Melissa Etheridge at She Rocks Awards

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Melissa Etheridge at the SheRocks Awards event. (Photo courtesy Guitar Galaxy, used with permission)

This article was written with Brigitte Rios Purdy

At the recent sixth annual She Rocks Awards, presented by the Women’s International Music Network (WIMN) at the House of Blues in Anaheim, Calif., in conjunction with the NAMM Show, the mood on the red carpet was feisty and powerful. Female artists gathering to celebrate women’s achievements in the music business were giddy about the most recent changes they were witnessing.

That same weekend in New York, Grammy Chief Neil Portnow’s remarks about women needing to “step up” met with immediate and caustic demands by female industry executives for his resignation. “We do not await your welcome into the fraternity. We do not have to sing louder, jump higher or be nicer to prove ourselves,” the execs said in a statement, “We step up every single day and have been doing so for a long time. The fact that you don’t realize this means it’s time for you to step down.”

The way of the WIMN, whose mission statement is “uniting women in the music industry,” is much more sisterly and cooperative, achieving its goals by networking and sharing. The group’s founder, Laura B. Whitmore, emphasized this in her opening remarks. “I feel like we are finally being heard,” she said. “From the beginning, the She Rocks Awards has focused on bringing women together to share, to empower and to enlighten.”

While Legend Award recipient Pat Benatar was a no-show (flu), Melissa Etheridge, the B-52’s, members of Fanny and Exene Cervenka of X, among other honorees, were very vocal about what they were celebrating.

Melissa Etheridge and Michael McDonald at Yamaha’s All-Star Concert at NAMM (Photo courtesy of NAMM, used with permission)

As she mused upon the significance of her She Rocks Icon award and being a female in the music industry, Etheridge said, “People are asking a lot of questions about women these days. They come up and say, ‘Did you guys ever have any trouble in rock ’n’ roll?’ There wasn’t enough of us to have trouble.

“Look back to where we came from and it’s a long, long way. There was a challenge in the late ’80s, rock ’n’ roll radio. Visiting radio stations the programmers would say, ‘I’m sorry, we already played a woman,’ or, ‘We can’t play two women back-to-back on the radio.’ Hopefully, that is gone. It was a good time to kick some doors down.

“Even though it has been next to impossible being a woman in the music business, we have succeeded and we have infiltrated every aspect of the music industry. We play the guitars and we rock; we play the drums and we rock; we work at the record companies and we rock; we discover the artists and we rock. We are a force to be reckoned with!”

Related: Etheridge appeared at a 2016 benefit with Metallica’s James Hetfield

Jeff “Skunk” Baxter with Fanny (Photo courtesy Guitar Galaxy, used with permission)

“You’re a guy, what are you doing here?” our reporter asked Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers).

“We forced him,” said June Millington, the guitar-playing half of Fanny (now called Fanny Walked the Earth), the first all-female rock band to sign and record a studio album with a major label. “When we heard that we were going to be honored here tonight with the Inspire Award, we asked Skunk to present it.”

Baxter responded to the question with this: “I am chromosomally agnostic when it comes to music. I don’t care who you are; if you can cut it, you’re in. If you can’t, go someplace else.”

Baxter picked up the history: “These girls, a long time ago when they opened for Steely Dan, one of the first gigs that we ever did, we finished our soundcheck and I was walking out, and June was playing. She is an unbelievable guitarist and I have been friends with Jean and June Millington ever since. When I heard these girls, I said, ‘Let’s keep ’em on the road.’ We incorporated them in our shows.”

When the entertainment segment of the She Rocks Awards show finally got going, the party atmosphere was kicked off by the female house band, Rock Sugah, whose bassist Divinity Roxx won an achievement award. “Be true to yourselves!” she said. “The most important thing is you are serving others through your music.”

The evening ended as it began, with a rocking version of Otis Redding’s “Respect,” featuring the honorees and presenters backed by … wait for it … Rock Sugah.

The all-star cast gathers for the finale (Photo courtesy of Guitar Galaxy, used with permission)

And speaking of coming full circle, Etheridge tied together the Doobie Brothers connection that Skunk Baxter opened with when she appeared during Yamaha’s All-Star Concert at NAMM. She took to the stage in a surprise duet with Etheridge and Michael McDonald, formerly of the Doobie Brothers, as they sang “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Etheridge later tweeted, “Oh man this was fun!! It was a surprise so I couldn’t tell anyone!”

Next up for her: “Going to New Zealand and Australia with Sheryl Crow. We’re doing a “Make Rock Great Again” tour.

For more information about the Women’s International Music Network (WIMN), visit THEWIMN.COM

Watch the finale of “Respect” from the She Rocks 2018 Awards event

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Noe Gold

Founding Editor of Guitar World magazine and Creative Consultant to the Jimi Hendrix Foundation, Noe Gold has worked for Crawdaddy and The Hollywood Reporter, The Village Voice and the New York Daily News. His stories have appeared in GQ, USA Today, Rolling Stone, Premiere, The Movies and the Los Angeles Times Magazine. The author of articles and books on the music of Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and Albert King, among others, his latest project is the forthcoming book, Hendrix Now! Backstory of a Legend, which features Mick Taylor, the late Alan Douglas and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Steve Stevens, Joe Satriani, Leonard Nimoy and a few other Hendrix intimates and devotees in the ultimate followup to his seminal work started at Guitar World thirty years ago. Go to www.hendrixnow.com.
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