“The energy and charge of the music cast its spell on every one of us in the audience...”

“You gave the performance of a lifetime...”

“The Deadly Nightshade sidles into the song -- sly, back-alley, side-street truckin’ music with the hint of burlesque gum-popping, hip-swaying strut and flounce... ”

The Deadly Nightshade Band

- one of the nation’s first all-female bands

 

music

Music That Keeps Getting Better With Age

Electric. Rock. Instrumental. Bluegrass. Country.


To date, The Deadly Nightshade has recorded two albums featuring original songs (“The Deadly Nightshade” and “Funky & Western”) for RCA/Phantom. Both received Grammy nominations for Best New Artist. We’ve also released two singles, including a disco version of the theme from “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” It charted number 67 nationally, and went top ten in Miami and Toledo. As of 2011, we’ve started on a third album...

The Deadly Nightshade: 1975


High Flying Woman   In 1975, after our first album was released, “High Flying Woman” was the first single. That’s why it’s the first song on the actual record, though the album jacket incorrectly lists it as second, after “Keep on the Sunnyside”. The song order got re-shuffled to feature “High Flying Woman”, but the jackets were already printed—and since they were the hideously expensive fold-out kind, there was no way RCA was going to pay for a re-print. Anyway, American Airlines used the song on their in-flight entertainment program. We somehow suspected it was the title, rather than the feminist message, that grabbed them.   [PRB]

We did High Flying Woman at many women’s marches and rallies. And after the record was done we did it on national TV, on an NBC Special inspired by second-wave feminism, called "Of Women and Men".  It was a very exciting show for us at the time, three of our 15 minutes. (I guess that means we still have twelve minutes left).   [HH]

Nose Job A hauntingly beautiful song about a woman who gets her nose fixed for her boyfriend. The hardest thing about playing this song at live gigs was doing it with a straight face, especially since, in keeping with the spirit of the sucky-uppy lyrics, we did girl group choreography on this number. Since for our entire so-called “adult” lives, we always played the music rather than dance to it, the choreography was… less than flawlessly elegant. Think the Supremes BEFORE Motown Charm School. Waaaaaaay before.   [PRB]

Something Blue This anti-wedding song comes from days decades before gay marriage became an issue, and has absolutely nothing to do with that. What we were dissing here is the pre-feminist assumption that all women, to be truly fulfilled, must be married… to men, of course. The lyrics were written from the point of view of a not-quite-awakened woman who’s automatically opting for this conventional marriage trap, with all the conventional wedding trappings. But there was at least as much of a purely musical motivation for the song: Audiences always responded powerfully to the way Anne’s voice sounded singing covers of Patsy Cline’s and Kitty Wells’ country shuffles, so we wanted to write an original two-step tearjerker for her. As usual, however, we could not resist camping it up a bit. I believe I speak for all three of us in saying that our favorite part of the song is the talking section, where Anne is backed up by singing teardrops. The gay genes made us do it.   [PRB] 

In the spirit of playing as many gigs as possible, we played the wedding of one of our best fans to his long-time woman partner.  Our dressing room at the wedding (which was at her childhood home) was her bedroom, frozen into a frilly pink time-warp of her high school self.

The entire setting spoke more to me of a kind of confusion of expectations, and reminded me of the old saying of what you needed at a wedding:  something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.  In my mind there was no doubt that the something blue would be the bride, caught in the conflict between her old life (as that bedroom symbolized it) and her new one (deep in the counterculture).

So that was as much of a song as I could come up with, but fortunately Pamela and Helen had some swell ideas for finishing it.  [AB]

Losin’ at Love A more-or-less true story from my own personal life, this song relates the story of a woman who must choose, as women classically had to in the days before second-wave feminism, between deliberately losing a poker game or losing her guy. In real life, the sport was actually bowling, with my seventh grade boyfriend. Poker just sounded cooler.

The three of us Deadlies wrote songs in all sorts of ways, but this one was definitely more free-form than most. I had lyrics, and we decided we’d all just try playing something that sounded like a fast Chuck Berry-type song, while I’d try singing some melody that went along. In the ensuing bedlam, the line “looks like my lucky night” came out “looks like my nucky light”, which is how we got the name of our publishing company, Nucky Light.

