With the sampler "She Rocks, Vol. 1", released in January on Steve Vai's label Favored Nations, the guitar virtuoso fulfilled a heart's desire and chose recordings from eleven of the most interesting female rock guitarists today. In addition to the goal of promoting talent, this project was based on the realization that women who play the guitar are still not regarded as serious musicians by the general public. There might be some truth to that assumption: In the "Rolling Stone" special edition "Die 100 größten Gitarristen aller Zeiten" (2003) only two women appear: Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt. The "Guitarist" special issue "Rock Guitar Heroes" (2012) is also disappointing from a female point of view, as it only mentions the Australian Orianthi. This blatant disproportion could be interpreted as a sign of sloppy research work. On the other hand, it also shows once again that rock music was mainly influenced by men and that women could only gradually emancipate themselves, whereby the acoustic guitar was an important stopover to the electric guitar. From the female guitar pioneers to the string acrobats of today, it was certainly a long way, which will be briefly outlined here.
Important precursors on the guitar
Even before rock'n'roll began its triumphal march, there were women who earned their living as guitarists. Memphis Minnie (1897-1973), at times the most popular Countryblues artist, made her first recordings in the twenties and, if necessary, also prevailed over men with her pistol. Her gospel counterpart was Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973), who went down in the annals as the "godmother of rock'n'roll" and influenced musicians like Little Richard and Chuck Berry with her playing on the electric guitar. Despite these pioneers, women in the early stages of Rock'n'Roll usually only had a chance as singers. One exception was Wanda Jackson (*1937), who also played guitar and became the "Queen of Rockabilly" after 1960. However, Peggy Jones (1940-2015), who set the rhythm in Bo Diddley's band and was given the nickname "Queen Mother of Guitar", is regarded as the first "real" rock guitarist. After her departure, Diddley did not want to do without a woman at his side and hired Norma-Jean Wofford (1942-2005), who played in his group between 1962 and 1966.
The Folk Revival of the Sixties
An important milestone in the history of female guitarists was the folk revival in the sixties. Although this was also influenced by male protagonists such as Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan or Arlo Guthrie, women who accompanied each other on the acoustic came to the fore at that time. In particular, Joan Baez (*1941), Judy Collins (*1939), Joni Mitchell (*1943) and Buffy Sainte-Marie (*1941) should be mentioned. Mitchell in particular was to become a role model for many folk musicians due to her poetic lyrics and alternative guitar tunings.
Guitarists and All Female Bands of the Seventies
In the seventies, female guitarists also advanced into rock music - a clear sign that these women no longer wanted to be associated with the "good" folk songs of the sixties. Instead, an electric guitar and an amplifier were the tried and tested means of expressing the female self-conception. Significantly, it was at this time that the first influential rock bands were formed, led by women or made up entirely of women. The first group included the pretenders with singer/guitarist Chrissie Hynde (*1951) and Heart (Nancy Wilson). The second group included all-female bands such as Birtha (Shele Pinizzotto, 1947-2014), Fanny (June Millington, *1948), The Runaways (Joan Jett, *1958, Lita Ford), the punk band The Slits (Viv Albertine, *1953) and The Go-Go's (Charlotte Caffey, *1953, Jane Wiedlin, *1958). Especially Joan Jett and Lita Ford, who also celebrated success as solo artists, are often mentioned in "Best Of" lists of influential rock guitarists.
The Eighties: Guitarists in Hardrock and Folkrock
The eighties were the era in which female guitarists also conquered the hard rock and metal scene and played increasingly more virtuously. The "Girl Group" trend continued seamlessly, for example with Girlschool (Kelly Johnson, 1958-2007, Kim McAuliffe, *1959) or the pop metalists Vixen (Jan Kuehnemund, 1953-2013, Janet Gardner, *1962). Especially curious is Katherine Thomas alias The Great Kat, who broke all speed records with her mixture of Thrash Metal and Classic. At the same time, ladies from the folk rock scene became popular, for example Suzanne Vega (*1959), Tracy Chapman (*1964) and the Indigo Girls. With the rockier Melissa Etheridge (*1961) Bruce Springsteen received serious competition from the female side...