Dancing Wimmin: Lilith, the band


Dances for “wimmin only” became accepted events in the Valley as Lesbians were increasingly active in the Women’s Liberation Movement and, starting in 1974, began to create space for ourselves. They were very special events when the music was performed live by women’s bands.  First the Deadly Nightshade and, then, Lilith provided the sound track for bashes and benefits.

I informally interviewed Lilith founder Beth Caurant for the first time in 1998 at her home in Northampton. She generously provided a written personal remembrance and some photographs of the band. In 2004 she commented on a brief draft by me of the band’s history. In 2015, when I started the blog, I sent her a dusty post draft that prompted her to write more. In the meantime she had been interviewed for JD Doyle’s Queer Music Heritage  radio show broadcast in 2007, with many documents as well as music recordings made available online. This brief account of Lilith  draws on these multiple sources.

Lilith founder Beth Caurant recollects that in the early 1970s it was unthinkable to play music professionally without having men in the band. “You could be a lead singer or perhaps a folk duo, but it was assumed that only men could play the drums or electric instruments.” One evening when she was having dinner in a restaurant in Amherst, she heard the Deadly Nightshade play for the first time, “Three women playing together without men— and they sounded great!”

Inspired to look for other women who might want to form a rock band with her, she went to the Valley Women’s Center in Northampton to put up a notice. She found one from two other lesbians already posted:”Looking to jam, play some music and drink a little wine.” She called them immediately and they did just that. “We all played guitar and sang, with beautiful harmonics, and one who could sing lead vocals. We decided on ‘Lilith’ as a name, as the woman who defied Adam.”

Their first gig, with a very limited repertoire, was in 1973 at a lesbian party in Wendell. For a year they rented a house together on Perkins Avenue in Northampton, gradually adding other musicians. Because there were so few female rock musicians, they became a band of whatever combination of vocalists/players were interested at the time. A clarinet player was added because she was willing to eventually play the saxophone that the band really wanted, but she wouldn’t join without her girlfriend, so a keyboard was added as well. At one point, when they needed a bass guitar, Beth’s girlfriend Tatty Hodge learned to play one from scratch.

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First Lilith poster. Back row left to right: Micki Faucher, drummer; Claire Frances, lead vocals; Beth Caurant, guitar and vocals; Peg Brewer, keyboard. Front row left to right: Belinda Star, vocals and guitar; Liz Knowles, saxophone; Tatty Hodge, bass. (Courtesy Beth Caurant)

 

Beth has written that they were also very young and into the drinking, pot-smoking bar scene. By the time they cut their LP in 1978, Lilith had grown from a trio to a seven-member band and gone through thirty personnel changes, with only two of the original members remaining. In spite of internal chaos, Beth recalls that when the band’s playing was tight, it was really exciting.

At the beginning of their career, Lilith played for women’s dances at Smith and Mt. Holyoke Colleges. Valley women were treated to double the dance when both Lilith and the Deadly Nightshade played a benefit dance at UMass in 1974. Lilith played many of the same venues in the Valley as the Deadlies including the Vermont  Bernardston Inn, but they also played Springfield’s gay Frontier Lounge and Arbor.

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Most of the performance venues available, however, were straight bars and dance clubs. The band played repeatedly at The Rusty Nail in Hadley. Lilith became regulars at two Pleasant Street establishments in Northampton: the Saint Regis, a restaurant with a large dance room; and the Lazy River. At both places, the band drew a large following of local lesbians who mixed in with the other clientele without a problem, according to Beth.

Beth still remembers, however, that this practice of playing for lesbians at straight clubs and playing music by men (for its dance-ability) drew comment from one Northampton Lesbian Separatist, at least in fictional form. In her 1976 collection of poetry and short fiction They Will Know Me By My Teeth, Elana Dykewoman included a short story entitled, “Without Love”, which was the name of a Doobie Brothers song that Lilith covered. In the fictional account, a woman who lives down the street from a bar hears a women’s band play mostly men’s music where a “cluster” of lesbians dance. The women, the story implies, are trying to pretend that the men in the bar aren’t watching them, identifying them as lesbians, and preparing to stalk them when they leave the bar. This fiction reflects the history of increasing violence against lesbians in Northampton starting in 1975 as they became more visible in bars and on the streets and the issues being raised by local Lesbian Separatists.[More on these issues in future posts.]

Safer, more comfortable women-only venues were rare but welcome opportunities for women to gather and dance. Very early in their career, Lilith played at a private party at the Northampton Colonial Hilton thrown by a Smith College residential house. Such resources were most available to campus groups in the Valley. One of the largest women’s dances may have happened when Lilith played at a packed Blue Wall Cafe for the 1975 University Women’s Conference at UMass. The first of these live band wimmin-only dances for Northampton townies may not have occurred, however, until 1977.

