The first and only album by this group of Nashville teen-agers originally released on the Athena label plus their never-before released demo tapes.
Mindy Dalton, vocals, guitar
Judy Griffith, vocals, tambourine
Laura Napier, drums, vocals
Pame Stephens, organ, vocals
Jean Williams, bass guitar, vocals
PRODUCED BY (ORIGINAL ALBUM)
RECORDED BY (ORIGINAL ALBUM)
at Woodland Street, Nashville, Tennessee, USA
The Feminine Complex
from the collection of Mindy Dalton
Mark Robinson, Teen-Beat Graphica
The original album cover was not used on the front, but is pictured (in black and white) on the interior of the booklet.
I must've heard about the Feminine Complex a dozen times before I ever even listened to their music-and I only heard about them from two people: Phil Krauth and Mark Robinson of Teenbeat Records. "Yeah, they were this all-girl band from Nashville," Phil told me. "You should find out whatever happened to them."
I didn't take him all that seriously at first. But then I saw their amazing Livin' Love LP in the collection of a local vinyl junkie, and I got curious. Who was the Feminine Complex, and why would anyone get excited about an obscure Nashville girl group a quarter of a century after the fact? Looking for answers, I got in touch with a local recording engineer who happened to know the names and numbers of the people who released the record. Suddenly, finding the Feminine Complex became, well, a mission.
It didn't take long to find Lee Hazen, the engineer who recorded the band; he kindly played me the album-which, he was quick to tell me, was recorded with session musicians. And it sounded like it too: A couple of songs brimmed with feedback and psyched-out guitar solos, while others were punched up with a Memphis-style horn section. Then Lee remembered, "Yeah, I recorded some demos with just the band too," and a short rummage through his vast library of reel-to-reel tapes turned up the original recordings (included here). The demos were great; stripped of studio sheen, they proved that the Feminine Complex had a musical identity all their own. Finally, I'd found recordings of Nashville's long-lost garage band-but finding the original members was another story.
Once I'd figured out their names, I still didn't have much to go on, but I looked them up in the phone book in the hopes that, 27 years later, they might still live in town and be listed under their maiden names. I didn't get far, although I had some interesting phone conversations: "No, this isn't the Jean Williams who was in the Feminine Complex, but I went to school with her sister Marsha." (I don't think either of the Marsha Williamses listed in the phone book appreciated it when I woke them up with my call.)
After talking to a few people around town, I learned that the band's singer-guitarist, Mindy Dalton, had been working a Ramada Inn lounge in Jackson, Miss., so I called all three Ramada Inns in Jackson, and, eventually, I found her. Mindy was keen on the idea of a Feminine Complex reissue-but she didn't have any idea about how to find her former bandmates. Finally, after making a trip to the Metro Nashville Archives to research marriage records-and talking to one member's ex-husband's father-I began to track them all down.
Organist Pame Stephens was living in California, and she seemed a little suspicious at first. ("Reissue our album? Why do you want to do that?") So did vocalist/tambourinist Judi Griffith, who I managed to find while she was in town visiting her mom. Thanks to her dad-who wondered how I'd managed to find his unlisted phone number (I had my ways)-I found drummer Lana Napier in Colonial Heights, Va. Ironically, the one band member who still lived in Nashville, bassist Jean Williams, was the last person I found; she thought I was playing some kind of practical joke when I called.
If there's one thing the members of the Feminine Complex, now spread out across the nation, have in common, it's that they all fondly remember their time in the band. In a country-obsessed town with a fledgling rock 'n' roll scene-which, in the 1960s, was dominated by male combos-they were a novelty for Nashville audiences. But they were also the most original and exciting of the local groups: They had moves, matching outfits-and looks (though they're all too modest to admit it). And their songs were sublime-lost '60s pop classics that tapped into the thoughts, desires and fantasies of the American teenage girl.
It all started with little more than a drummer's practice pad and a ukulele. Sophomores at Maplewood High School, Lana and Jean came up with the idea of forming an all-girl band one afternoon in the fall of 1966. Drumming came naturally to soft-spoken, studious Lana, who didn't let the fact that she only had a practice pad dampen her enthusiasm. Nor did bubbly Jean-who wanted to play guitar-gripe when her parents decided to get her a ukulele instead. Once she'd mastered the uke, Jean finally got her guitar, and she and Lana found a couple of other girls to round out their band: 11th-graders and fellow Maplewood girl's basketball teammates Mindy Dalton and Judi Griffith. Taking the name The Pivots-a moniker suggested by their basketball coach, Pam Hickman-the girls got together for their first official practices in Jean's basement bedroom.
