The role of women in rock and roll has slowly evolved from the vocalist-only jazz/swing singers, girl groups, and solo rock, pop, and soul singers of the last century, but when Suzi Quatro arrived wielding her bass guitar as a bandleader, singer and instrumentalist in the 70’s, the template was cast for women to become more centrally engaged in the creation and performance of rock music. Popular music had been dominated by males who excluded women from their ranks, and regarded them as merely passive and private consumers of inferior pop music, thereby blocking them from becoming high status rock musicians, and certainly discouraged them from actually playing an instrument. Being in a rock band was widely regarded as a largely male homosocial activity, and to play in one was largely a peer-based experience, shaped by existing gender-segregated friendships and networks, to which women, by and large, were not admitted.
In the 1970’s Suzi Quatro would be joined by the all-female band The Runaways, who both collectively and as solo artists with Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, and Lita Ford, continued to blaze a trail for female rock performers, who would lead bands and play their own guitars; and they were quickly followed by the Go-Go’s. Locally there were prominent female singers in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s including, Lyn Randell, Alison McCallum, Renee Geyer, Dinah Lee, and Wendy Sadington, while the advent of punk music in the 80’s ushered in a period of growing female participation in rock bands, Chrissie Hynde, Souixie and the Banshees, and the heavy metal Girlschool in the UK, and Chrissy Amphlett (Divinyls), Helen Carter (Do Re Mi), Lindy Morrison (The Go-Betweens), Cheetah, and others here in Australia. Below L-R Chrissie Amphlett, Helen Carter, Lindy Morrison.
Cheetah were sisters Lindsay and Chrissie Hammond, London-born and Melbourne-raised, their family having emigrated to Australia in 1958 on the liner Strathnaver, when the sisters were 4 and 2 years old respectively, both learned to play guitar and began to perform at family functions. Below – Lindsay and Chrissie astride a Suzuki motorcycle, circa 1970’s.
In 1973 Lindsay became lead singer for the soul/funk/R&B group Skintight for several years with her then-husband guitarist Brenton White, while her younger sister Chrissie was lead singer for the band Eli Flash before taking up the role of Mary Magdalene in the Sydney production of Jesus Christ Superstar in 1975, at the age of nineteen. Chrissie was briefly a foundation member of Air Supply with Russell Hitchcock and Graham Russell, who had both worked with her in JCS, in 1977 the sisters formed a duo, and Chrissie chose the name Cheetah, as the feline image appealed to her, and co-incidentally she would star in West End productions of Cats in 1999 and 2002 in London, and continue her feline connection professionally.
The girls were signed to Philips Records, and with their manager Brian De Courcy’s permission Love Ain’t Easy To Come By was released without the sisters’ knowledge, and it subsequently flopped, but the follow up, Walking In The Rain was a substantial debut hit for the duo, it was a highly polished production effort helmed by Ian Meldrum, and at #10 was the biggest hit for Cheetah.
The original version of this song reflected the talents of Brill Building husband and wife songwriting team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, the wall-of-sound production techniques of Phil Spector and the soaring vocals of the Ronettes (#23 US ’64), other covers of this song by the Walker Brothers (’67), the Partridge Family (’72) and Jay and the Americans (’69) failed to chart in Australia.
In 1979 Philips/EMI released Deeper Than Love, another Ian Meldrum production which was actually Walking In the Rain re-visited, but it was unsupported by local radio and stalled at #89, however it was immensely popular in Germany where it sold 100,000 copies. Cheetah moved across to Alberts Music in 1980 and their image and sound changed dramatically. They worked closely with Vanda and Young who were helming the global success of AC/DC at the time, and saw a niche in the hard rock market for women like Cheetah, who could imbue hard rock songs with the necessary grit, carnality and primal appeal of their male counterparts, so it was inevitable that the demure frocks and virginal demeanor of their former personas would soon be replaced by something more knowing and alluring.
The Hammond sisters really personified the 1970’s sexy bombshell image, one blonde, the other brunette, skin-tight high-waisted jeans, tight T-shirts, big hair, wide-eyed, teetering high heels, pouting lips and big gutsy rock voices, they were the closest the local scene had to sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson of the US hard rock group Heart, but they were better.
In 1980 the girls would follow up with the Vanda/Young composition Spend The Night, which has become a live performance favorite; it combined a raunchy, down-and-dirty theme with all the great energy and sexual tension that Chrissie and Lindsay, like all great rock sex sirens, could imbue such a song, they exchanged verses and brought the song home on the chorus” “I want to spend the night with you/ I want to do it right with you…”, clearly a song written by men for women to sing, in essence it was a Vanda/Young wish fulfilment dream, blending a tough, brassy rock sound with a truck stop hooker submissiveness. The backing band comprised Ian Miller (lead guitar), Ronnie Peel (rhythm guitar), Les Karski (bass), Mike Peters (keyboards), and Ray Arnott (drums), they were a tight unit, and several members would feature in various iterations of the Marcus Hook Roll Band, and the All Stars Band, who supported Stevie Wright and John Paul Young at the time.
Of Vanda and Young Chrissie Hammond opined “They were tough rockers but decent guys, they saw us as strong women, rather than being the tits, the teeth and the glam, they produced us as rockers, which was very innate. Our lyrics, our stage performance was very much in the male vernacular.”
The impressive Rock and Roll Women album was released in 1982 and charted #31, it was a tour de force of raunchy, hard rock Vanda and Young songs, Bang Bang (Shot Full of Love), Come and Get It, I’m Yours, and Love You To The Limit, would all have been a comfortable fit on an AC/DC album, after some minimal gender changes to the lyrics.
They were popular in Europe, particularly in Germany, appeared at rock festivals in Roskilde (Netherlands), Nuremberg and Weisbaden (Germany) and peaked in 1982 when they performed before an audience of 120,000 at the Reading Festival (UK) along with Iron Maiden, Gary Moore, Budgie, Blackfoot and others. Some of their less sensitive fans brandished a “Get Your Tits Out” banner, but Lindsay would have the last laugh, after she hauled one of the lads up on stage, sat on him and made him display his manhood, which Lindsay described as “ very disappointing, if you know what I mean… word got around after that not to mess with me or else. We always believed that eventually the music would become the main focus once everyone had gotten over the sex thing.” Below- Chrissie and Lindsay relaxing after their set at the Reading Festival.
Chrissie and Lindsay subsequently settled in London and although signed to a record deal with Atlantic, no songs were released, Lyndsay recorded and toured with Word of Honour and the Vagabonds, and eventually returned to Australia to record her solo albums, The Raven and Red Dust Diva.
Chrissie went on to starring roles in London’s West End (Cats and Chicago), above as Grizabella, and the girls subsequently reunited to perform as Cheetah on the Countdown Spectacular Tour in 2007. Over the journey the Hammond sisters were the go-to session vocalists during the seventies and eighties, and sang on many recordings by Jo Jo Zep, Jon English, Flash and the Pan, Stevie Wright, Norman Gunstone and Darryl Braithwaite, between 1990-98 Chrissie also performed lead vocals for prog rocker Rick Wakeman.