The history of sisters doing it for themselves — and each other — in music runs deep.
And the connectivity of that female bonding across generations and genres doesn’t get much closer than one gnarly body-fluid expulsion from New York punk icon Patti Smith.
“Patti Smith threw up on me one night in the back room at CBGB’s. That’s my fondest memory of Patti,” says trans punk-rocker Jayne County in the new Epix docuseries “Women Who Rock,” which, after premiering on Sunday, will have new episodes airing on July 17, 24 and 31. “And I am so sorry that I threw away her puke, ’cause I coulda kept those puke-stained clothes and they coulda been put in some kind of hall of fame.”
Such memorable exchanges between fierce femmes — ranging from Mavis Staples and Janis Joplin to Joan Jett and Debbie Harry to Stevie Nicks and Sheryl Crow — are the heart and highlight of “Women Who Rock.”
In one particularly poignant display of sister-to-sister support, funk legend Chaka Khan — who is somehow still not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — recounts a chilling encounter that she had during her “dangerous” drug days with the late, great blueswoman Etta James at Warner Bros. Records.
“She pulled me aside into a room and closed the door, and she said … ‘I don’t want you to end up like this,’ ” recalls Khan. “She pulled up her sleeve, and I saw tracks, just tracks, up and down her arms … It was a high impact. That was, like, some wild s—t.”
Meanwhile, Staples — who former 10,000 Maniacs frontwoman Natalie Merchant describes as “the sound of America … the best part of America” — recalls her memorable first meeting with the late blues-rocker Janis Joplin at the Fillmore West in San Francisco: “She said, ‘Which one of you is Mavis?’ And the way she said it, I was almost afraid to raise my hand.”
And Crow — who, before becoming a Grammy-winning solo star with her 1993 debut “Tuesday Night Music Club,” used to sing backup for Michael Jackson — reflects on how she cut her teeth singing Pat Benatar songs in a cover band. “To sing Pat Benatar, you had to own it; you had to step into it,” she says.
Benatar — who is finally getting enshrined into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year after breaking through “the boys clubs” in the ’80s — reflects on how MTV changed the game for women in music. In fact, her “You Better Run” video was the second video ever played on the network, making her the first woman to be seen on MTV. “It changed everything,” she says. “It was a tremendous culture shift.”
“Women Who Rock,” though, could have benefited from focusing more on true female rockers such as Benatar, B-52’s co-founder Kate Pierson and Heart’s Nancy Wilson — all of whom are interviewed. The sprawling scope of the four-part docuseries — featuring everyone from a country-pop queen such as Shania Twain to a dance-pop diva such as Jody Watley — makes it feel a bit all over the place. And the docuseries gives short shrift to some major female forces who are not interviewed, including Tina Turner, Madonna and Bonnie Raitt.
Still, it’s inspiring to hear how a teenage Jett loved rock ’n’ roll so much that she set out to find her own tribe, eventually forming the all-girl band the Runaways. “I thought, ‘Well, there’s gotta be other girls in LA that, you know, think like me and wanna play rock ’n’ roll. I can’t be the only one.’ ”
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