With time, the band enlarged their playing circuit outside the Valley to include Boston.  At the beginning of 1975, they provided the music for newly elected state representative Elaine Noble’s  inaugural ball. She was the first openly gay candidate in the country to win a state office, representing Boston’s Fenway and Back Bay neighborhoods in the Massachusetts Legislature for two terms.

Elaine Noble ( http://www.wgbh.org/articles/A-Portrait-of-Elaine-Noble-8182)

 

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Lilith playing at Elaine Noble’s Inauguration Ball. From left to right: Micki Faucher, Beth Caurant, Claire Frances, Belinda Star, Peg Brewer, Liz Knowles, Joy Barone. (Photos courtesy Michelle Faucher.)

 

The band also played a Susan Saxe  Defense Fund benefit in Boston at the Saints, a lesbian bar where they frequently played. Saxe was arrested in 1975 for alleged participation in a 1970 Weather Underground robberies of a Massachusetts armory and a bank, which involved the shooting death of a bank guard.

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After her capture and arrest in Philadelphia, Saxe came out in feminist media as a lesbian and appealed to her “sisters” for support. Feminists and lesbians across the country did support her, including in the Valley, raising funds for her legal defense. After the Saints benefit in Boston, Beth Caurant believes the band came under investigation by the FBI. She says that men were seen taking photographs of her car and house and agents questioned her landlord about the band.

In 1975, Lilith cut a single demo 45rpm record, covers of Van Morrison’s “Moondance” and Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff”, to begin to promote themselves. Starting in 1976 the band began to get some critical mainstream press as they took their rock, soul, and swing north into Maine and south to Rhode Island and points in between.

 

Lilith Photos 75-76 Northampton
Lilith 1975-76. Back: Lou Crimmins, Peg Brewer, Beth Caurant, Myanna Pontopidan, Kathy Piccus. Front: Lynn O’Neill, Joy Barone. Photo courtesy Beth Caurant.

 

A newspaper review of their appearances in Hartford CT described them warming up the crowd with “Reggae Woman” disco-soul sound; moving more people onto the dance floor with “Money,” a pure disco sound, hard and bright; then to their cover of “Mr. Big Stuff.” Dancers rested while Joy Barone did a Janis Joplin–like “Total Blues,” then Marianna on sax surrounded Cathy and Lou’s vocals to send folks back up to the dance floor to bump and hustle. Reviewer Susan Rand Brown concluded in the Hartford Advocate, “Lilith is a whole band of rock musicians really doing it.”

Lilith spent the early six months of 1977 on an experimental southern tour. They embarked without a bassist or drummer, so they had to fill in along the way: Debbie Campbell, bass; Laurel Blanchard, drums. They added a new vocalist as well, Janice Warner. When they returned north, they settled in the Boston area with another new sound. The band that once again played at the Rusty Nail in Hadley was described by a male reviewer as “a middling-fair bar band playing cover versions of Stevie Wonder, bump and boogie of Wild Cherry, Pick Up the Pieces funk and the occasional ballad.” The Springfield Morning Union reviewer did note two original pieces, and wrote that the dance floor was two-thirds occupied by women couples.

In 1978, they released their first LP, “Boston Ride,” under the new Galaxia label. Two–thirds of the album was original music. The album was well received. Reviews made the mainstream as well as alternative press.

 

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Despite high points such as opening for Bonnie Riatt, and good sales of the album, even in Europe, the high energy group couldn’t stay together past 1978. Karen Kane, the “Boston Ride” engineer, commented in a 2009 interview. ”The band (Lilith) dynamics were very hard and Beth and I basically mixed that album and made it happen. And now I listen to it and it’s like, hmmm, not too bad for 1978. You know it helped them, for a while, with their career, but they were having such terrible band dynamics that they didn’t last, unfortunately.”

Beth Caurant has still kept herself in music with women, a little bit, over the years. Most recently she appeared with the Girl Gang at Luthiers in Easthampton. After their show, she remarked to me on the number of old Lilith fans who attended and commented fondly on those old times that women danced together to music by women.

SOURCES:

__Caurant, Beth. Interviewed by Kaymarion Raymond, handwritten notes. Jan. 6, 1998.

__Caurant, Beth. Untitled [Lilith remembrance to Kaymarion private file.] Jan. 4, 1998.

__[Raymond,} Kaymarion and Letalien, Jacqueline, editors. The Valley Women’s Movement: A Herstorical Chronology 1968-1978. Ceres Inc. Northampton. 1978. Add linkMORE

__Caurant, Beth. Email correspondence with Kaymarion. May 14-30, 2004 and Nov 21-28, 2015.

__Nachman [Nachmon], Elana. They Will Know Me By My Teeth: stories and poems of lesbian struggle, celebration, and survival. Megaera Press. Northampton MA. 1976.