Btw: The “Ms. Leslie West” credited on the jacket for playing one of the guitar leads (blowing two speakers in the process) was actually the quite male guitar hero from the power trio Mountain. We told him he could only play if we made him an honorary woman for the session. He agreed enthusiastically, though he did ruin the illusion a bit with his customary daily greeting at the studio: “Hi, ladies! Suck my dick!” (It was refreshing, actually. Most guys in the business end of the mainstream recording industry felt the same about female artists. They were just less honest about it.)   [PRB]

Dance, Mr. Big, Dance Definitely a period piece, this one’s classic 1970s role-reversal from the days when bosses were almost always men, secretaries were almost always women, and sexist stereotypes ruled: An unemployed shithead ex-boss comes to his former secretary, now a boss, for a job, and she makes him dance to the same old tune working women always had to deal with back then.
While some misinterpret this song as anti-male, it’s actually anti-sexist. Also anti-shithead.

And frankly, the original motivation behind the song was more practical than political… kind of a New England “waste not, want not” thing. The band was all living on a farm in a rural area (Ashfield, MA) and for Christmas, a friend had given Anne an Appalachian dancing doll. This is a little wooden guy on a stick; the player makes him tap dance on a paddle, thereby serving as a percussion instrument. Anne’s doll, however, had an abnormally large head that unbalanced him. He kept falling off the stick. So the whole idea was: What song theme could we come up with that climaxes with a dancing doll solo that lasts until the little guy falls on his face?   [PRB]

Part of the ephemera from this band is Mr. Big himself.  There were several of them over the years, including a special Easter Bunny version.  There are Mr. Bigs now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institute, the Sophia Smith Collection, and the archives of the Country Music Hall of Fame.  But I kept one of the original ones, and he’s the one performing again today.  [AB]

This tune was incredibly fun to record.  Nedra Johnson’s dad, Howard Johnson, the renowned tuba player, recruited several of his best buddies, including David Sanborn and the Brecker Brothers, for a Dixieland horn section background. The music as we composed it was already vaudevillian, and Howard took it home and came up with a horn section arrangement that, when played by these top studio players, was amazing. You could just see Mr. Big “pulling up his pants,” just like an old strip-tease number…. [HH]

Keep On the Sunnyside This traditional Carter family song has always been our favorite first song for live gigs. We just play it a whole lot louder and faster than Mother Maybelle did. We like to hit the stage at 110% energy, and escalate from there.

Important correction: The album jacket credits “A.P. Cauter” as the song’s writer. That, of course, is A.P. Carter. It wasn’t our fault, honest.    [PRB]

I was fortunate enough to see Maybelle Carter and Sister June Carter perform in Cambridge at Club 47, which would later become Passim.  It was a transformational moment for me.  I am sitting in a smoky dingy folk club in a basement.  Two women in high heels, cocktail dresses, and beehive hairdos come out of the dressing room and take the stage.  And when they started to sing and play, very hard and very loud, sweating and stamping those high heels, it completely blew me away. 

I never played less than full-blast or sang less than full-voice ever again.  [AB] 

It’s so upbeat, so energetic, so essentially us.  [HH]

Sweet, Sweet Music Music does bring very different people together—this song’s message, inspired by many, many Deadly Nightshade gigs in joints where audiences ranging from big ol’ bikers to Radical Faeries miraculously partied together in peace… for a few hours, anyway.

Still, I do have to admit, as the lyric writer, that this song’s words are kinda wimpy and twinkle-toed. In retrospect, 30 years later, this number reminds me of a commercial for fabric softener.

I think our first web designer, Holly Hendricks (who came often to rock out with us in the 1970s, even though she was a hardcore folkie) has a more accurate analysis of why our band’s gigs temporarily transformed fighters into friends. She says that when we played at feminist events, we were so damned loud that even hardcore politicos who’d been squabbling all weekend couldn’t continue yelling at each other above our cranked amps. So they just gave up and danced. I.e.: Sweet, sweet music my ass.   [PRB]

Shuffle Anne’s a former jug band veteran, who plays a mean washboard; we wanted a song where she could show off; we wrote one.

