Already a sought-after session musician when she joined David Bowie’s band in 1995, Gail Ann Dorsey has also played with Tears for Fears, Indigo Girls, Gang of Four, Lenny Kravitz, Charlie Watts, Gwen Stefani, and many others. But it’s Gail’s work in Bowie’s band, particularly when matched with guitarist Reeves Gabrels, that shines. Like here, when she implants a throbbing, beating heart into Bowie’s classic Queen collaboration, “Under Pressure.”
Or here. “Heroes.”
And we’ll just have to see if Bowie’s new album kicks off a tour. But if it does, I’m willing to bet that Gail will be there, backing him up.
Sara Lee was already an accomplished bassist when she joined Gang of Four in the early 1980s, having played with Robert Fripp in League of Gentlemen. “I Love a Man in a Uniform” from the Gang of Four album Songs of the Free showcases Sara’s talents–for singing as well as playing the bass–very nicely, though the song was banned in the UK shortly after its release in 1992 because Britain went to war with Argentina in the Falklands Islands.
After Gang of Four, Sara became a sought-after session and touring bassist, playing with such acts as the Thompson Twins, the B-52s, Indigo Girls. and Ani DeFranco. In 2000, Sara released her first solo album, Make It Beautiful on Difranco’s Righteous Babe records.
But you really want to listen to League of Gentlemen…
Lyn-Z worked as a window display artist and assisted painter Ron English before joining Mindless Self Indulgence in 2001. Often noted for wearing an exaggerated schoolgirl uniform on stage, Lyn-Z is also known for augmenting her aggressive playing style with back bends, stage dives, and pratfalls.
In 2007, Lyn-Z married My Chemical Romance leader, Gerard Way backstage at the final date of Linkin Park’s Projekt Revolution tour. The pair have a daughter, Bandit Lee Way, born in 2009.
As Lindsey Way, Lyn-Z regularly exhibits her visual art, including her thirteen-diorama series inspired by Henry Darger, Mary Blair, and Georges Melies, “Hush.”
When Coventry, UK grindcore band Bolt Thrower’s founding bass player, Gavin Ward, decided to switch to rhythm guitar in 1987, the replacement bassist he enlisted didn’t bother showing up. So Ward encouraged his then-girlfriend to try out for the band. A quarter century later, Jo Bench is still not just showing up, but providing the dark low end that keeps the now-venerable Warhammer-inspired metal titans penetrating eardrums like sonic ballistae.
Although Jo’s been playing death metal practically since the genre’s inception, female musicians remain a rarity in the world of extreme metal, though that tide may be changing.
When asked in an interview whether she had to work harder to be taken seriously by her bandmates, Jo said, “I don’t think I have to work harder than any of the other members, we all work pretty hard, so just as hard is enough. The important thing is to remember that I’m the bassist first, and being female is secondary when it comes to the band. We’’ve never promoted the fact I was female, I’ve never done solo photo sessions, or any kind of self-promotion and I think I have gained more respect because of it.”
Suzi Quatro changed the game. After playing in Detroit garage bands with her sisters in the 1960s, including chart-hitting act The Pleasure Seekers, Suzy emerged as a solo artist in the early 1970s, becoming the first female bass player to achieve rock-star status. Suzy’s success was abroad at first, scoring her first #1 hit in Portugal in 1972. Hits followed in the UK, Europe, and Australia.
It took television to bring Suzy home to America. In 1977, Suzy began a recurrent role on TV series Happy Days, where she played Leather Tuscadero, younger sister of motorcycle stuntwoman (and Fonzie love interest) Pinky Tuscadero. Leather was a rock’n’roller with a troubled past in the show’s weirdly-stylized, alternate-reality 1950s. Cynical readers will also note that 1977 was the season Happy Days infamously jumped the shark.
In a 2012 interview, Suzy said: “Before I did what I did, we didn’t have a place in rock ‘n’ roll. Not really. You had your Grace Slicks and all that, but that’s not what I did. I was the first to be taken seriously as a female rock ‘n’ roll musician and singer. That hadn’t been done before. I played the boys at their own game. For everybody that came afterward, it was a little bit easier, which is good. I’m proud of that. If I have a legacy, that’s what it is.”