__Brown, Susan Rand. “Lilith: Rock and Role.” Hartford (CT) Advocate. Feb. 11, 1976.

__Danckert, Peter. “Lilith: Hunting Identity.” Morning Union, Springfield MA. Jul 29, 1977.

__Kane, Karen. Interview Queer Music Heritage.

May 2009.http://queermusicheritage.com/may2009s.html

__To hear some of Lilith’s music, read clippings, listen or read more of their history through an interview of Beth Caurant on Queer Music Heritage by JD Doyle follow these links below;

__Radio interview with Beth Caurant March 2007 by JD Doyle

http://www.queermusicheritage.com/mar2007.html

__ Transcript of Radio interview with Beth Caurant  http://www.queermusicheritage.com/mar2007s.html

__Elaine Noble. http://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/out-and-elected/1970s/elaine-noble

 

 

Beginning to Create Lesbian Space 1974-75


The Valley Women’s Center was at 200 Main Street in Northampton. In 1974 the Center reorganized itself along socialist feminist lines into a union: Valley Women’s Union (VWU). When a coordinating board was formed to represent the various enterprises and action groups* comprising the VWU, Lesbians asked for and were given an at-large seat. While very present in various activities Lesbians did not yet have a formal group, but shortly after getting a seat on the board  a Lesbian Issues Discussion Group formed. It met weekly, and grew to include thirty to forty women, mostly lesbians, some of whom hadn’t previously been part of VWU.

In May of 1974, the CLIT (Collective Lesbian International Terrors) Papers were circulating nationally. Initially, the CLIT Collective called for lesbians to withhold their energy from straight media, which continued to define and co-opt lesbians. The Collective advocated the creation of a separate Lesbian media. The idea was further expanded to mean withdrawing from the straight world as much as possible, including straight feminists, and creating a separate Lesbian community and culture.

CLIT intro para OOB May 75
CLIT Papers opening paragraph from Off Our Backs May 1974

The CLIT Papers, by a NYC group, caused a furor in feminist communities from coast to coast, including the feminist community in Northampton. They resonated particularly with Lesbians such as myself, who had devoted a lot of energy to women’s issues, but whose needs as lesbians were largely unrecognized. As a result of this new thinking some VWU Lesbians wrote a position paper asking for separate space at 200 Main Street. They began scheduling Lesbian-only events in the third-floor general meeting room, calling it “Lesbian Gardens.”

Increasing numbers of Lesbians began to identify themselves with this radical thinking and literally spelled it out. The different usage of lesbian (lower case) as a sexual identity and Lesbian (capitalized) as a political identity began to appear. If you see it here it is as carefully deliberate reflection of how it began to appear in local Lesbian writing and publications starting in 1974.

While still a student at UMass I helped start Everywoman’s Center, housed initially in 1972 in one large room in Munson Annex. In the beginning we pretty much invented our jobs, even as volunteers, and I wound up coordinating publications (a newsletter) and educational programming. We had inherited a workshop program for women designed to encourage continuing education, Project S.E.L.F. and in one of the first series Cindy Shamban and I co-facilitated a four week workshop in 1972 called “the Woman-Identified Woman.”  The topic and title came from a 1970 position paper by NYC Radicalesbians which I found and brought back from the second Christopher Street Liberation March. This may have been the first such offering in the Valley.

After I graduated from UMass I continued to work at Everywoman’s Center as paid part time staff with no benefits. The eight week long workshop program was one of my main responsibilities and  continued to be for several years, growing to an attendance of 350-400 women enrolled every semester, half of them non-students. Every semester I was able to include at least one with lesbian focus. The most popular was Julia Demmin’s “Lesbians in Literature,” which she offered numerous times, often with her partner Nancy Schroeder.

1975 began with the last program I coordinated for Everywoman’s Center, what may have been the largest gathering up to that time of Valley women, a week long University (UMass) Women’s Conference in Amherst attended by over 700 students, staff, faculty and community women. It also included the largest gathering of lesbians, more than sixty, who attended one or more of the three lesbian workshops.

75 womens conf

At the end of the conference, energized by this response, planning began for a similar conference for Lesbians in a collaboration of the UMass Gay Women’s Caucus; Lesbian Gardens; and UMass, Springfield, and Northampton women’s centers. The BiMillenial Lesbian Week was held in May 1975 with events in Springfield, Amherst and Northampton, culminating in a weekend retreat in Cummington which I attended. “BiMillenial” referred to two thousand years of Lesbian culture since Sappho.

BiMi ihead CCI_000027

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This happening, as we used to say, was advertised in Lesbian Gardens’ first publication. Old Maid: the Lesbian Magazine. The BiMillennial Lesbian Week marked the beginning of a proliferation of Lesbian activities. An increasing number of these took place at Lesbian Gardens, including a Saturday Night Coffeehouse with music by Lou Crimmins and other local musicians, the showing of the first U.S. Lesbian-made films, the formation of the Magical Lesbian Playgroup (a mother-daughter group?) , and the convening of the first Skills Exchanges and Winter Solstice Celebrations. Lesbian Gardens  also provided space for the initial  meetings of what became new enterprises; the women’s restaurant project, the women’s self-defense and karate school, and the Lesbian back to the land movement.

