Bra-Burners Do Fernwood
:: Deadly Nightshade - Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman ::
Let me tell you a story about the first true feminist rock band. Deadly Nightshade actually go back as far as the mid-sixties, when bassist Pamela Brandt was part of a five piece all girl rock band called the Moppets. Even though they were essentially a cover band, they generated a lot of attention because they were a bunch of girls playing guitars and drums and stuff, and they were written about in the New York Times, as well as Life and Look magazines. Even with this kind of national exposure, no record label would take a chance on an all girl band.
The Moppets broke up and Brandt started playing with Anne Bowen and violinist/guitarist Helen Hooke in a band they called Ariel. Once more, the band got good press and played gigs up and down the east coast, but again, no record deal. Ariel broke up in 1970 and the women went their separate ways. In 1972, Bowen asked Brandt and Hooke to form a band to play at a women's festival in Massachusetts, and Deadly Nightshade was formed. By that time, the three ladies were sick to death of the music business, especially because of it's deeply entrenched sexist aspects. However, things had begun to change. The whole country had become familiar with the concept of "women's liberation", and were perhaps ready for a band that truly represented that movement.
They were signed to RCA subsidiary Phantom Records in 1974, and released their self titled debut the following year. Produced by Felix Cavaliere of the Young Rascals and augmented by a fleet of studio musicians, the album was well received and virtually jump started a musical genre still going strong to this day (see Indigo Girls, Lilith Fair, etc.). Their second album, "F&W" (or Funky & Western) came out in '76, and continued exploring the new world of Women's Music with songs like "Ain't I A Woman". Although their sound could basically be called "rootsy", incorporating Hooke's fiddle into a country/folk/rock hybrid, the single from the 2nd album, "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" went a long way toward explaining the "funky" part of the album's title.
Some of you might remember "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman", The TV show. I actually loved this show back in the day. It was essentially a parody of soap operas, but with a decidedly feminist twist. It was created by Norman Lear, who a few years previous brought us All In The Family and The Jeffersons, thus revolutionizing television. MH2 starred Woody Allen's ex, Louise Lasser as Mary, a middle class housewife from Fernwood, OH who's main concern seemed to be which brand of household cleanser might make her kitchen floor shine the brightest. It's easy to see why Deadly Nightshade found MH2 attractive, but the decision to record their own version of the show's theme song is one of the biggest "Huh?"s ever.
The theme itself would have been utterly forgettable, if not for us MH2 addicts hearing it 5 nights a week. In fact it was meant to be as bland and depressing as any daytime soap theme, so the Nightshade decided to spice it up a bit. Produced by jazz vibraphonist Mike Mainieri and session guitarist David Spinozza, the track features a who's who of NY studio whores (all male of course). Still, I don't know what anyone involved with this production was thinking. The single charted at #68 which just goes to show, you can put a disco beat on anything and it'll sell.