The Wikipedia entry for garage rock defines it as a ‘raw form of rock and roll that was first popular in the United States and Canada from about 1963 to about 1967’. Nevertheless, garage rock was not a recognised genre in the 1960s, and the term only came into being in the 1970s. The style had been evolving within regional US scenes since the late 1950s, but the triumphant appearance of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 and the consequent British Invasion marked a huge increase in the number of bands. The stereotypical garage band comprised of amateurish but enthusiastic youngsters who rehearsed in their parents’ garage (hence the name). The groups did their best to imitate the sound and approaches of their British idols, but frequently ended up with a rawer, more urgent sound and songs that reflected their own, often very adolescent, concerns. Significantly, the garage rockers’ ‘Do It Yourself’ attitude towards music-making anticipated the ideals of 1970s punk – anyone could play an instrument, and more even importantly, anyone could be in a band.
The DIY aesthetic mainly inspired teenage boys to pick up instruments and attempt world domination. However, there were several all-women bands that were well-known live attractions within their regional scenes in the 60s – Detroit’s the Pleasure Seekers (remembered for being Suzi Quatro’s first band), Chicago’s the Daughters of Eve and Minnesota’s the Continental Co-ets to name a few. Unfortunately, these bands are not properly recognised in the garage rock canon, and girl combos are still today a rarity on garage compilations (with the exception of Romulan Records’ Girls in the Garage series). A good example of this exclusion can be found on Rhino’s 1998 box-set Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968. Although a staggering 118 tracks are included, the box-set features the talents of four women (three vocalists and one session bass player; no all-female bands)!
The Luv’d Ones were an all-female American garage rock band in the 1960s – this makes them, already by definition, a true rarity. However, they were not a novelty act playing on the ‘gimmick’ of being girls with guitars (which was how all-women bands were frequently seen at the time), but a musical force that had to be taken seriously. Active between the years of 1965 and 1968, the band featured the considerable talents of Char Vinnedge (vocals, lead guitar) with Chris Vinnedge (bass), Mary Gallagher (rhythm guitar) and Faith Orem (drums). Char was the undisputed leader of the gang; not only did she sing lead vocals, play lead guitar and write the original songs, but also took care of their equipment, bookings and artwork, and even drove the van when required. The Luv’d Ones were signed to Dunwich Records, but they never got to make an album – only seven songs were released in the 1960s. Their recorded output (three singles and previously unissued demos) was released as Truth Gotta Stand by Sundazed in the late 1990s.
The band’s repertoire consisted of covers of popular songs with some originals added to the mix (this is in line with most garage bands’ repertoires during the period). What set them apart from other groups – except for their obvious ladyism! – were Char’s moody and dark, but melodic originals. From the Beatlesque ‘Yeah, I’m Feeling Fine’ to the bittersweet ‘Dance Kid Dance’ (‘Dance kid dance, have your fun, winter is coming, summer’s gone…’) the Luv’d Ones sound like no other band. Char had a habit of tuning her Gibson SG down a full step, which played a huge part in why the group’s music has frequently been described as ‘dark’, ‘gloomy’ or even ‘haunting’. In addition, Char’s preference for minor keys, her lead vocals (she usually sings in her lower register and hardly ever uses any expressive singing techniques) and the accompanying harmonies contribute to the ‘darkness’ often heard in the music. Compared to most garage rock from the period which often celebrated directionless teenage angst and partying, the Luv’d Ones sound rather grown-up. In fact, even though Char had started playing the piano as a child, she only learned to play the guitar and formed the Luv’d Ones in her early 20s – the stereotypical garage performer is considerably younger.
In addition to the unusual sound, the Luv’d Ones had something else going for them too: Char Vinnedge was a true guitar hero at a time when female guitarists were an extremely rare breed. This lady was very accomplished on her instrument (just listen to those fuzz guitar solos!), and she was always tinkering with her equipment, looking for new sounds. The last song on Truth Gotta Stand, the psychedelia-influenced ‘Your Mind Is’ with its screeching Hendrixque guitar solo was an indication of things to come: after the Luv’d Ones disbanded, Char went onto play with Billy Cox (of the Band of Gypsys fame) on 1971’s Nitro Function. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any information on what happened to her between the early 70s and her premature death in 1998. I assume that if she had actively been making music, it would have been at least mentioned somewhere. What happened?
The Luv’d Ones were not only a great girl band; they were a great band, full stop. Nevertheless, I am not surprised by the fact that they did not ‘make it’ – the world was not ready for an all-female group like the Luv’d Ones in the 1960s – but I do wonder why they are still a mere footnote in the history of garage rock.