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slightly used cover of the Old Maid by Laura Kaye,  by permission of the artist
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From the Old Maid, Spring 1975

In the late Fall of 1975, the Lesbians coordinating the use of Lesbian Gardens proclaimed it to be 24-hour Lesbian space, contentiously precluding its use by straight VWU feminists. The Sweet Coming Bookstore (more like a bookshelf) was established there to sell the scant but growing number of Lesbian publications from around the country: the first mimeographed and stapled issues of Lesbian Connection, coming out stories, health information, news and discussions by and about Lesbians. A Lesbian distributor, Old Lady Blue Jeans, also began to have locally created products for sale there. An album by local musician Linda Shear, as well as some coloring pages by me as Great Hera’s Incunabula, were listed in Old Lady Blue Jeans’ catalog.

The BiMillennial Lesbian Week collaboration between Northampton, Springfield, Amherst, and hilltown Lesbians provided a supportive base for a Lesbian cultural flowering and new level of feminist activism over the next decade.  A significant portion of it was to happen in Northampton, which seemed to have a population explosion of newly-out lesbians. Though this Valley Lesbian Movement was to be fraught with struggle, both internal and external, its very depth and breadth was to exhibit a maturity that reflected the same pains, questions, doubts, and resolve experienced across Lesbian Nation.

*Valley Women’s Union initial coordinating board represented Mother Jones Press, Women’s Film Coop, Employment, Staffing, Newsletter, Childcare, Study and Research work groups.

SOURCES:

__[Raymond}, Kaymarion and Letalien, Jacqueline E., editors.  The Valley Women’s Movement: A Herstorical Chronology 1968-1978.  Northampton, Ceres Inc. 1978.

__Collective Lesbian International Terrors. “CLIT Papers, Part One and Two” and OOB Staff editorial. Off Our Backs. Washington DC. May and July 1974.

__Conference Evaluation Committee.  “1975 University Women’s Conference January 21-25: Report and Evaluation”. EWC, UMass Amherst Mar. 1975. I coordinated this conference and wrote parts of the evaluation including that about lesbians.

__Old Maid: A lesbian magazine. Northampton. Spring 1975.

__Old South St. Study Group. “Analysis of a Lesbian Community-Part One” and “-Part Two.” Lesbian Connection [E. Lansing MI]. Jul.1977.

__Kraft, Stephanie.  “BiMillenial Celebration: 2000 Years From Sappho.” Valley Advocate. 30 Apr. 1975.

__[Raymond],Kaymarion.  “The Cloning of Old Lady Blue Jeans.” Sharer’s Notes #3. Great Hera’s Incunabula. Nov. 1975.

_________. “Valley Women’s History”, Meeting notes. Common Womon Club, Northampton. 15 Apr. 1980.

Lesbians in the Valley Women’s Movement: 1970-1973


 

Detractors would have had women believe that the early second wave feminists were all lesbians*. Yet in those early years lesbians who were in the Movement in the Valley were largely invisible and uncounted. Some of them have told me that there were more lesbians contributing than have been given credit. I was one of them, and have used data collected by others as well as my own memories to consider the lesbians who participated in this political work against sexism.

The initial spread of radical feminism is easily traced up and down the Valley through the appearance of women’s centers in Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden Counties. These spaces were rented in communities with donations and largely staffed by volunteers, or else they were given institutional space on campuses with some funded staff positions.

VWC05032016

Northampton’s Valley Women’s Center was the first, established in 1970. It also lasted the longest of the community-based centers, to 1977.

SWWC05032016
artist unknown

After VWC was opened in Northampton, there followed  UMass/Amherst Southwest (residential area) Women’s Center (1971), Greenfield Community Women’s Center (1972), UMass/Amherst Everywoman’s Center (1972), Springfield Women’s Center (1973), Hampshire College Whole Women’s Center (1973), Smith College Women’s Resource Center (1974) and at UMass/Amherst centers briefly in five residential areas.

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In 1977, women’s centers opened in Athol and at Mt. Holyoke College. Everywoman’s Center at UMass, under a new name, is the oldest women’s center still existing in the Valley. All the community centers are long gone, some partially replaced by institutional services.

EWC05032016I worked as a staff person at both VWC and, later, Everywoman’s Center as an out lesbian. Through that work, I came to know lesbians who were active in all of the other community centers and some of the campus ones. It did seem to me that as new activities and groups started at the Valley Women’s Center in Northampton, an increasing number of new members becoming involved were lesbians, but in those early years it’s just anyone’s guess. Here’s how I made one.

