Guitar Heroines (EN)

We all know more than enough about the “Guitar Heroes” term, which seems to be on the rise lately, or it has been on the rise for some years now. The so called “Guitar Heroes” are many; Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Satriani… And we could go on and on and list countless names, but we rarely find any women in this category. Women such as Carina Alfie or The Great Kat among many others that have tried for years (and decades) to make their way in a world that seems dominated by men.

 

We could maybe mention as the first women guitar players those that made their first steps in the teenage Punk Rock band formed by women only The Runaways. Both Joan Jett and Lita Ford got known thanks to that very young band from the 70’s that turned them into the big figures of the rock history they are today.
When we talk about Joan Jett we undoubtely associate her to the hymn “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll”, which reached #1 on Billboard lists. We associate her to the obvious influence she had on legendary women bands such as L7, Kittie or Hole among others, besides being #87 among the 100 best guitar players in history by the well-known magazine Rolling Stone. A recognition that very few women artists can boast off. But Joan Jett is not just a good guitar player, but she is also known as a popular singer, producer and occasional actress.
During the 70’s, when she was just 15 she formed the band that gave her fame along with Cherie Currie, Sandy West and Lita Ford; The Runaways. A band that got them worlwide recognition. In 1979 they decided to split up and Joan Jett, with a huge success and already being considered an important role in the Punk Rock scene, went on to produce the only The Germs’ album. After this brief work as a producer, she decided to start her solo career. A solo career that still lives on up to our days.
Joan Jett has never bragged on technical skills, has never flaunted any dribbling, thankfully she has always remained loyal to her ethos and has bestowed her music with a strong personality; her own. A rebellious, fresh, simple and straight-forward personality but above anything else, free. Real attitude.

Another artist inseparable from her guitar, co-founding member of The Runaways and one of the greatest exponents of women in Hard Rock is Lita Ford.
Lita Ford started her solo career four years after The Runaways called it quits, with her debut album dating back to 1983. Two years later she was nominated to the Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Performance on”Gotta let Go”, with the late Wendy O. Williams and Pia Zadora. Nevertheless, it was not until 1988 when with Sharon Osbourne as her manager, reached her peak thanks to songs such as “Kiss me Deadly” or the ballad “Close my Eyes Forever” in the form of a duo with Ozzy Osbourne.
Even though not everything has been kind words for this artist. Besides her music, some people also got to know her due to her “busy” love life, by which she was strongly criticised. Some people have also blamed her for “exploiting her body as a commercial claim”. The usual patriarchal vision to try discredit an artist not because of their work, but because of their private/sexual life and because they have freely decided how to lead their career.
Puting her private life aside, which is of no interest to anyone, there is no doubt that Lita is one of the greatest inspirations to all women in Rock and an essential figure in its history. And that is The Runaways were just a small part of the success she has earned throughout all these years with her solo career. A flawless and long solo catalogue that continues up to these days.

Puting the great artists The Runaways yielded us aside but still talking about the most relevant ones in the Rock world, it is time to talk about Metal. And if we talk about women guitar players and Metal, we can not do it without mentioning The Great Kat.
The Great Kat is hated by some and loved by others, both because of her controversial personality as in the music field. Her music and her guitar style is fast, as the name of the subgenre in which she might fit in suggests; Speed Metal. Something that has made her be criticised by those who accuse her of being a poor guitar player, with a mediocre and dirty technique, an artist that plays fast just for the sake of it. Even though what some could say about her, The Great Kat has been considered by a lot of people a real virtuoso, and not just a guitar virtuoso, but a violin virtuoso. Besides being pondered as one of the fastest guitar players in the world, with a dizzying kind of music, almost demential, linked to that aggressive and eye-catching “bloody kat” kind of look with tons of leather and steel.
A virtuoso? Maybe. What it is clear is that she has always been a great innovator. After years studying music, The Great Kat came to the conclusion that classical music had died. It was then when she decided to mix together her two strongest passions: classical music and Speed Metal, fusing them as no one else had ever done before.
The Great Kat transcribes classical pieces by Vilvaldi, Wagner, Beethoven, etc., and turns them into real Metal shreds with great both guitar and violin solos.
Among her catalogue we can find albums such as “Wagner’s War” or “Beethoven on Speed”, where she covers classical pieces by the authors on the titles. And it was precisely thanks to opuses like these the reason why she is also known as “the Beethoven reincarnate”.
Probably much of some people’s admiration for The Great Kat is excessive, maybe she is even overrated, but there is no doubt that only a few people are not afraid to venture into what they really like, taking risks, as only she has done. Not a lot of people can mix so good two concepts and turn them into a whole thing. Not a lot of people are capable to do what she does because as Farhan Memon (New York Post) said “her music is not heard, it is felt”.

