The Secret History of Women in Rock- Charlotte and Christine Vinnedge of the Luv'd Ones
Charlotte and Christine Vinnedge were two sisters that decided to step outside of traditional gender roles and play Rock music together during the mid-‘60s. They became the foundation of two different bands, the Tremolons and the Luv’d Ones, and were acting on Feminist principles before the Second Wave of Feminism had even become a national movement. Being ahead of their time ended up hurting them more than helping, and even though the Luv’d Ones had the talent and drive needed to become a huge success, their band leader Charlotte was not willing to comply with what was proper behavior for women in a man’s world, and the band ended up paying the price for her rebelliousness.
Charlotte was the eldest of her 7 siblings, and the Vinnedge girls grew up in an atypical household for the time. It may have been the ‘60s, but they came of age during the early to mid part of the decade, and the country was still having a ‘50s hangover when it came to the roles of women. Instead of being groomed to be housewives and mothers like many of their peers were, they were encouraged to follow their dream of playing music by both of their parents, and their father even built them a studio in the basement of their Niles, Michigan home. In 1964, women that wanted to be involved with music had limited choices for what they could do; they could be a folkie and play acoustic guitar like Joan Baez, or they could be a pop singer like Lesley Gore, or they could join a singing group like the Supremes. The idea of women playing Rock music was pretty much unheard of. If they did choose to start their own band and play their own instruments, they were expected to be cute and wear matching outfits, to play cover versions of popular songs instead of writing their own material, and to embrace the fact that they were nothing more than a novelty.
When the Tremolons started playing together in 1964, they were temporarily willing to adhere to the guidelines above. The group consisted of: Charlotte on lead guitar and vocals, Christine on bass guitar, Mary Gallagher on rhythm guitar and Faith Orem on drums. This line-up would stick together for close to 5 years and would later morph into the Luv’d Ones. Christine’s son and Charlotte’s nephew, John Sorensen, was not born yet when the Tremolons formed, but was raised on his Aunt and Mother’s stories of their ‘60s musical escapades, and had this to say about their earlier band, “They actually sort of followed the Beatles-esque type look, they had matching outfits and their hair in the '60s bobs that they had back then for girls. They were not allowed to do what they wanted to artistically. The record labels and managers they were meeting with wanted them to fit a mold and [dictate] the kind of music that they played. They were at a crossroads. Did they do what they wanted to do artistically or were they supposed to listen to those guys [and change themselves in order to] make it [in the music business]? They decided to go a different route and the Luv'd Ones was the breakout from the Tremolons.”
By forming the Luv’d Ones, the girls were finally able to assert their individuality and Charlotte could showcase her songwriting skills, thus enabling the band to stretch their musicianship to new depths. Though they were more pop oriented early on, and were influenced by popular genres such as surf and girl (singing) groups, the deep emotions that lurked below the surface of their music made it more than just frivolous pop. Charlotte was influenced by the underrated ‘60s Garage Rock Visionary, Sean Boniwell of Music Machine, to not be afraid to touch on the darker side of life. Her low alto voice fit those kind of themes well. She also tuned her guitar down to a lower pitch, which became her trademark, and was able to wail on it just like her hero, Jimi Hendrix, which led to her being nicknamed the "female Jimi Hendrix" by her musical peers. On the Sundazed release, Truth Gotta Stand, her musical progression with the band can be heard; from playing catchy yet melancholic pop songs, to dark Psychedelic masterpieces which are way ahead of their time and could even be considered Proto-Goth.
The aforementioned Sundazed release is a collection of singles, demos, and live material. Unfortunately the Luv’d Ones were never able to record a full length album. They did record some singles for Chicago’s Dunwich Records and managed to get some radio airplay in the Mid-West, but it was the band’s initial rejection of being controlled and not wanting to act like a cookie-cutter female group, that led to their commercial failure. Sorensen overheard his Mom and Aunt talking about the difficulties they had with that label, and this is what he recalls, “They pressed several singles through Dunwich. The label didn't know what they had [when it came to the group's talent] and the group went a different way. Char was a very headstrong bandleader. She wanted things her way when it came to what direction the band would go, and the problem with that was that it was the '60s and she was female. Record executives just weren't listening to a woman in the '60s who told them what she and her group wanted to do. They frowned at that. It was back when [the general male attitude was that] women raised children, made dinner, stayed at home and the man put food on the table and went to work.”
Though Charlotte and the band were disappointed that they were unable to achieve the commercial success they deserved, it did not cause them to break-up. In 1969, Christine became pregnant with John so she quit, and since they were unable to continue without such an important member they disbanded. In the early ‘70s, Charlotte went on to record a Hendrix tribute album with a former Hendrix bass player named Billy Cox. The album was called Nitro Function, and it ended up being a huge hit in Europe, finally giving Charlotte a taste of success. Unfortunately, the album was mostly unknown in the States, and the Luv’d Ones remain to be as well.
In 2009, both Charlotte and Christine have passed away, but their music remained an important part of both their lives until the very end. Sorensen feels grateful to have had a chance to grow up around these strong and talented women. He says, “I was weaned on the music, and it was funny because even when I was growing up I admired my mother and Aunt and I knew from an early age, from just listening to the music and without anyone else telling me, that they were ahead of their time. They did something that nobody else around them had heard of. There was no other band that came out of the '60s that had their sound or attitude. I was very proud of them and I knew they were doing something unusual.”
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