 1968 show in Knoxville reveals a group that could put its own personal stamp on just about any song, be it one by the Supremes or one by the Association.
Three decades later, the members of the Feminine Complex speak of the recordings on this CD far too modestly and self-effacingly. And yet it's clear these songs also bring back a rush of memories-not of specific dates and facts, for the circumstances surrounding many of the recordings are shadowy at best. Rather, these songs remind these now grown-up women of the pure fun and excitement they had playing rock'n'roll.
DEMO SESSION (The Pivots):
1. (I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone
2. You Can't Do That
Two of the earliest existing recordings of the group, taken froma March 15, 1967, demo session at Capitol Recording Studios. Several music-industry types were in attendance, among them Ronny and the Daytonas' Bucky Wilkin, who took an interest in the band, Like the follwoing two tracks, these songs predate the addition of organist Pame Stpehens; to the best of anyone's recollection, the group was still going by its original moniker, The Pivots.
4. Without You
These songs were recorded by the group at, of all places, Owen Bradley's Barn, where country stars such as Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn made their hit recordings for the Decca label. In attendance a thte March 30, 1967, session were Wilkin and the group's manager, Scott Burton. Sadly, the only remaining source for these songs is a quarter-inch-tape recording of an acetate-made, no doubt, by placing a mic in front of a record player.
At least a couple of members of the group cite "Without You" as the best song the Feminine Complex ever recorded. It's also one of the few songs to feature the lyrics and vocals of tambourinist Judi Griffith, whose role as a songwriter and vocalist diminished as the group developed. "Leslie," meanwhile, is the group's interpretation of "Gloria"; Jean, who sings the tune, named it after a childhood friend who grew up across the street from her.
5. Jaguar Jimmy
6. Now I Care
7. To Be In Love
The circumstances of the recording session are foggy, but this much we know: The songs were cut on November 21, 1967, in a recording studio in downtown Nashville. The Group had been together for more than a year at this point, and their poise and confidence are fully in evidence. Take "Jaguar Jimmy," which is more than just a lyrical rewrite of "Mustang Sally." Here the group dispenses with the macho vibe of Wilson Pickett's original, opting instead for a version that manages to be both tough and girlish. "Now I Care" is an earlier version of a song that the group would later record in a demo session for Athena Records. And "To Be in Love" is a torrid summer-of-love number that, for all its datedness, still sounds pretty compellling. Singer-guitarist Mindy Dalton wasn't too happy with her vocal here; apparently, the session had gotten so loud that she wasn't able to hear herself sing. Given the circumstances, we say she acquitted herself admirably.
ON SHOWCASE '68:
8. Here Comes the Judge
9. I've Been Workin' on You
Two songs taken from what had to be both a terrifying and exhilarating moment for the band; an appearance on national TV, taped in the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom in the summer of 1968. Accompanied by several parents, and producer Rick Powell, the Feminine Complex traveled to New York City to appear on Showcase '68, a talent search featuring four unknown musical acts (and "special guest star Carlos Montoya!" according to the show's announcer). Before the show began taping, the group took the stage to warm up the crowd with their flabbergasting rendition of Pegmeat Markham's "Here Comes the Judge" routine. Pame Stephens can be heard in the role of the judge, using her organ to simulate a judge's bench. Judi, meanwhile, filled the role of the bailiff, responsible for bringing the apparently guilty parties before the court. The group sounds like they're having a good time here, although it's hard to judge, from the polite applause, just what people in the audience thought of it.
Once the show's theme kicked in, it clearly hit these five teens from Tennessee that they were on national TV! "We were shakin' all over," remembers Jean Williams. "We were just tore all to pieces." But for all their nervousness, the Feminine Complex turned in a manic performance of "I've Been Workin' on You," which Athena Records would release as a single later that year. Even if the band isn't together at the outset, the skittering guitar and the racing drums convey just how exciting - and utterly frightening - the experience must have been for them.
As it turns out, the winner of the evening's show was a young vocalist named Julie Budd. Even before the show, recalls Jean, the group felt like they didn't have a chance against this belter, who was just barely in her teens. "When we heard her practice, we were pretty concerned at that point."
Even if the group didn't win, the trip to New York had plenty of highlights. Macy's, Radio City Music Hall, the subway, and, for Pame, a date with the organist from the 1910 Fruitgum Co., who were in the Waldorf-Astoria taping another segment of the show. For her part, Judi remembers Mindy's mother "going off and getting a massage; I thought it was pretty cool at the time."
LIVE IN KNOXVILLE:
10. Never My Love
11. Hold On! I'm Comin'
12. You Keep Me Hangin' On
13. Come on Up
More than anything else on this collection, these songs convey what the Feminine Complex were truly about: live performance. Every weekend, the group hit the road, playing teen gigs and military bases all around Tennessee. Come Friday night, a parent would rent a U-Haul trailer, and the girls would load their equipment and head out for the night's show. In fact, there were always a couple of parents around to lend a helping hand and to make sure the shows went off smoothly. And on at least one occasion, the parents were also there to make sure the crowd didn't get out of hand-at on Vanderbilt University frat party, the crowd got so drunk that the band had to pull the plug, for the fear that the fraternity brothers would trash their equipment.
Included here are just the highlights fo a lengthy 1968 set at the University of Tennessee that included "I Heard it Through the Grapevine," The Parliaments' "(I Wanna) Testify," The Box Tops' "The Letter," Brenton Wood's "Gimme Little Sign," and countless other radio hits. Of the several live tapes of the band, this one by far sounds the best: Pame's organ is perhaps the most audible instrument, while Mindy's guitar goes into fuzzed-out overdrive on the Rascals' "Come on Up." Jean's bass sounds especially muscular, particularly on the theme that the group used to open and close their sets.
ON LOCAL TV:
18. I Aiin't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore
19. Ferry Cross the Mersey
20. Look in My Eyes
For anyone who grew up in Nashville in the last three or so decades, Ralph Emery and Teddy Bart are household names. For years, Emery hosted a morning variety show on WSM, the local NBC affiliate. (He would, of course, eventually go on to greater fame as host of the Nashville Network's Nashville Now.) Bart was a lounge singer who hosted WSM's Noon Show: he's still around Nashville todaay, although he now makes his home on talk radio.
These recordings, taken straight from the TV-you can hear the sounds of drummer Lana Napier's family gathered together in the background-feature the Feminine Complex on both Bart's and Emery's programs. The first two songs are taken from a June 1967 appearance on The Noon Show, one month before organist Pame Stephens joined the group. It's clear from the after-performance dialogue that host Teddy Bart is a real square-he refers to the Rascals tune "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore" as "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out No More." Interestingly enough, the group's rendition of "Summertime" predates the release of Janis Joplin's by more than a year - is it possible that the singer just happened to be in Nashville one June day and tuned in to The Noon Show?
The following two tunes are taken from a later appearance on Emery's program: "Look in My Eyes" is noteworthy because it's the only existing recording of this Judi Griffith composition. For her part, Mindy remembers an especially embarrasing moment from the show: Emery had cut to a commercial break, so she turned around to adjust her amp. Unbeknownst to her, the show had gone back on the air while she was still hunched over, her backside to the camera - and when she turned around, local viewers got a glimpse of her best deer-caught-in-the-headlights expression.
21. The Feminine Complex (Instro) - (Untitled)
- Jonathan Marx, Nashville, Tennessee, 1997