Relivin' Love 

One step ahead of the times

One step ahead of the times

A month or so ago, Jean McKinney, a married Nashvillian with a 25-year-old daughter, was working downtown when a secret from her past resurfaced at Nashville record stores. These days, McKinney is vice president in branch office support at J.C. Bradford, a job that requires her to travel frequently, opening new offices in other cities. Twenty-seven years ago, however, McKinney was doing something no other teenage girl in Nashville would. She was playing bass in a rock ’n’ roll band.

And a damn good one too, as demonstrated by Livin’ Love, the only record ever recorded by McKinney’s band, The Feminine Complex. Formed by McKinney (then Jean Williams) and four high-school girlfriends in the fall of 1966, The Feminine Complex played groovy psychedelic pop influenced by the Beatles, the Mamas and the Papas, and other late-’60s chart-toppers. In an era dominated by male rockers, they held their own more than a decade before the Go-Go’s or Bangles and more than two decades before the riot grrl movement.

Today, Livin’ Love sounds like an extended romp through Summer of Love-era pop radio, from the organ burps and brassy horns on “I’ve Been Workin’ on You” to the jazzy Burt Bacharach-style “Are You Lonesome Like Me?” But if the Feminine Complex recordings are precisely of their time, their status as a female rock band is many years ahead of it.

So far ahead, in fact, that the Feminine Complex’s only album has just been rereleased on TeenBeat, the hip Washington, D.C., label owned by Mark Robinson, a purveyor of pop-culture arcana and singer-guitarist for the popular college-radio bands Unrest, Air Miami, and Grenadine. Livin’ Love was originally issued in 1969 on the Nashville label Athena Records, but the band had broken up by the time the album came out. The record vanished into used record stores and cut-out bins shortly thereafter.

Now, 27 years after the group’s breakup, Livin’ Love is available on CD with detailed liner notes by Scene associate editor Jonathan Marx and a wealth of bonus demo cuts that in many cases are even better than the original album tracks. The album was recorded mainly with session musicians, but the polished demos, which were recorded with the band members playing all the instruments, sound amazingly contemporary. They demonstrate that the Feminine Complex were nobody’s novelty. Their playing, especially that of bassist McKinney and organist Pame Stephens (now Pame Olson), was talented and tight; guitarist and lead singer Mindy Dalton’s vocals showed a passion and worldliness beyond her years. What’s more, the group’s songs are at least as good as their contemporaries on late-’60s radio.

Having survived more than a quarter of a century, the Feminine Complex now show signs of becoming a full-fledged cult phenomenon. An obscure Canadian band, The Shangs, covered one of the group’s songs and named its record label Judi G in honor of vocalist and tambourinist Judi Griffith (now Judi Panger). A track from the CD, “I’ve Been Workin’ on You,” will appear on the soundtrack of an independent film called Bliss, and another track may be included in a major motion picture later this year. The enthusiasm swelling around the record is a sweet surprise for the women of the Feminine Complex, who thought their work had been lost forever.

“We had no idea anybody would even care,” says the former Mindy Dalton, who, as Mindy Dotson, now works as a tennis instructor near Jackson, Miss. “We knew we were doing something unique, because nobody else was doing it. We were totally innocent; we weren’t trying to sound like we were 21 or 25. All those bittersweet memories of young romance, we were experiencing at the time.”

“It’s kind of a hoot to see people enjoy it,” says a plainly tickled Jean McKinney. She’s talked to Dotson about a reunion later this year with Olson, Panger, and drummer Lana Napier (now Lana Pauley). “I probably haven’t touched a bass in 20 years,” says McKinney, who says she’s confined her songwriting efforts largely to family events and birthdays. (McKinney’s “Love Love Love” and “Forgetting,” the two CD tracks that weren’t written by Dotson, show that the band possessed not one but two first-rate songwriters.)

The belated discovery of the Feminine Complex is undeniably poignant. None of the band members has remained in the music business; McKinney doesn’t even own a bass anymore. You can only listen to this wonderful record now and wonder how pop music might have been changed if the teenage Dalton, Williams, Stephens, Napier, and Griffith had been able to form their band in 1989, not 1969. But for the band’s members, this sudden flash of recognition is elating.

“It reaffirms something that was lost in me,” says Mindy Dotson, whose laugh remains just as girlish and spontaneous as it must have sounded 27 years ago. “It’s a great feeling that someone appreciates us now.”

Who needs that boring old Lollapalooza, especially since it isn’t coming any closer than Knoxville? Monday’s Lucypalootsa at Lucy’s Record Shop is cheaper, less corporate, and offers fewer chances of getting woozy from licking and sticking tattoos. A slew of D.C.-area alternative talent will perform at the four-band fiesta, which begins at 7 p.m. with The Warmers and Knoxville’s Thumbnail. The Warmers features Alec MacKaye, a former member of the well-regarded D.C. band Ignition and brother of Fugazi leader and Dischord Records founder Ian MacKaye.

