Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Deadly Nightshade, classic female rock trio from the 70s, play the Iron Horse Sunday, May 24th

That's the Deadly Nightshade on Sesame Street! The band consisted of members Pamela Brandt, Anne Bowen and Helen Hooke, who formerly performed under the name The Moppets, by the way.

"Deadly Nightshade, an all-female group, has a whole melange of folksy/country bluesy styles at its disposal and uses them correctly. ... With no label, they have been gigging around New York recently, following good reaction from a WBAI-FM live radio broadcast. It must happen for them." -- Rolling Stone, October 24, 1974
In the beginning, there was the Moppets (1966-1967). This all-female rock band was based at Mount Holyoke College in the Pioneer Valley. Before breaking up, the group got pretty far down the road to what is commonly thought of as rock and roll success.

Pamela Brandt, along with two other Moppets, formed a new outfit, Ariel (1968-1970), which was based in Vermont. Anne Bowen and Helen Hooke also signed on as members of Ariel. Like the Moppets, Ariel attracted the interest of major labels, though no recording contract resulted.

In 1972, Bowen asked Brandt and Hooke if they would be interested in forming a band to play at a Valley women's festival. These three then became the Deadly Nightshade (a name that was formerly used as a pseudonym by Ariel).

Long before there were supposed to be any all female rock bands, Pamela Robin Brandt had already been in two. From the ashes of Ariel, a group that combined a handful of Smith and Mt. Holyoke college students, sprung The Deadly Nightshade.

"We didn't think we were revolutionary back in the day, we were revolutionary," said Brandt. "Back then, it was fine for females to be a "chick singers" a belittling term I only use because the powers-that-be did (and still do). But female electric rock / country players were a no-no."

Brandt played bass to Anne Bowen's rhythm guitar. Helen Hooke played lead guitar and fiddle. The band formed in 1972.

"We were rabid feminists, but not a feminist band," said Brandt. "We considered it a feminist statement to insist on being billed as a band period. After all, did the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin call themselves an all-boy band? They were bands and all-girl bands were considered novelty acts. We were not about to let the guys get to be the real thing."

The Deadly Nightshade hit the club circuit and after three years of playing venues like the Rusty Nail in Sunderland and Max's Kansas City in New York, signed a deal with the RCA custom label, Phantom.

The band recorded two albums which received preliminary Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and also released two singles including a disco version of the theme from "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman."

Brandt recalls the live performances with satisfaction, noting the group opened for Sister Sledge and Peter Frampton, backed Flo Ballard of the Supremes in Detroit, and played several times on "Sesame Street."

She proudly recalls their tour with Billy Joel.

"We had a fireworks fight one night after our gig which did so much damage to the motel, from the carpets to the metal bathtub drains, that Billy's management forbade them from hanging out with us anymore," she said. "Howie Emerson, the former lead guitarist in Billy's band just visited me in Miami and told me it was one of his greatest rock' n' roll memories."

Brandt likes to think of the band as semi-famous rather than almost famous. Some of their artifacts reside at the Smithsonian's Women's History Collection.

"Our disreputable record albums and musical equipment thingies are there right next to Susan B. Anthony's desk," she said.

Brandt said the Deadly Nightshade was always and deliberately a band without a leader so the idea of a reunion came about organically.

"I'd been ready for a reunion since roughly a week after the band broke up," she said. "But Helen was into doing her own musical thing for many years. And Anne was into doing nothing musical for many years."

She is looking forward to the reunion and beyond.

"What I'm mostly excited about is seeing whether this feels like a start, rather than just a reunion," she said. I'm not into nostalgia. The Deadly Nightshade broke ground when we were young. Now we're old, and that's more ground that hasn't been broken in so many ways it boggles the mind. It's a dirty job but, darn, someone's got to do it."

The Deadly Nightshade play the Iron Horse on Sunday, May 24th at 7PM. Tickets are available here.

1 comment:

Tom of Spiffys said...

Pam, I have lost touch since the Moppets 1967 concert at the US Naval Academy. I sang with the Spiffys that night and we went to Central Park the summer of 67 to see Hendricks and the Rascals.
Do you remember?