My best guess was prompted by some Smith students’ research. They compiled a list of Western Mass lesbians and feminists who would be valuable resources on that early history. One document they found was_- a 1971 member list for fifteen Amherst Women’s Liberation support groups. They also found other sources for work groups that were organized out of AWL’s Valley Women’s Center, as well as a very limited number of names of feminists who were active in other centers. Going through those names, I marked those I knew to be lesbians at that time, which is probably an under count, and estimated lesbians to be about 10% of AWL/VWC’s general membership, as well as of the women’s centers in Springfield, Greenfield and Athol.GnfldCWC05032016

Other than what I’ve already mentioned, at UMass in Amherst, there was little overt lesbian organizing within the Valley Women’s Movement until 1974. In Northampton however, these years before that were important to lesbian history because of the relatively large and active numbers who developed a grounding in radical feminist theory, process, and vision which would eventually burst into Lesbian form.

One of the most influential groups for me was the Women’s Institute. This group came and went briefly but intensely in 1971-72.  When a State prison in Framingham was slated to be closed down, feminists saw an opportunity to convert it to a residential women’s education center. With others from VWC, I took a tour of the grim narrow buildings. I looked at worn red bricks stark against the bright green grass common, and tried to envision the place as a farm and self-sufficient community, conference center, and media hub. Smile. For about a year, a group at VWC brainstormed a utopia and wrote a million dollar grant proposal to the Ford Foundation for the establishment of  the Women’s Institute. Of the two dozen names listed in its records, I recognize a third of them as lesbian. That opportunity to dream big influenced our future activism.

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cover drawing probably by Lorie Leininger, journal produced by the VWC writers’ group

In 1972, the Women Against War group and the Women’s Film Coop formed at the Valley Women’s Center. The WAW Lizzie Borden Brigade sat-in at the gates of Westover Air Force base and marched through Pittsfield streets as part of the large anti-Vietnam War movement.  When I found a news clipping of those arrested at one protest, I recognize eight of the thirty women as lesbians. In the meantime, over in Amherst, women took over the UMass ROTC building and turned it into a childcare center.

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part of Lizzie Bordan Brigade WAW. I am 4th adult from the left in my Army jacket. Photographer unknown, from the 2nd WFC Catalog.

The Film Coop inherited a few films, slides and a mailing list from New Haven feminists who were getting out of that film distribution project. Several lesbians who had fantasized about a media center in the Women’s Institute carried the work forward with other women at VWC.

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cover by Kaymarion Raymond

At a time when very little media by and about women and women’s issues was available (or, at least, little that was realistic), the WFC rented out an increasing number of films and videos to groups and classes across the country. The WFC held the Valley’s first women’s film festival in Northampton at the Globe Theatre (later the Pleasant St. Theatre?) in 1973. A majority of the WFC were lesbians.

Another new Northampton group furthered the dream of a media center. Mother Jones Press opened on Hawley Street in 1973. A small group of women, some who were lesbians, set up a used Chief offset press and went into the printing business. I will be including more on these two ventures in later posts.

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flyer by Kaymarion Raymond

In 1973, VWC and EWC sponsored a speakout against rape in Northampton. This marked the beginning of the movement against violence against women in the Valley. It began with volunteer rape crisis services and advocacy, then enlarged to multiple groups addressing domestic violence, self-defense, and women’s martial arts. Lesbians, in unknown numbers, were active in this work up and down the Valley over the next decade.

All of this activity, which in Northampton, centered around the Valley Women’s Center at 200 Main Street would set the stage for the Lesbians coming out as a group within the Women’s Movement in 1974 and the beginning of Lesbian Feminist activism.

*Footnote: lesbian is consciously spelled here in this article with a lower case “l” in recognition of its usage at that specific time as meaning a sexual orientation and not, yet, as a political identity.

Sources:

__ Hanna, Christine. “Names” (list of lesbians and feminists in western Massachusetts compiled from a limited search of document sources in the Sophia Smith Collection and College Archives at Smith College). 1998.

__[Raymond,] Kaymarion.  “The Valley Women’s Movement 1968-78.” File of the visual exhibit shown at the Common Womon Club. 1978. Northampton.

__[Raymond,] Kaymarion and Letalien, Jacqueline, editors. “A Herstorical Chronology of the Valley Women’s Movement, 1968-1978.” Ceres Inc. Northampton. 1978

Dancing Wimmin: the Deadly Nightshade


Women dancing together became a significant thread in Northampton’s Lesbian subculture and nascent community in the 1970s. Gay men had semi-private parties at the men’s collective on Butler Place in ‘Hamp. Gay dances for both men and women were held at UMass and Hampshire College. Groups of gay people would also consciously “out” themselves in straight bars in Amherst and Hadley creating gay space for a night. Dances specifically for women, however, grew out of the spreading Women’s Liberation Movement, sometimes in new venues outside of bars, and often to the music of all-women bands.