Winter was in full swing by the time The Pivots played their second gig: a Maplewood school assembly. Nervous, but smartly dressed in matching pantsuits, they managed to win over their classmates, despite what Lana recalls as one pretty embarrassing moment. They had worked up a whole show's worth of covers, among them James Brown's "I Feel Good." Jean, who sang the number, did her best impression of the Godfather of Soul by donning a cape and then tossing it off in the middle of the song. They'd practiced the routine plenty, only this time the cape landed right on top of Lana-who remembers thinking "Why here?"-and her drum kit.
The beat went on, though. By spring, The Pivots were a working band: With Jean now on bass, they played their first paying gig backing up a contestant at the Davidson County Beauty Pageant. And by the time summer rolled around, they had completed the lineup with the addition of Pame, a childhood friend of Jean's, on organ. The only problem was, they weren't happy with their name. They gathered in Jean's basement for a brainstorming session: "Everybody was just throwing out stuff," Lana remembers, "And somebody threw out a name, and I don't remember which one of the girls, I think it was Mindy, said, 'No, we need something feminine'-and I just added 'Complex' to it. We weren't simple!"
They played dances at Skateland, Nashville's big summer hangout, and then the out-of-town gigs started coming. Everywhere they went-be it Nashville, Dickson, Tullahoma or Shelbyville-the boys loved them. They were used to seeing male hometown combos like the Anglo Saxons, but this group, this Feminine Complex, was all girls-and pretty ones at that! Who could blame the crowds for staring? Needless to say, the girls in the audience were jealous-and rumor has it that the band, through no fault of their own, may have sparked a lover's quarrel or two.
With the end of summer came the beginning of school, but that didn't slow the band down, though the Maplewood High girls' basketball team lost four of its six starting players to the cause of rock 'n' roll that fall. The gigs kept coming. They played semi-regular shows at Sewart Air Force Base in Smyrna, although one time, Judi remembers, a couple of women in the audience decided to steal the show: "They got up in front of us and said, 'We can get more attention than them,' and they started taking their clothes off." Then there was the time the band played in the window of a Gibson dealer's store, in the shadow of the mother church of country music, The Ryman Auditorium. Grand Ole Opry star Little Jimmy Dickens, who caught the band's act, approached Jean after the set and told her, "You need to be in country music."
About this time, the Feminine Complex attracted the attention of Dee Kilpatrick, who had just formed Athena Records with Rick Powell. A country music industry veteran who'd worked as an A&R man for the Nashville divisions of Capitol Records and Mercury Records, Kilpatrick envisioned a label dedicated to fostering songwriters; Powell brought his expertise as a producer and arranger. The group was Athena's first signing, and by the time school let out, they were practicing twice a day, working up material for their debut LP. They worked more and more out-of-town dates, including a trip to New York to perform with the 1910 Fruitgum Co. on the NBC network's Showcase 68. (It was on this trip, incidentally, that Pame struck up a long-distance courtship with the Fruitgum Co.'s keyboard player).
But by the time fall came around, Lana and Jean had to contend with their senior year at Maplewood, and Pame had entered her first year of college. It got harder and harder to keep the band together, especially for Pame, who was attending a Baptist church-affiliated college. To get out of classes and play a road gig one Friday, she lied and told the academic dean that she was Jewish. "We didn't know you were Jewish," he said. "Well, trust me, I am," she retorted.
When she got back that Monday, the gig was up. The powers-that-be had found her out, and they made it clear they didn't approve of one of their female students playing in a rock 'n' roll band. She had to choose, and she decided to stick with school. Lana and Jean, who by this time had rejoined Coach Hickman's team, left the band soon after. That left only Mindy and Judi, who tried to carry on, but by the time the record came out, the Feminine Complex were no more.
Strange as it may seem, all-female or female-led bands have only recently transcended the novelty status conferred on the Feminine Complex 27 years ago. Kids may grow up today knowing that they can play music regardless of age, gender or ability, but the Feminine Complex didn't have that kind of encouragement when they started. All they had was their own determination and the loving support of their parents. That their music would improbably survive the 1970s and '80s and still sound fresh in the '90s is a small triumph. The reissue of Livin' Love proves, as Judi Griffith remembers, that the Feminine Complex were truly on to something. "In our minds," she recalls more than two decades after the release of this strange and wonderful record, "we were getting there. We were almost there. In our minds, we still have that presence of mind. We almost made it."
- Jonathan Marx, Nashville, Tennessee, 1996
SINGLES RELEASED FROM THE ORIGINAL ALBUM
Three 7" vinyl 45s were released from the album by Athena Records in 1969.
A. Six O'Clock in the Morning
B. I've Been Workin' on You
A. I Won't Run
A. Are You Lonesome Like Me?
B. Run That Through Your Mind