‘I Can’t Be the One’: Docuseries Looks at ‘Women Who Rock’

As a percussion protege who grew up in the Bay Area, Sheila Escovedo would ask visiting bands if she could sit down. He was often told to beat him.

“They look at me like, well, ‘You’re a girl. Go away.’ They were pushing their hand like, ‘Get out of here,'” Escovedo recalled. “I was told: ‘You’re a girl, you can’t and you don’t want to and you don’t. And there’s no way.”

Escovedo, thankfully, found a way, becoming Sheila E., the Grammy-nominated gold record drummer who collaborated with Prince, performed at the Oscars and provided music for soundtracks, events gigantic sports and world tours.


She and other women in rock faced similar disbelief and hostility.

“I think the common thread for women, in general, and in the music business in particular, is really to stay true to who you are and allow things to go well,” she said.

A deep dive into female rock pioneers like Sheila E. forms the backbone of the riveting four-part docuseries “Women Who Rock,” starting Sunday on Epix. Director Jessica Hopper says the series offers a look at more than just rock stars.

“Just like you can’t separate art from artists, you can’t separate music from culture. If you tell these stories, you tell this larger story of America,” Hopper said.

The series features guest appearances from Heart’s Nancy Wilson, Chaka Khan, Pat Benatar, Mavis Staples, Shania Twain, Macy Gray, Rickie Lee Jones, Norah Jones, Aimee Mann, Tori Amos, B-52’s Kate Pierson, Talking’s Tina Weymouth Heads, Nona Hendryx, Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles, Jody Watley, St. Vincent, Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, among others.

“I loved hearing other women talk about their experiences,” Hendryx told the AP in an interview. “There are so many standing on the breasts – I was going to say the shoulders – of many women who have come before them and fought battles they didn’t even know they were fighting.”

The docuseries moves chronologically from the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, where women weren’t taken seriously, to the present day, where they’ve seized on both production credits and technology to chart their own independent paths. . It was a tough climb for most.

“In the entertainment business, I think women have been classically relegated to second-class citizens who don’t have the slightest opinion on anything,” Wilson said in an interview. “So they have to be shaped, informed and told how to look, how to behave and how to sound.”

Heart – led by sisters Nancy and Ann – brushed off such behavior, relying on their blood and military experience for strength, leading the way in a male-dominated space with songs like “Barracuda” and “Alone “. Sheryl Crowe says on the show that Wilson was a beacon on how to rock and maintain your femininity.

“We had this kind of almost regimented concept that we could just do. There would be no resistance,” said Nancy Wilson, touring this summer as Nancy Wilson’s Heart. “We were just able to do it. We were young enough and good enough already at a very young age not to be convinced that what we were was inappropriate.”

It’s no surprise that Staples is launching the series. At the heart of gospel, blues and R&B, she is the link between Mahalia Jackson and Bob Dylan, Prince and Norah Jones. The fact that Staples was on board helped convince the others.

“There are few people whose voices have been as pivotal to changing the soundtrack in America as Mavis. And so starting with Mavis really set a bar for how we went through the rest of the show,” said said Hopper.

The show highlights a makeshift sisterhood of performers, with Merry Clayton mentored by Odetta, Hendryx mentored by Nina Simone, and Khan returning to Staples.

“Each of these women really provides a rung for the women we meet next,” said Hopper, a music journalist before moving into directing and producing documentaries.

The series explores the rise of men and women on stage together in bands like The Pretenders, The B-52s, Talking Heads and Blondie, and the music industry‘s exploitation of black artists, from gospel to disco. Audiences see how the MTV revolution in the 1980s boosted the image and later arrivals of solo superstars Twain, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé.

In the second episode, which deals with the 1970s, stars like Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Stevie Nicks are portrayed against the backdrop of the Equal Rights Amendment and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The episode explores the importance of the CBGB punk club and how Patti Smith seemed to herald a world beyond the genre, while Blondie’s Debbie Harry added glamor to punk.

“As far as I’m concerned, Debbie Harry invented cool,” St. Vincent says on the show.

Joan Jett remembers begging her parents for a guitar and finally getting one at age 13, spending the early days trying to bend the electronic string over and over. She asked her father to teach her rock ‘n’ roll, but he replied that girls don’t do that. Instead, he tried to teach her “On Top of Old Smokey”.

“I wanted to hold a guitar and own it like the Rolling Stones do,” Jett says on the show. Along the way, she kept saying to herself, “I can’t be the only one.” She was not.

At 16, Jett was part of the pioneering girl band The Runaways. But the industry has never made it easy, constantly erecting roadblocks and saying, “You’re not allowed.” For Jett, “It killed me.”

Wilson feels the progress made by women in the 70s has stalled as MTV has settled in and only rebuilt since the 1990s, highlighting acts such as Phoebe Bridgers, Wet Leg, Lucius, Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen – or, as she puts it, “players out there who really don’t take prisoners.”

Brotherhood has helped, as has the democracy of technology, empowering all artists with the skills to design, produce and craft their music, bypassing traditional gatekeepers. Another featured artist is Oakland Star singer-songwriter Amerasu, a trans musician who makes a living through Patreon, a crowdfunding platform.

Shelia E. also tries to encourage the next generation of female musicians. She surfs the Internet at least once a week, cheering on young people and especially young girls.

“I messaged them on Instagram or Facebook and was like, ‘Hey, keep doing what you’re doing. I am a fan. You are incredible. Please tell your parents they’re doing a great job,” she added. said.

About Michael Terry

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