Already in the 90’s Jennifer Batten began her studio career. She had been known since the late 80’s, specifically since  1988, when she toured with the king of pop Michael Jackson during the “Bad” tour, and she was also part of the “Dangerous” (1992) and “History” (1997) tours. She also played with him at the XXVII SuperBowl, which beat its audience mark with a billion and a half spectactors.
But things did not begin there. Before being selected to be part of the Michael Jackson’s band she had also made some steps in the music world playing in six different bands into different styles and playing in small clubs as well. She had also been featured in different guitar magazines and several compilations.
But collaborations with well-known artists do not stop with Michael Jackson. In 1998 Jeff Beck invited her to go on tour with his band during three years, and she also collaborated in some songs of his “Who Else” album. She has also cooperated with Carmine Appice, Michael Sambello, Natalie Cole y Doc Tahri and her latest album “Whatever” was released in 2007 through her colleague Steve Vai’s record label.
Jennifer Batten, besides giving guitar lessons for years and besides playing, has also published two books about guitar techniques. Because even though she is wrongly known as “the Michael Jackson’s guitar player”, behind her name we find one of the best known women guitar players and also one of the most skilled. She proves that in her three solo albums, with very diverse sounds, drawing inspiration from music from all around the globe, sorrounded by her impressive skills and her enviable virtuosity.

Other male artists with a huge imprint in the Rock history have given visibility to women guitarists being part of their bands. This is the case of the young Australian artist Orianthi Panagaris, who droped her studies in order to dedicate herself professionally to her guitar playing at just 15, after having been playing guitar since 3.
Her first experience was precisely when she was 15 sharing stage with Steve Vai. Only three years later, she played with Carlos Santana. From the on fame and recognition went in crescendo for Orianthi, until she got signed by Geffen Records and managed to play with Prince. She has also been part of Alice Cooper’s live band, has accompained Eric Clapton at the Crossroads Guitar Festival and was selected by Michael Jackson to be his guitarist for the “This is it” tour. She was also invited by Carrie Underwood to be part of her band for the 51st Grammy edition, and she has even recorded a studio album with Richie Sambora.
In her music Orianthi has been able to blend her most traditional influences with the power of the most modern kind of Rock with a great phrasing technique where she overturns all her energy into. In fact with her first single “According to you” he reached #6 in the Australian charts and #26 in the USA charts.

Soon after leaving one of the kings of shock-rock band, Alice Cooper, Orianthi was replaced by The Iron Maidens founding member Nita Strauss. Probably one of the contemporary guitar players that benefits from a greater recognition. And it is a well deserved recognition; her technical skills are overwhelming, and she makes difficult look easy, but if you alse have the chance of see her on stage you release she is a real powerhouse. She is pure, raw energy. Restless. She alone can fill the whole stage with her presence and impressive music skills.
Music runs through Nita’s blood. It is in her DNA. She comes from a family of accomplished musicians (in fact one of her ancestors is Johan Strauss himself). He first picked up a guitar at 13 and soon after that she formed the Iron Maiden tribute band The Iron Maidens, where she used the stage name “Mega Murray”. Moreover she has been part of a KISS tribute band and of Femme Fatale. But it was not until 2014 when the American axe woman joined Alice Cooper and her recognition increased. In fact she was #1 in the “10 Female Guitarists you Should Know” published by Guitar World.
Later in 2017 she dared to write her own material for the first time ever after playing in tribute bands and formed the women only act We Start Wars, which until nowadays has only released one song entitled “The Animal Inside”. Later on in 2018 she decided to embark on a solo career and by the end of the year she put out her debut album “Controlled Chaos”.

Unfortunately, even though the significant quality of all of them, not all artists benefit from the same recognition of the ones we have already mentioned, as it is the case of Lori Linstruth.
Lori Linstruth is a guitarist from California that landed in Los Angeles during the late 80’s with the intention of forming a women only band. It was there where she met keyboard player Velia Garay and they formed the unfortunate Warbride. With several line-up changes they only recorded a few demos, until the band finally split up and then Lori left the music world. A real pitty that such a good band disbanded so early on, without even releasing a full album. It is sad that nowadays it is almost impossible to find any material by them.
During early 2000 they tried with Warbride again, but that reunion never happened. Years later in 2004, Lori collaborated with projects of the multiinstrumentalist Arjen Lucassen and ended being part of his band Stream of Passion, which she would leave in March 2007.
Besides collaborating in different projects of Arjen Lucassen such as Ayreon or Stream of Passion, she also had some input in works by artists such as Joost Maglev among others.
Nowadays Lori is based in Sweden and from her solo career, besides a demo from 2004 that is sold through her website, we can also find a superb only full-length that will give goosebumps to the fans of the six strings kings and queens.