Four of the five all-women’s bands that played in ‘Hamp during the 70s were also lesbian, though not out as such. Many of the members of the Deadly Nightshade, Lilith, Artandryl, Liberty Standing and Ladies Chain had lived or gone to school in Northampton as well. While most of the bands played the local bar/dance club circuit, they also performed at feminist and lesbianfeminist benefits and events, which increasingly included women-only dances.

By 1972, feminism had spread enough in Hampshire County to be celebrated through a Five College Women’s Cultural Week, March 6-11, with events on all the campuses. Anne Bowen, who graduated from Smith and volunteered as staff at the Valley Women’s Center on Main Street in Northampton, brought part of her all-girl band Ariel out of retirement to play at a hootenanny for this celebration. Response was so positive that Anne, along with Pamela Brandt and Helen Hooke, began a new career as the Deadly Nightshade, Deadlies or DNS.

Helen, who had also graduated from Smith, played violin (fiddle) and lead guitar. Pamela, who graduated from Mt. Holyoke College and was partners with Helen, was the bass player. Anne, who had also been in a jug band, played the washboard as well as rhythm guitar. All three were to later harmonize as well on kazoos. The three lived together in a farmhouse in Ashfield.

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Anne Bowen, Helen Hooke, Pamela Brandt

 

Since they wanted to be a fun dance band for any kind of venue, they initially learned between a hundred and one hundred and fifty songs, including many Motown hits. To make Texan Anne happy, they also added some Patsy Cline and bluegrass. They described themselves as an “old school pop/rock/soul/country/electric bluegrass trio.” They often began their performances with a very up-tempo Carter family song: “Keep On the Sunny Side.” Other favorite covers included “Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills and Nash; and “Truckin” by the Grateful Dead.

By the autumn of ‘72, the DNS was polished enough to play at the Valley’s first women’s dance, which was held at UMass Dickinson House, sponsored by Southwest (Residential Area) Women’s Center. Out lesbian Judith Katz (future Lambda Book Award-winning novelist) was the first Student Coordinator there.  In the spring of 1973, the Deadly Nightshade again played at Smith (for the Women’s Festival) and UMass, as well as at Mt. Holyoke College.

At first they wrote new tunes to fill in their repertoire, but soon they were presenting original material that was explicitly feminist, often in a humorous way. They became one of the first feminist rock bands in the country.

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bumper sticker from KM’s collection

Women who came to know the band through political events also began to show up at their straight gigs, including at the Lazy River in Northampton and another bar in Florence.

Pamela reports, “We drew an interesting mix of people. At some bars there were lots of bikers and burnt out Vietnam vets, as well as all our usual lesbian/gay feminist crowd. Fortunately, everyone got along okay. We very consciously considered it our job, as much as playing the music, to make sure that that happened. You know: ‘It’s only rock and roll,’ as the saying goes– but in a way for us, as politically-conscious musicians in a time before it became fashionable for entertainers to be political, it was exciting, even if only for four hours a night, to feel like we were the catalyst for creating a bit of a utopian world in a microcosm. That fit very well into the vibe in the Valley at the time.

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Pamela sent me this photo taken at a straight bar in Amherst on Halloween where the Deadlies were playing: me in drag sitting next to Liz Knowles and Nancy Schroeder

 

The Deadlies played two or three nights a week for three years before they got a record contract with RCA/Phantom. They went on to release two LPs, “The Deadly Nightshade” and “Funky and Western.” Both albums were nominated for Grammy Best New Artist Awards.

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their first album for RCA

 

They were the only all-female band in that time which signed to a major mainstream record label and still recorded songs with outright feminist content, despite RCA’s efforts to tone them down.

Pamela commented on this in relationship to their memorable song, “High Flying Woman:”

 “Well, it’s really just sort of a feminist anthem, only it doesn’t sound like an anthem. It sounds like…well, when we play it live, it sort of sounds like a country rock song, and the way it is on the first album, they made it into sort of more of a little pop song.

Words were very important to feminists in those days. Well, like the word “chick,” you were all supposed to be a woman, not a girl if you were over a certain age, because the way the words had been used in those days for men and women, even when you were 80, men would say “Hi, girls.” But they were men, you know, it was girls and men, it wasn’t girls and boys. And then chick was one of those words also, which we really hated, because as band people it was okay for women to be in bands if they were just the chick singer, for a male band. What was considered to be inappropriate was for women to actually be the band, be the players, so the whole chick thing really rubbed us wrong. So that’s what the whole song originally started out as, you’re not a chick, you’re a free-flying woman, a high-flying woman. And it sort of got more general as the song went on about how women should not be in a cage, you should set yourself free, take yourself for a glide, you’re a high flying woman.A version of it is accessible on YouTube.