Cait O’Riordan joined Irish band The Pogues in 1982, appearing on their albums Red Roses for Me; Rum, Sodomy & the Lash; and several singles before leaving the band in 1986 to join Elvis Costello in his band. And a marriage that lasted until 2002. Here she is in a 1985 Pogues concert.
Cait also provided vocals to a handful of Pogues songs, including “Haunted,” from the soundtrack to Alex Cox’s film Sid and Nancy. She also appeared in Cox’s 1987 film Straight to Hell as dance hall girl Slim McMahon.
In honor of St. Paddy’s Day, here’s a bonus clip, as recommended by author Cody Goodfellow:
Lori Black, AKA Lorax, replaced sludge-metal mavins the Melvins’ founding bassist Matt Lukin in 1988, after playing for punk crossover band Clown Alley. She played on the album Ozma, which was released in 1989. Lorax split the band in ’91, then rejoined from 1992-1993, when this performance of “Zodiac” was recorded.
It’s debatable whether Lorax played on 1993 Melvins record Houdini. What’s not debatable is that Lori Black is the daughter of child star Shirley Temple and aquaculturalist and oceanographer Charles Alden Black. Today she apparently works as a freelance photographer making occasional cameos in the audiences at bay area rock ‘n’ roll shows.
One of the defining punk rock bands to come out of Los Angeles in the late 1970s was The Germs. Fronted by self-destructive singer Darby Crash, the lineup also featured Pat Smear (who would go on to play with Nirvana and Foo Fighters), a succession of drummers including Donna Rhea, Belinda “Dottie Danger” Carlisle (Go-Gos), and Don Bolles, and bassist Lorna Doom (née Terri Ryan), who had her hands full keeping up with and playing in the shadow of Crash’s commitment to living up to his pseudonym and his ill-fated interpretation of a Five-Year Plan.
The Germs only released a single album, 1979’s GI (produced by Joan Jett), and the band were featured in Penelope Spheeris’ 1980 documentary film, The Decline of Western Civilization. The end came on December 7, 1980, when singer Darby Crash committed suicide. In the aftermath, Lorna moved to New York City, and the band’s members went their separate ways.
Lorna doesn’t get much screen time in this twenty-minute concert video from 1979, the videographer preferring instead to focus on Crash’s onstage antics, but watch for her in the background, holding a tight bassline while all hell breaks loose.
In 2005, What We Do is Secret, a biographical film about The Germs, began production. Played by actress Bijou Phillips in the movie, Lorna Doom soon reunited with her bandmates, and, along with actor Shane West standing in for the late Darby Crash, toured extensively, giving a second life to a band that had existed longer in legend than reality.
Patricia Morrison was a founding member of LA punk band The Bags (as Pat Bag) before leaving to form Legal Weapon with “Janis Joplin of Punk” Pat Arthur, then moving on to stints with The Gun Club and Fur Bible. In 1986 she played with Andrew Eldrich in The Sisterhood and in ’87 she played on the goth dancefloor breakout, The Sisters of Mercy’s Floodland. Morrison’s gothic pinup-girl looks featured prominently in The Sisters of Mercy’s visual aesthetic, her teased-out hair, black lipstick, and fetish wardrobe drawing many listeners as the music video era reached its apex.
By the ealy 90s, Patricia had left The Sisters of Mercy, and released a solo album, Reflect on This, in 1994. In 1996, she joined legendary punk band The Damned, marrying lead singer Dave Vanian later that year. In 2004, Morrison gave birth to daughter Emily Vanian and she retired from The Damned in 2005.
I’ll readily admit that Patricia’s a big influence on the look of both Erin Locke and Terrri Terrrors in Chick Bassist.
Bianca “Butthole” Halstead was one of two badass bass-playing broads in the controversy-courting band Butt Trumpet. In 1998 she quit Butt Trumpet and started all-girl group Betty Blowtorch with Butt Trumpet cohorts Blare N. Bitch (lead guitar) and Sharon Needles (rhythm guitar, bass). Betty Blowtorch lived up to its name, astonishing concertgoers with raw intensity and a home-made pyrotechnics set that sent club owners into paroxysms of panic.
Can’t think of a better showcase for Bianca and her unique brand of showmanship than the “Betty Blowtorch Anthem”: