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June Millington

Photo of June Millington Kathryn Willmore

How would you describe your music?

"started with ukelele, switched to acoustic guitar at age 13 just as we moved from Manila to CA (I'm Philippine-American); my sister and I sang at hootenannies and such a year later - then switched to electric guitar and bass soon after that, around 1964. I now play both, and have played ""serious"" lead guitar since 1969, being the first woman in the U.S. [or internationally] so far as I know to be recognized for having done so. Styles gone through and incorporated: folk, rock, Motown, blues, R-&-B, reggae, disco, pop for sure, some country and some jazz."

What is your role in your band? In the studio? In business or marketing decisions?

"As soon as my sister and I started a band in high school (Sacramento, 1964) I took on a leadership position, oftentimes learning songs off the radio or 45's and teaching them to my bandmates, of which my sister was always one. Many times she and I learned the songs together, by ear. When we got a record deal in Hollywood in '69 (Fanny, generally known as the first all-girl band to be signed, record, and achieve international success) I began writing in earnest, and have continued to do so since that time. I started playing in the genre of women's music in 1965, and got the opportunity to produce others' records beginning in 1977. By 1981 I had my own record label, and in 1986 co-founded the Institute for the Musical Arts, a non-profit 501[c]3 for all women in music, of which I am still the Artistic Director. (www.ima.org) So in the studio, as an artist I usually have a big role in the creative decision-making process, as many of the songs are mine; if hired as a guitarist, I contribute whatever is required, deferring to the artist and producer. As a producer, the role is greatly expanded. A producer is basically hired to organize, have the overview, and make decisions. As a label owner and Artistic Director of IMA, I've been called upon to make many business and marketing decisions over the past 28 years."

Describe your gear.

"many guitars: '57 Les Paul, old Stratcocaster, Les Paul Jr and Jazzmaster as well; a one-of-a-kind Alembic (electric); Taylor T-5 and C112 ce. Many others, but these I would say are my favorites. As for amps, I still stick mostly with Fenders, of which I have many - both vintage and new t(hey support IMA, incidentally). Finally, pedals - I might use an overdrive or a reverb effects pedal, but have gotten over being too fancy with all that. The thing I mostly look for is the overdrive ""lead"" sound, which many amps supply now anyway, with on/off footswitch."

Related Themes: Gear

Do you think being a woman and a musician is different from being a man and a musician? If so, how? Was there a moment that made a difference clear to you?

"Uh, yes. First, in perception. Women are not expected to play as well, and in the '60s not play electric AT ALL, and had to carve out their own opportunities to do so. That involved hearing many slurs, being discounted, and picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and starting over again as a matter of course. Second, men have testosterone. Although women can certainly play as well and do, the sexual posturing associated with electric guitars in particular and rock and roll generally is something that many men do naturally and most willingly. Women have a different way of expressing sex appeal which is more nuanced (unless they are simply copying men, or in some cases may have more of a testosterone output themselves). I have seen this over and over again in my over 40 years of playing lead guitar and continue to experience it at IMA. This now-assumed posturing can lead to a bit of confusion. MANY moments made that clear to me, beginning in the mid-'60s. But as I did not posture (having moved through the male world in LA where I learned from the best, I realized that not only didn't I feel it, but simply didn't have to - the best players, by the way, were the most generous; and the mechanics of playing was always uppermost in our minds) I suppose a few moments when I realized we were playing to and reaching massive audiences would have made that acceptance clear. Some of those would be playing both the Fillmores East and West; on t.v. appearing on the first Sonny and Cher Show, Dick Cavett, the Tonight Show, and several Midnight Specials; going on national tours with Chicago / Jethro Tull and sharing stages with Chuck Berry, the Staple Singers, Dr John, Carly Simon, John Sebastian, et al... and finally, as a band, Fanny's backing Joan Streisand live on several cuts on her ""Barbra"" album."

Do you see differences between generations of women musicians?

"Yes. Although many girls are still shy to express themselves in general - only needing the invitation to do so - they at least know that the notion of playing in a band is generally accepted. Boys might sneer and compete with them, oftentimes, for example, drowning out a girl singer with their instruments, but society as a whole does not. Where girls really have a difficult time entering into careers in music concerns body image. That has not changed a bit, and is a continual problem. On the plus side, girls have no problem experimenting with different sounds and cutting-edge technology, for example playing electric/amplified cello or working with loops generated and performed with onstage."

Related Themes: Off The Clock

Did anyone ever give you any valuable advice about making your way in the music industry? What advice would you give to a woman musician just starting out?

"Valuable advice given to me: don't listen to what anyone else says about your music, especially in the studio. Don't turn while recording and ask people not directly involved, ""what do you think?"" You may as well stand on a street corner asking that, and do it forever. Follow your own instincts, make your own decisions. To that I would add, never stop. Don't give up, never give up while you are following and connecting with your passion. And find a few girlfriends to hang and confide with!"

Related Themes: Advice

Why did you choose to play the instrument you play?

the moment I heard someone play a guitar, in the Philippines at the convent we attended just before we moved to California, I instanly knew this was for me. Not only that, I knew it was the key to my entire life. I got up like a sleepwalker and followed that sound (down the hall), and have been following it ever since ...

Related Themes: The First Time