The Deadly Nightshade had many memorable gigs once they were on the national circuit. One of my favorites was their appearance on Sesame Street. Watch it here as they play “Walk on the Sunny Side”!:

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the Deadly Nightshade on Sesame Street

They toured nationally, so, after their early years, they were generally outside the Valley. Their last official gig was in 1977 at the National Women’s Conference. They retired after that because Anne had grown tired of being on the road.

Both Pamela and Helen continued with their music after the band retired. Helen has released four solo albums over the years  . Pamela was a member of Lowlife, a New York City mixed gay and lesbian band which existed from 1982-86, at a time when the two groups were largely separate politically.

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In 2008 the Deadlies had a reunion performance at the Institute for Musical Arts in Goshen, MA that drew an enthusiastic crowd of 150. Encouraged by this, they began writing new material and making more reunion appearances. In 2012, they released a cd, “Never Never Gonna Stop”, with mostly new music (described as “newgrass, modern electric blue grass”) as well as four vintage audio/video clips from 1984.

 

thedeadlynightshadealbum cover

A little promotion tour for the cd included the Bitter End in  Greenwich Village and Northampton’s Iron Horse Music Hall. The band had been planning a tour for 2015 which would have included Northampton, but Pamela developed knee and back problems in the spring. In August, she died unexpectedly of a heart attack at her home in Miami.

Further reading:

The Girls Next Door by Pamela Brandt and Lindsy Van Gelder (Simon and Schuster 1996) contains Pamela and Helen’s coming out at Mt. Holyoke College while in a girl-band story.

SOURCES:

__Brandt, Pamela. Email to KMR May 23, 2004.

__Raymond, Kay[marion] and Letalien, Jacqueline, editors. A Herstorical Chronology of the Valley Women’s Movement 1968-1978. Ceres Inc. Northampton. 1978.

__ The Deadly Nightshade website includes lots of the group’s history unavailable elsewhere including how they got their name. http://www.thedeadlynightshade.net/Home.html

__And their facebook page  https://www.facebook.com/TheDeadlyNightshadeBand

__ Doyle, JD. Queer Music Heritage. Radio show recorded stream and transcript interview with Pamela Brandt about the Deadly Nightshade plus lots more. An incredible resource and searchable site. March 2013. http://www.queermusicheritage.com/mar2013s.html

__Parnass, Larry. “Deadly Nightshade performs again Sunday in Northampton.” Daily Hampshire Gazette. Northampton. May 24, 2013.

Coming Next: the bar bombing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Intense Confluence of Radical Ideas: Umass Fall 1971


 

The 1970 co-founders of UMass/Amherst Student Homophile League (see previous posts)  had rapidly moved into other forms of activism creating a leadership vacuum within the group. Kathryn Girard joined the Women’s Caucus of the School of Education and Michael Obligado started, with other more radical SHL members, the local Gay Liberation Front. I stepped into this opening for leadership that Autumn of 1971, editing a few editions of SHL’s newsletter the Closet Door, and ushering the group through the process of getting recognized status as a student group and student senate funding.

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Kathyrn Girard and I outside the GLF space in the Student Union basement (across from the Hatch) early 1971, photographer unknown

Shortly after I started going to SHL meetings in the fall of 1970, I broke up with my partner Susan  and moved into a rooming house in Northampton. I had to leave the cats and dog in her custody. In addition to a subscription to the lesbian magazine the Ladder, my partner and I had established a mutual correspondence with its editor Barbara Grier (publically Gene Damon). Susan sent clippings of relevant news and book reviews. I contributed black and white line drawings on demand that were published as illustrations under the pseudonym Kate McColl.

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Illustration I did for the Ladder under the pseudonym of Kate McColl. I don’t have the date for this issue.

I sent Barbara a letter telling her of this change in relationship, and also about my involvement with the area’s first gay group, SHL. I think she was in St. Louis, Missouri, working as a librarian and living with a partner, Helen. Her response was, “…enjoy your gay lib play therapy.. but when the boys take over go find a women’s lib groups and educate them…”

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Dictaphone memo sent to me from Barbara Grier dated 11.12.70.

It took an eventful year before I finally understood and took Barbara’s advice. I was, after all, a recent veteran out of Ohio. I was Republican (“I like Ike“) stock and older than most UMass undergrads. I looked around at freshman orientation in 1969, at the anti-war protests, hippies, and drugs, and, when surveyed by the school, projected my four year experience there would make me, in a reactionary way, more conservative. Ha ha!!

I cannot adequately describe the intense confluence of radical ideas flooding the campus (and Valley) at that time, some of which were (literally) hallucinogenic. This was a massive influx that stunned then stirred my brain into bursts of new synapses. Light bulbs turning on, indeed.

