Monday, 28 May 2007

My Heroine

A not very well kept secret, at least amongst my acquaintances (Hi, you two!), is that my heroine is Jean Millington. Ok, ok, wait a second and I’ll explain. Jean is a bass player of exceptional talent and used to play in a pioneering but largely forgotten band; Fanny, during those oh-god-did-I-really-wear-those years of the early 1970s and indeed still plays today under the banner of the Slammin Babes.

A little background. Jean was born in Manila, Philippines and moved to California, USA with older sister, June and the rest of the Millington clan in 1961. By the time the sisters were teenagers they were both guitar veterans, had together formed a band and were already fighting over who would play lead guitar. As is customary in family disputes of this type, age wins out and June bagged the guitar spot, relegating Jean to that forgotten outpost that nobody wants – bass. In fact, this is the best thing that could’ve happened as it turned out because Jean took to the instrument like the proverbial duck.

As luck would have it, this was also a time when I was becoming fascinated with bass players and bass playing generally. Chris Squire, Peter Cetera, Jack Bruce and their ilk were my gods and guitars were for wimps. Why is bass always assumed to be the least talent-requiring occupation in a band? Phil Collins famously said that the best gig in a band is drumming. But he’s wrong – It’s bass playing.

By the time Fanny had convened in 1969 comprising, in addition, sister June, ace drummer Alice deBuhr and keyboards wizard Nickey Barclay, Jean had mastered bass playing to a quite eye-popping degree. Basing her style on a cross between Paul McCartney’s pugnacious melodies and James Jameson’s skittering harmony, she had it nailed. And all this before her 20th birthday.

Assuming you have your copy of Fanny’s long deleted ‘Charity Ball’ with you, just have a listen to Jean’s playing on ‘Place in the Country’ especially during sister June’s solo. The melodic structure of her bass line just builds and builds using chromatic runs and octave skips to fabulous effect. But don’t stop there, have a listen to the play out of ‘Lady’s Choice’, the whole of ‘Cat Fever’….I could go on.

But that’s not all – she is also possessed of a fine singing voice capable of handling the whole gamut from the soulful pop of her own ‘Wonderful Feeling’ to the murderously tough R&B of Ike & Tina Turner’s ‘Young and Dumb’. There are more than enough attributes here to fulfil ‘heroine’ status, so she’s mine.

Postscript: Fanny were recently honoured by ROCKRGRL at Berklee College of Music in Boston and played a short set, the first for over 30 years. I should have been there, if only to hear that bass playing once more.

Congratulations Jean, June, Alice and Nickey – you deserve it.
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TR1-Guy said...

Well, as a bass player myself, I have long admired Jean's playing. "Summer Song" on the Mother's Pride album also is a great example of her talents.

Our generation has to acknowledge McCartney for bringing the bass out into the forefront, but for me I have to point to John Entwistle of the Who and Roger Glover of Deep Purple (come on, it's the rockin' bass line in "Smoke on the Water" that makes the song really, well, smoke!). Yes, we bass players are not often recognized and relugated to standing back with the drummer (where I often had a pitcher of cold beer sitting on my amp) but turn the bass down on any song and what to you have? A bunch of noise! :)

Also of note: I have had a few exchanges with Bachman Turner Overdrive's bass-man and fantastic vocalist C.F. Turner over the years and he's been more than happy to be "stuck" playing bass! I have never been happier than when I'm on stage (or where-ever), having my bass pluged in and thumping out a bottom end to a song.

musicobsessive said...

Couldn't agree more. Whatever happened to bass playing? Looks like the synths of the 80s killed them and they just never recovered. If I need a bit of a reminder of how it all was I just listen to the extended intro to Yes' 'Heart of the Sunrise' and marvel at the playing of Chris Squire. Sigh!