As we have seen, not all the great guitarists play Hard Rock, proof is the more Prog oriented guitar player Jaye Foucher. She has not just made clear that women are perfectly capable of playing any kind of intrincate style with her unique style, but also with a melody and a playig style that only a few can reach.
Jaye first picked up a guitar when she was 18, after many years playing piano, until she finally dropped her studies to fully focus on her passion: music. And as Jennifer Batten did, she entered the GIT (Guitar Institute of Technology) and she did so going straight to one of the most advanced classes.
After she graduated from GIT and giving guitar lessons, she was part of two progressive bands, Lord Bane and Plaid Dragon. Shortly after that both acts disbanded and Jaye began to write instrumental material that years later would be part of her debut solo album “Infectious Links”. She also has another album entitled “Contagious Grooves”. Both are top notch releases with a great quality and a personal style, progressive with hints from different music styles, with her usual and great melodies and some tracks when she even sings. Both records are two real masterpieces unavoidable for anyone who enjoys good riffing. And if this was not enough, she is also one of the founding members of the Guitarapoolza site, an ezine about instrumental guitarists, besides having played several times at NAMM and other conventions.

According to the “Boston Soundcheck Magazine”, she is the “diva of instrumental prog rock”. I would not stick to just that, as Lori is probably one of the greatest guitar “divas” and has a trademark that, along with her quality, makes her even greater, and it is nothing else that she has an own brand of style, something nowadays is not easy to achieve.

There are more guitarists that started their careers in tribute bands, as for example Gretchen Menn and her Led Zeppelin cover band Zapparella. Also formed exclusively by women. In fact she has studied classic rock songrwiters, from Zep to Frank Zappa, as well as Beethoven or Mozart, obtaining as a result an instrumental Rock of complex structures, sometimes close to Prog.
Her interest for music and guitar surfaced during her teenage years, and it was then when she started to take guitar lessons with Phillip de Fremery. After leaving high school and throw herself into the work market, she realised her job did not fulfill her, so she left everything to focus only on music. So in 2007 she recorded the “Unbreakable Strings” album with the instrumental trio Sticks and Stones. This was the first opus of several others that would follow with different bands until she focused on her solo career. Her latest solo album “Abandon all Hope” came out in 2016 and is a conceptual work based on Dante’s opus.

In a more Bluesy style, also wtith Soul elements we find the Afro-American artist Malina Moye. A lefty guitarist that burst in the scene in 2004 but she did not release her first album “Diamongs & Guitars” until 2009.
She started her career by releasing just singles, which they already made her get a proper recognition, reaching #10 in Billboard charts with her second single and being #1 for two consecutive weeks on the Blues Billboard charts when her third album came out. She has made TV appearances in different shows, has played important festivals… All this thanks to an unorthodox way of fusing styles as Rock, Blues o Jazz, creating something that sounds just like Malina Moye, even the Asian magazine Gitar Plus named her the “Queen of Funk Rock”.

We should not forget about the Argentinian Carina Alfie either, that has been hammering her guitar since 1988, playing in women only bands such as Rouge Band, Angel, Heroínas and Paysana. With the latest she recorded two songs for the Emi compilation “Lo Mejor del Under” en 1993. With her current project, Lunatycas, she started to explore the path that leads her solo career: instrumental Rock.
Carina has a CD room clinic  entitled “Rock Vital”, with a video with techniques for guitar and six works in which she sorrouned herself with artists as her friend Steve Vai, Jennifer Batten or Linda McDonald. But not only great artists have collaborated with her, but she has also been involved in a tribute to Jason Becker or in an Xpeld album among others.
If we review briefly Carina Alfie’s history is impossible to not mention her relationship with Steve Vai, whom she met when he went to play a show in Argentina and invited Carina to the soundcheck. Steve was so surpised when he saw Alfie playing that she invited her to play a couple of songs at his show. In 2000 Carina went to pay Vai a visit in Los Angeles and he gave her the opportuity of recording in his studios. But this does not end there, Carina has also played with other well-known guitar players such as Paul Gilbert.

It is a shame that most of the times not the press nor the crowd give these great artists the  place they deserve in this part of Rock history, most of the times reserved for men only. Because us women are much more than what the press tries to sell us, we are not “beautiful faces”, “sculpted bodies” or “angelic voices”, there are pals destroying their guitars and we need to treasure them for that. Nothing better to wrap this article up than with some words that Joan Jett herself once said: “Other people will call me a rebel, but I just feel like I’m living my life and doing what I want to do. Sometimes people call that rebellion, especially when you’re a woman”.

All of them are genuine “Guitar Heroines”.

 

Tania Giménez
tania@queensofsteel.com

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