A Look At Drumming’s Leading Ladies
1980s: The Girls Of Synth City
By the time the ’80s arrived, things were really starting to come together for women in music. Riding the punk wave in late 1970s Los Angeles, The Go-Go’s secured the drumming services of steady-handed Gina Schock. They evolved into more of an upbeat pop group and within a few years became the first all-female band in history to top the charts. Their first album went triple platinum and they earned a Best New Artist Grammy nomination. Finally a group of women writing and playing their own songs had found mainstream success, with Schock’s drumming playing no small part in it. “Gina Schock is one of the toughest drummers in rock history,” declared Rolling Stone. The Go-Go’s went on to produce a number of chart-making singles before they split in 1985. After the band broke up, Schock continued to have a career in music as a writer and producer.
Whenever someone starts talking about The Go-Go’s, the conversation almost inevitably turns to The Bangles. Mostly what the two bands have in common is they are both all-girl groups who found mainstream success on the pop charts in the ’80s. Gaar notes in She’s A Rebel that while The Go-Go’s origins were more of the punk variety, The Bangles were more rooted in the sounds of rock’s golden age. “The chemistry was there instantaneously. It just clicked,” drummer Debbi Peterson recalls of the band’s formation.
Although The Bangles’ first full-length album, in 1984, was not a commercial success, the band garnered enough attention that Prince ghostwrote the song “Manic Monday” for their album Different Light in 1986. That album went multiplatinum and scored them two Top 5 hits. Their next album, in 1988, also went multiplatinum and brought another pair of Top 5 hits, but clashes over outsider input on the album contributed to the band splitting up a short time later. These days, the original trio (Debbi, sister Vicki, and Susannah Hoffs) are back making music together.
2. Sheila E
Prince also helped bring attention to another lady drummer of the 1980s: Sheila E. What else can you call Sheila Escovedo besides a renaissance woman? She was born into drumming, as the daughter of Latin Jazz legend Pete Escovedo. The story is she made her concert debut at age five when her father called her up on stage to play a drum solo in front of 3,000 people. She knew at that moment she was a percussionist. After spending a number of years playing with some of the biggest names in the business — Herbie Hancock, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross — she met Prince while performing at one of her father’s concerts.
Sheila E. began performing with Prince and he in turn helped her record her first solo album, 1983’s The Glamorous Life. The Top 10 single of the same name even got nominated for a Grammy. Sheila E. herself went on to do, well, pretty much everything under the sun. She’s a producer, a composer, and was the first female bandleader on TV on Magic Johnson’s variety show. When she’s not making music, she’s creating lines of drums geared toward kids or working on her music-and-children focused charity. She’s also featured in the “Women Who Rock” exhibit.