The lyrics were inspired by a woman we knew in the Pioneer Valley, Kate (the song's "Katie"), a fledgling feminist who had just gone through a divorce from a guy who wanted her to be an old-fashioned wife. About the only thing she had in common with her ex, Michael, is that she also wanted a wife.

Anyway, Kate had once been into tap dancing, and originally we thought it would boost her confidence if she sat in with us and tap-danced “Shuffle”’s second lead. But it turned out to be way too fast for her feet. Not for Anne’s fingers, though.

We eventually learned “Shine On Harvest Moon” for Kate. She did a soft shoe solo.   [PRB]

My favorite part of this song is the 3-part kazoo introduction.  It caused quite a stir in the studio.  Also, if you listen very carefully, in the ending kazoo section, I am playing a pretty mean jug.  [AB]

I Sent My Soul to the Laundromat   Anne came up with the idea for this religious-themed song. But after writing the lyrics to the first verse and the chorus, she had to go wash her hair or something. So Helen wrote the lyrics to the second verse, but then also ran out of steam, and I wrote the last verse. Spiritual experiences sure are exhausting.   [PRB]

Bop-shoo-wah! [HH]

Someone Down In Nashville   In Ariel, the weird-ass rock band all three of us were in before The Deadly Nightshade, Helen and I were the songwriters/creative leaders—and we didn’t get country music at ALL. Anne, who grew up in Texas, knew a lot of C&W. But Helen and I ran Ariel like teenaged psychedelic Nazis, and we were far too busy re-arranging Jefferson Airplane’s most obscure songs (so that they were even more incomprehensible) to have time for Patsy Cline.

From the start, The Deadly Nightshade was more relaxed; one of our few rules was that everyone got to play her favorite cover songs. So we learned some country music… And we got it. So did audiences. Even when we opened for totally non-country bands—Billy Joel, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Peter Frampton, War—their fans responded, because it’s a kind of music that expresses what people feel on a gut level but often can’t express for themselves. And that’s what we’re saying in this song.

Also, we just wanted to write a song in a certain tempo that was a good showcase for Helen’s slide guitar playing.   [PRB]

But my slide playing cannot hold a candle to the amazing licks of Eric Weissberg, who played pedal steel on this cut.  Good thing we had him as he lent a very Nashvillian flavor to the song. [HH]

Blue Mountain Hornpipe Our arrangement of a little-known traditional Acadian fiddle tune from Prince Edward Island. Admittedly, it’s obscure, but it’s accessible.   [PRB]

Fiddle tunes are such a wealth of melodic and harmonic inspiration…This one’s very cheerful.  [HH]

Onions This is an electrically blazing bluegrass song. But since Bill Monroe, the “father of bluegrass”, didn’t approve of electric instruments, he doubtless wouldn’t have considered this song to be in the genre. So maybe it’s more like blue-streakgrass; it’s loud, fast, and ultra-high energy. In fact, the famed “Theme from Deliverance” banjo player Eric Weissberg, who’s playing Jew’s harp throughout this cut, actually fell off his chair at the end of the take, with his lips bleeding.
The most interesting musical thing about this cut, however, comes halfway through the first verse. The lyrics relate another more-or-less true story about how I was immediately zapped out of a deep depression-- one that had resisted all other compulsive eating remedies-- by a single accidental bite of a really evil little raw onion. And the lyrics include the sentence, “I still felt like a piece of shit.” But RCA, which was responsible for financing and marketing our albums, refused to let us sing “shit”, because they said then the album would have to be stickered as possibly offensive. Then the big chain stores wouldn’t stock it.

Therefore, we substituted a toilet flush for the word “shit”. Being true artistes, though, we were concerned about the musicality. So we dragged a microphone (with a VERY long cord; this was in the days before cordless mics) into every rest room on every floor of the building housing the snazzy New York studio where we were recording, to find the toilet with the best tone.

We’re sure that RCA agreed that the well-rounded, beautifully balanced, rich yet tight “whoosh” of the eighth-floor commode we settled on, after hours of testing, was well worth the extra $2000-3000 of studio time.   [PRB]

This is truly one of my faves of ours.  Pam’s true life epiphany with the raw onion takes vegetarianism from the sublime to the religious.  [HH]

Funky & Western: 1976


Comin’ Thru    By mid-1976, when this song was written, an awful lot of feminists were starting to feel burnt out— too much thankless envelope stuffing, too few tangible results (believe it or not, “ERA” once meant more than the name of a real estate corporation), too much divisiveness and in-fighting, etc. This song was meant to re-inspire some feelings of mutual support/general warm fuzzies, and to remind the good guys we’re all in it together. Admittedly, it’s a little sappy when you listen to it cold, but at live gigs it worked great, combined with a few beers.   [PRB]

We were inspired by the Pointer Sisters’ “Yes We Can Can” for the a capella vocal arrangement in the middle of this. It is more impressive done live with the three of us than with our million-layered vocal tracks on the album.  [HH]

Show Me the Way Back Home Every band has a whiney on-the-road song bemoaning how lonely it is to be away from home living in hotels like Hollywood’s Continental Hyatt House (nicknamed the Riot House), with only a few dozen groupies, and lots of expensive substances, to console you… And/or to be flying around to so many different cities that you lose track where you are… etc.

We couldn’t, with any accuracy, whine about quite the same road tour experiences because, for instance, we didn’t fly the 900 miles to the next night’s gig. We drove it in our equipment van, so knew not only exactly what city we were in but knew every pothole along the way. Also we didn’t have groupies, and usually couldn’t afford to sleep in hotels.

Once, though, when we did splurge on a room at some generic chain motel, I went out to an all-night greasy spoon and, driving back, ended up at the wrong generic chain motel. As rock tour disorientation goes, it wasn’t quite as spectacular as mistaking Boston for Cleveland. Plus I was only lost and lonely for about 20 minutes. But that was enough to expand into a true-life road song (with just a little truth improvement to kick up the pathos a few notches).   [PRB]

In the studio, we cranked up the slide guitar through a small amp so it would scream for this song.  This was before guitar boxes would do it at a more reasonable volume.  My favorite line in this song, “It’s got magic fingers to do what friends are for”…We tried turning them on once in a motel room, but they didn’t feel as good as they sounded. [HH]

I’m Feelin’ Fine A break-up song.   [PRB]

We were trying for a Todd Rundgren thing here…The arrangement was way too cheery, though.  [HH]

One Day at a Time   Another break-up song. Hmmm. Guess how our personal lives were going, right about then?

We never did this song during gigs, probably because sad, introspective ballads didn’t seem to fit. Nevertheless, it remains one of my favorite songs we ever wrote, particularly because of one tiny part towards the end of the song after the instrumental lead. The lyrics are, “It’s gone wrong, but we can’t go on believing that leaving will make it be right”, and we come in singing them in what, musically, sounds at first like just the middle of a normal verse. But Helen wrote a surprise chord change on “believ-ing”, and again on “leav-ing” that still turns me inside out, really makes me want to cry, every time I hear it.

We’ve been talking about reviving this song and playing it live, now that The Deadly Nightshade is gigging again, because it (along with most of the other songs on the mis-marketed second album) never got the attention it deserves. Of course if excessive tears start falling on my microphone during that last verse I’ll probably get electrocuted… 220 volts right through the lips. But it wouldn’t be the first time.  [PRB]

Murphy’s Bar Murphy’s isn’t one of the holes-in-the-wall that we played. It’s a compilation-- a little foible from each.

For instance: The 12-ounce glasses that only held ten ounces were from a place called The Pub, in Amherst, MA. It looked like you were getting a massive amount of beer, but the whole bottom third of the mug was solid glass.

The big bear/bruiser with no sense of rhythm, who maimed the toes of every female person on the dance floor, will go unnamed.

As for the place whose ladies’ room never had any toilet paper, that’d be just about all of them. Lotsa very, very scary bathrooms in those bars. What great joints. We’d do reunion gigs at any of them in a heartbeat, had the floors doubtless not rotted out 20 years ago from all the spilt drinks.   [PRB]     

I loved playing this because I got to play the violin through an electric Wah-Wah pedal that had touch sensitivity so the harder you played the more it “wahed”, which I thought was so fun.  The song really took us back to all those places we played. [HH]

Little Old Lady from Pasadena Phantom wanted us to do two rock-type cover songs on the album, for commercial reasons. After the relative success of “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” in what they considered normal rock markets (as opposed to the alternative markets that bought the first album), they wanted the second album to be all rock. Or pop. Just not country, bluegrass, or any other musical style they considered marginal. We’d been working on an arrangement of “Little Old Lady from Pasadena”, anyway, so we were happy to record that.

While the vocal arrangement is exactly as we’d been doing it, though, the beat isn’t. We wanted to keep the same direct straight-eight surfer feel as Jan & Dean’s original, just heavied up and with crunchier instrumental sounds. But Charlie thought this more elusive treatment, with the vaguely Caribbean-lite guitar accents, was hipper.   [PRB]   

Sounds like she needed a tune-up.  [HH]

Dancing In the Streets We chose this second cover mostly because it was at least semi-transitional between the rest of our songs and “Mary Hartman”. We’d been playing it in clubs (not concerts) for years, with pretty much the same vocal arrangement but a totally different instrumental—just a straightforward beat that always got people dancing. Charlie found that feel too simple, though, so he wrote this instrumental arrangement, which he thought more contemporary.

Whatever, Anne didn’t even play on it, and Helen and I were just reading from charts like the studio cats. Personally, I felt more like a drowning cat, because the record company had the fabulous studio bass god Bob Babbitt sitting in the control room, in case I couldn’t cut reading the bass part off the chart. I squeaked through… But geez.

Oh, well. At our most recent gigs, we revived “Dancing in the Streets”, done the simple way. And people jumped right up, as always.   [PRB]

Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (Theme) This anomaly, originally recorded and released between our two albums, was our only Top 100 single, reaching #67 on national charts and Top 10 in a few markets that had never known us from a hole in the wall, like Toledo and Miami. Since it bears no resemblance to anything else we played, ever, people often wonder what’s the story.  

It started as a joke, when Anne broke a guitar string during a Sunday afternoon show at Passim, the legendary coffeehouse in Cambridge, MA. Normally, we could've just taken a short break while she changed the string, but Passim did a radio broadcast of their Sunday shows. Five minutes of dead on-the-air space wasn't an option.

Purely to fill time, I ran off at the mouth about our alleged next recording: a disco version of the theme from "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman". This was clearly ridiculous, what with us being a country/rock trio with no drummer, much less a horn section, strings, etc. But the audience seemed to think it was a swell idea.
So on the drive back to New York that night, we decided to see how far we could push it. On Monday, we went into Phantom's offices and proposed it as a serious recording project to the label's president, Bud Prager. To our surprise, he took it to RCA.

And it turned out that, like, 11 other groups had already submitted disco versions of Mary Hartman's theme! RCA was going to make a decision about which one to release by the end of that week. Still, Bud said we could submit our version, too, if we could manage to do it in two days.

The silliness kept escalating. Michael Mainieri, a famous jazz player whose band we'd played with in Woodstock, said he'd produce. He brought in all the top studio disco players he knew, which were... everybody. He managed to book a good chunk of the string section from the NY Philharmonic, too.

Meanwhile, Helen and I wrote, arranged, orchestrated, and made detailed charts for the thing overnight. This included adding a second half to the TV theme. (The whole B section…”uh-huh, got me every night, etc,”… which is much longer and vocal as well as instrumental-- with layers upon layers of campy lyrics-- is ours. But we weren't credited as co-writers, because the rush to record left no time to negotiate any writers' rights. By the time that came up, it was either sign away all our rights, or the record doesn't get released.)

Whatever. We made the deadline, and RCA picked our version.

Admittedly, it was a little tricky touring to support the record, since the NY Philharmonic did not fit in our van. So for awhile at gigs, there were all these disco fans… And there we were with our washboard.   [PRB]

Oddly enough, this song was the biggest hit we had in the singles market and was top ten in Miami.  It was hard to do live though, as we didn’t play live with a drummer and a cast of studio cats.  In the studio we worked hard on the transition from this song to “No Chicken Today”, with the clinking dishes and other sounds to make it sound like a diner in the background. [HH]

No Chicken Today Whether the lyrics date this song is debatable. In the early days of second-wave feminism, progressive adult females in general were certainly more insistent about being called women, rather than girls, chicks, or other belittling stuff.

As to whether “chick” is still a belittling term today, though… please. Have you ever met a chicken?

Anyway, the vocal harmonies remain impressive.   [PRB]

Recently my 13 year old nephew pronounced a movie he didn’t like to be a “chick-flick”, clearly a belittling term for him. Negative images of women die hard.

We included real people’s names as the waitresses in this song.  Rae Ann ran Passim in Boston with her husband Bob Donlan when we played there; Hazel was our friend’s Dad’s girlfriend. This song is a fun one to play live. We pretend we’re the waitresses. [HH]   

Johnny the Rock & Roll Star… is a composite of all the total asshole male rock musicians we encountered over the years. We met some really terrific male rock musicians, too. But you’ll notice it’s a very long song.   [PRB]

Our experience of ‘rock-n-roll stardom’ was so very different because we were women.  For example, our ‘groupies’ were generally women who were souped up about the ERA and their own liberation.  Also, we always seemed to be scraping along with hardly any money.  A great example of this was the Billy Joel Tour, where the BJ band would fly or take their huge luxury bus to the gig, driven of course by roadies, and have their equipment set up by the roadies for them.  Since we really wanted to do the tour, but had very little tour support from RCA, we had to drive ourselves to the next city on the tour (sometimes a several hour drive) and then set up our own equipment in time to play the next gig. [HH]

Ain’t I A Woman Inspired by the 1851 women’s rights speech made by Sojourner Truth, a former slave who became one of the era’s leading abolitionists as well as suffragists, this song, when we wrote it, wasn’t actually intended for us. We wanted to record it with a guest lead singer— a real gospel belter. But the record company said it was our album so one of us had to sing it.

That’s what happened, though in order to hit the high F on “None but heaven heard me”, I had to run out for an emergency vocal lesson in the middle of the session.

And despite all the years since then, we’ve never stopped hoping for Aretha Franklin to cover this song. Jennifer Hudson could sing the hell out of it, too. Or Melissa Etheridge.   [PRB]

Yes, and with a huge Gospel choir behind them!  [HH]

Never Never Gonna Stop: 2012


6 newly recorded songs, 5 original live performance videos from the 70s, 4 years of being back together, 3 best friends, 2 years giving (musical) birth = 1 damn fine CD... now available on CD Baby!


CD Baby lets you choose: download the new songs as MP3s, or get the full CD—complete with all five of our vintage music videos—mailed to your door.


New recordings include The John Deer Tractor Song, 7 Deadly Sins, Don’t the Lovers Ever Win, She, The Fairy Tale Dept., and No Rest for the Wicked.


Vintage music videos (only available on the CD) feature live performances of our former RCA recorded hits during the 70s including High Flying Woman; Shuffle; Dance, Mr. Big, Dance; Ain’t I A Woman; and Fiddle Medley.


We just can’t say enough about the amazing Roma Baran and Vivian Stoll Productions who guided us throughout our long labor of love that resulted in this CD. Roma produced Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” and later albums, and Viv has been nominated for a Canadian grammy for Penny Lane’s recent CD.


How to Play the Videos:


Mac Users: when you put the CD in, it automatically opens up iTunes. Move (or minimize) the iTunes window and look on your desktop for two round CD icons. Click on the icon named DN1001... the videos are inside a folder. Double-click each video (one at a time) to view with QuickTime.


PC Users: go into My Computer and find the directory for your CD drive. It will list the videos by title (they are numbered 1-5 with the name of the song). Double-click each video (one at a time) to view with Windows Media Player.

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