“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



Fast Facts on The Deadly Nightshade Band

  1. Began playing together in 1968-70 in the five-woman, alt-rock band Ariel (all from Smith and Mount Holyoke colleges)

  2. Reunited as The Deadly Nightshade in 1972 — a multi-musical genre, old school pop/rock/soul/country/electric bluegrass trio

  3. Played as many as 250 gigs per year

  4. Recorded two albums, 1975's "The Deadly Nightshade" and 1976's "F&W (Funky & Western)" for Phantom/RCA that received preliminary Grammy nominations

  5. One single from F&W, "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," hit the national Billboard and Cashbox Top 100 pop charts in 1976

  6. Opened for Billy Joel on his national "New York State of Mind" tour in 1976

  7. Appeared on multiple TV shows including "Sesame Street"

  8. Last official gig (first incarnation): 1977 National Women's Conference in Houston

  9. Added to the Smithsonian Institute's Women's History collection in 1978

  10. Added to the archives of the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001

  11. Reunited, 2009-present; recent gigs range from college concert/dances and women's organization events to nationally-known music clubs (including NYC's Bitter End and New England's Iron Horse)

  12. In 2013, released their new CD produced by Grammy-nominated producing/engineering team Roma Baran and Vivian Stoll

  13. Memory of a lifetime: serving as the back-up band for the original Supremes member Flo Ballard at her last performance in 1975 (to be mentioned in an upcoming film "Blondie: the Florence Ballard Story," currently in production)

The Full, Colorful History

In the form of a conversational bio...

When the Smithsonian Institution asked The Deadly Nightshade for band “artifacts” at one of the band’s last gigs in 1977, no one was more puzzled than the female trio (lead guitar/fiddle player Helen Hooke, rhythm guitarist Anne Bowen, and bass player Pamela Robin Brandt)… except, perhaps, the Smithsonian. It was, after all, the first time that a women’s band would appear in the museum’s women’s history archives.

As the Division of Political History’s assistant curator Edith Mayo explained in a 1978 letter thanking the band for their donation, “Our holdings in women’s history are primarily in the political field: suffrage, ERA, women in politics, women’s conventions, International Women’s Year, etc.”

Hence the dilemma: Where, among all the serious political treatises et al, to place an Appalachian dancing doll, some very loud electric instruments, and a disreputable cut-off black T-shirt bearing what Mayo referred to as the band’s mysterious and “rather ominous-sounding name”?

Right next to Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s desk, as it turned out. “I found your materials so fascinating as an example of the types of entertainment at feminist conventions and conferences, in addition to your feminist music, that I find it a good addition to our collections,” Mayo wrote. “You may be pleased/amused/awed/or whatever to learn that your materials will be keeping company with such figures as Stanton, Anthony, Catt, Dr. Mary Walker, Bella Abzug, and the like.”

The honor was not the first “first” for Brandt, Bowen, and Hooke, who began playing together as Ivy League college women (Bowen and Hooke at Smith, Brandt down the road at Mt. Holyoke) circa 1968, in the ambitious “symphonic rock” band Ariel. At the time, there were female rock singers fronting otherwise male bands, but virtually no bands of women who played their own instruments. Ariel was one of the first.

The five-woman band got as far as the Fillmore East, which resulted in an article in Newsweek and interest from several major recording labels. There Ariel dead-ended.

Helen: “We were sitting in one record executive’s office, and another executive popped his head in the door and said, ‘Don’t sign an all-girl band. We’ll just have to pay for their abortions.’”

Anne: “Another major label said we were great, but they were passing because they already had an all-girl band.”

Pam: “Of course every label had a zillion all-boy bands. All-female bands were novelty acts; you could only use one. It slowly dawned on us that we were being treated with the same respect accorded The Singing Dogs.”

Anne: “I swore I’d never play professionally again.”

As if. Landing back in their old western Massachusetts college stomping grounds, the three were pursuing different career paths in 1972—Anne, grad school in philosophy; Pam and Helen haunting early feminist conferences in an unsuccessful search for other electric ladies. They supported themselves doing various odd jobs, including construction site clean-up.

Then Northampton’s fledgling feminist Valley Women’s Center, which Bowen had helped found, needed musical entertainment for an International Women’s Day event.

Anne: “We couldn’t find any women rock musicians, and we still had the amplifiers. So we put together a quick and dirty band to perform there.”

Pam: “But since it was just the three of us, with no drummer, pretentious Ariel-type stuff wasn’t possible. Darn. So we just played songs we liked, and thought a hugely varied audience would like.”

Helen: “The response was incredible! And immediately, offers for other gigs started coming in. We thought, ‘Hmm. Sure beats collecting garbage.’”

Pam: “So we learned around 100-150 songs. We wanted to be able to play anyplace that wanted to hire us.”

Anne: “Four sets in a rock club? Sure. A dance? We did many Motown songs. One of our best jobs ever was a NOW concert in Detroit, where we got to be the back-up band for Flo Ballard of the Supremes.”

Pam: “If a C&W club called, Anne sings a wicked Patsy Cline; Helen, who studied violin at Eastman School of Music back in high school, plays absolutely kamikaze fiddle, so we did lots of bluegrass, too. And when there were holes in our repertoire, we wrote songs to fill them.

Helen: We started writing our own feminist anthems.”

Pam: “We also wrote songs about food, plastic surgery, and laundromats. Very few mellow songs, though. The Deadly Nightshade was high energy. We’d always hit the stage at 110%, and escalate from there.” 

Anne: “Mostly we were a dance band, even without a drummer. People would always dance. At concerts they’d dance in the aisles.”

After three years of packing venues ranging from the Saints (a legendary Boston women’s bar) to the equally legendary Max’s Kansas City in New York, The Deadly Nightshade signed a recording contract with the RCA custom label, Phantom. The contract featured another “first”—a clause prohibiting sexist exploitation.

Anne: “We only had to invoke it once. RCA ran an offensive ad in a bunch of national publications. So we scribbled corrections all over it with a big red marker, and made them re-run it.”

During their career, The Deadly Nightshade recorded two albums featuring original songs ("The Deadly Nightshade" and "F & W") for RCA/Phantom. Both received Grammy nominations for Best New Artist. The Deadlies 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.

The band toured nationally as Billy Joel's opening act. Additionally, they opened shows for Sister Sledge, Commander Cody, Poco, Peter Frampton, Elvin Bishop, Don McClean, Lily Tomlin, and Kermit the Frog, among others.

Pam: “We appeared on lots of TV shows, but several segments on ‘Sesame Street’ were the biggest thrill.”

Clubs that The Deadly Nightshade headlined include the Bottom Line, the Other End, and Folk City (New York), the Troubadour (Los Angeles), the Boarding House and Wild Side West in San Francisco, Passim (Boston), the Main Line (Philadelphia), and similar quality venues, plus many country music joints with bullet holes in the walls. (In the mid-1990s, The Deadly Nightshade was inducted into the archives of the Country Music Hall of Fame.)

As for larger concert venues, the band was the loudest act to ever perform at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. They played Nassau Colliseum, Miami’s Gusman Auditorium, Nashville Civic Center, and Town Hall in New York. They played the National Women’s Music Festival (three times), and blew out the electrical power at the New England Women’s Music Festival.

During the four times they played NY’s Gay Pride Rally in Central Park, they performed in front of over 10,000 people. At a rally celebrating the Vietnam War’s end they performed for a crowd of 120,000.

Anne: “There were too many political rallies to remember. I do recall one where New York’s lieutenant governor Mary Anne Krupsak polkaed with Senator Barbara Mikulski, to ‘In Heaven There Is No Beer’. And many NOW conventions. In Atlantic City we locked the custodian in the closet because he was trying to shut the show down at the end of his shift, and we wouldn’t let him because all those NOW women were having such a fabulous time.”

Pam: “What I liked best about how The Deadly Nightshade affected audiences is that people always had a fabulous time together, even in the weirdest places. I looked out on the dance floor one night, in this tough hole-in-the-wall C&W bar, and there were straight-as-boards couples in square dance outfits dancing next to these lesbian couples who’d told me they usually only felt comfortable at all-women’s venues. And doing a circle dance around the room was a bunch of gay guys wearing long dresses… and beards. It was like a microcosm of the world as it ought to be. No fighting, Big Fun.”  

So… the ominous name?

Pam: “Deadly nightshade is a poisonous plant which, utilized respectfully, can be quite fun. It’s an aphrodisiac, and medieval witches used it to give them the feeling of flying. Abuse it, though, and pfft. You’re toast.”

Helen: “Also, another name for the deadly nightshade plant is belladonna, which, in Italian, means ‘beautiful woman’.”

Pam: “Um… But actually, we only looked up all that meaningful stuff after people started asking us about the name.”

Helen: “Really, I just always wanted to name a band The Deadly Nightshade.”

Anne: “So we let her.”

Formally, The Deadly Nightshade’s final gig was at the first International Women’s Conference in Houston, in 1977. But they have played occasional other “absolutely-the-last-and this-time-we-REALLY-mean-it!” jobs since. (And started touring again in 2008).

Pam: “Back in the day, when young women weren’t supposed to play in rock bands, we helped to break that barrier by doing it ourselves. Now, thirty years later, old ladies for sure aren’t supposed to act so outrageously. We’d like to take a crack at that barrier, too.”

Anne: “Anyway, as the song says, Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.”

Our Wiki Page:

The Deadly Nightshade on Ask.com


Early History: The Moppets

Our Infamous Sesame Street Video:

Our Muppet Wiki Page:

Our Beloved Russian Fans (!)

Mentioned in ‘She’s A Rebel’

Our last CD:

Never Never Gonna Stop

available on CD Baby >