Also performing is Washington’s The Make-Up, led by former Nation of Ulysses argonaut Ian Svevonius, who appeared in the Lucy’s-filmed comedy-drama Half-Cocked as an egomaniacal rock-star wanna-be. They’re virtually indescribable, but here goes: The quartet performs a sort of mock revival meeting for a sect called “gospel yeh-yeh,” whose teachings waver somewhere between the Church of the Sub-Genius and one of George Clinton’s bizarro space-raps on the early Funkadelic records. Their hair sports mighty moussage. Their Dischord LP is actually pretty fun, and they do rock, o ye of little faith.

Rounding out the evening is the duo of Jenny Toomey and Geoff Farina. Toomey, the cofounder of Simple Machines Records and a member of the alterna-indie-rock groups Grenadine, Liquorice, and Tsunami, has invited friends in cities across the U.S. to join her and Farina onstage as an impromptu backup band; guests so far have included members of Superchunk, The Grifters, Versus, My Dad Is Dead, and Air Miami. In Nashville, the temps Monday night will probably include members of Lambchop. Tickets are a paltry $5—another major difference between this show and other major summer musical events that end in “-ooza.”

Fresh from a knockout Summer Lights gig and an East Coast stint playing guitar in rocker Kevin Salem’s band, Tim Carroll is set to release a CD-only EP on Sound Asleep Records, the Swedish label run by former Vanderbilt student Jerker Emanuelson. (Sound Asleep also recently released an EP by Bill Lloyd.) The EP, entitled Good Rock From Bad, includes such Carroll standards as “Punk Rockin’ Honky-Tonk Girl” (previously recorded by Carroll’s NYC band the Blue Chieftains for the Diesel Only label) and “Open Flame,” a delightful duet recorded with Joan Osborne right before the sultry songstress’ “One of Us” broke nationwide. “She used to play the same bars I did in New York,” Carroll says, “and I thought, ‘Why don’t I get her to sing on my tape?’ ” Life should always work that way. Carroll’s band plays Dancin’ in the District July 18, opening for headliner Tracy Nelson.

Elliptical dispatches: April Barrows, the big-band swing chanteuse whose My Dream of You has been one of Tower’s most popular local consignment releases this year, performs at the new downtown Caffe Milano 8 p.m. this Sunday. Barrows is expected to sign to a jazz label in just a few weeks; her able backing group includes David Hungate on guitar and trombone, Roy Huskey Jr. on bass, Chris Brown on drums, Andy Reiss on guitar, and the horn section of George Tidwell and Denis Solee. Tickets for the gig are $7....

The V-Roys play a no-cover gig at Jack’s Guitar Bar 10:30 p.m. Thursday night. As the Viceroys, the Knoxville group played a brutally tight set opening for Steve Earle at the Extravaganza last winter. Their music, a revved-up brew of electric country and power pop, clashes intriguingly with their skinny-tie outfits; their flair for the unexpected turns up in a hard-funk retooling of the Coasters’ “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” Against all expectations, it works like gangbusters. The stage at Jack’s should look familiar to the band: It’s on the cover of their upcoming album, due soon from Earle’s E2 label....

Don Henry, Steve Seskin (who currently has a big hit with Collin Raye’s “I Think About You”), emcee Stacy Worthington, and Mark Aaron James headline Sunday’s Catch the Music VII writer’s night at the Jewish Community Center. Previous shows have attracted capacity crowds, so make reservations ahead of time. Call 356-7170 for more information....

Vanguard recording artist and former Nitty Gritty Dirt Band member John McEuen will be awarded the Heritage Award at this weekend’s Uncle Dave Macon Days festivities in Murfreesboro. McEuen will serve as grand marshal of Saturday’s Motorless Parade at the annual festival, which lasts from Friday to Sunday and draws more than 30,000 people each year. If you’ve never been, you’re missing some of the best old-time pickin’ around. We recall some kick-ass baked goods too....

Nashville’s Los Straitjackets and The Doug Hoekstra Combo shared a bill a couple of weeks ago at the famed New York club The Bottom Line. The two bands were featured in the club’s “Required Listening Show” series. The Straitjackets are touring behind their new Viva! Los Straitjackets LP, Hoekstra behind his Rickety Stairs album....

Webb Wilder will perform July 21-26 in Atlanta during the Olympics at Southern Crossroads, an outdoor festival at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park. The festival, produced as part of Atlanta’s Cultural Olympiad, also includes performances by Texas yodeling king Don Walser, Sonny Landreth, the Derailers, and the Iguanas....

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