Sifting through a book of paper scraps jammed together, I see the autumn of 1971 as being pivotal, not only for my personal identity, but as a further base-laying for Northampton’s unique LGBTQ culture. Three historical developments are apparent then: 1.) An early organizational separation between gay women and gay men; 2.) a wide emphasis on radical (as opposed to reform) feminism that began receiving regular energy boosts from nationally known feminists (and lesbians); and 3.) the melding of these two circumstances that would lead to the emergence of a phenomenally strong and multi-faceted expression of Lesbian feminism.

Several news items of note appeared in the October 1971 Closet Door. There are notices of the beginnings of three collectives. The women’s collective would live together in North Amherst on Leverett Road. They overlapped with another newly forming group, the women’s newspaper collective that was to produce the area’s first feminist newspaper, The Full Moon. The Men’s Collective mentioned was, in fact, gay. Michael and friends rented a large house on Butler Place in Northampton. Included in the newsletter is the invitation to attend weekly parties there after the SHL Thursday evening meetings. I think the cover charge for the parties  helped pay the rent. The guys would show off their latest drag costumes garnered from the free store at the Valley Women’s Center.

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Closet Door SHL newsletter Oct. 1971

I am not sure how it happened but by the end of Nov. 1971 I had written a multipage report on the status of women and activism at UMass which was printed in the alternative campus paper, Poor Richard’s.  In the meantime, I came out to my mother over the phone because I was included in the first mainstream media coverage of the Valley’s Gay Movement, Dec.7 in the Springfield Union. My mother’s response was that she had read something in the Readers’ Digest and would pray for me.

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Courtesy Springfield Union published Dec. 7, 1971.
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Michael and I clowning around in front of the Union photographer, Really? Print this!

I also let it be known in SHL that I would be doing less in the group as, instead, I organized a Dec. 8 first meeting of the Gay Women’s Caucus. The space advertised was JQA lounge near the brand new Southwest residential area Women’s Center, in what, I heard, was a former janitor’s closet. The Caucus was the foremother of the UMass Lesbian Union. The attendance was small and my memory needs to be refreshed by others (Jane? Dale?), but my recollection is that the small size and very wide range of interests meant we mostly met socially with each other rather than suggested potlucks or CR/study/action groups. It was a clear statement, however, that gay women had needs separate from gay men, something that other women outside SHL may have already concluded as they joined feminist groups on campus or Amherst Women’s Liberation.

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schedule of events at the end of 1971 published in an article I wrote in Poor Richard’s

 

The year ended for me with euphoria when nationally known feminist and poet Robin Morgan spoke at UMass as part of the Distinguished Visitors Program. (I would like to know who orchestrated this major funding coup.) Addressing a capacity crowd of mostly women in the Student Union Ballroom, she focused on the current state of radical feminism in the U.S. It was the first of many solo appearances by Robin in the Valley. She had previously visited the Smith Campus at the invitation of undergraduate Sandy Lilydahl in 1968 as part of WITCH, Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell.

I fell in love with Robin when she refused to take questions from men after the lecture. I also loved her handling of a student reporter. A few of us sat with her in the campus center coffee shop afterwards, where a male from the Collegian persisted in asking her questions.  My mouth must have dropped open when she told him to “stick his prick in his mouth and sew it shut.” Oh my!

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Photo caption reads “Robin…makes a point about why she feels women.” Massachusetts Daily Collegian Dec. 15, 1971. My guess is that since Robin wouldn’t talk to male reporters they finally got it and allowed a woman to report. From my scrapbook.

A few days later a (first) regional women’s conference was convened at UMass by the Leverett Rd. Women’s Collective. Among the ten scheduled-in-advance workshops was a “gay” one, facilitated by yours truly. Little did I anticipate the explosion of political activity I would be swept into over the coming decade, except I knew it would be with women, with sisters.

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First (?) regional women’s conference 1971.

Sources:

__ McColl, Kate. Illustration. The Ladder. Circa 1970-71.

__Grier, Barbara. Memo note to Kay Raymond. Dated 11.12.70.

__Closet Door, newsletter of the Student Homophile League, UMass Amherst. Oct 1971.

__Bradley, Jeff. “Gay Society Emerging on UMass Campus.” Springfield Union. Dec. 7, 1971.

__Raymond Kay M. “Part II. The Other 42%.” Poor Richard’s: a Weekly Magazine. UMass Amherst. Dec. 3, 1971.

__Spencer, Buffy. “Ms. Morgan Says Women’s Movement Alive.” Massachusetts Daily Collegian. Amherst. Dec. 15, 1971.

__Raymond, Kay(marion) and Letalien, Jacqueline, editors. A Herstorical Chronology of the Valley Women’s Movement, 1968-1978. Ceres, Inc. Northampton. 1978.

__Flyer, mimeographed. Regional Women’s Conference.  UMass Amherst. Dec. 17-19, 1971.