Local Current Blog

Meet Têtes Noires and the Clams, two of Minneapolis’s first all-female rock bands

Têtes Noires at First Avenue in 1985 (Photos courtesy of the artists)

In honor of Women’s History Month, much of this week’s Local Show was focused squarely on the influential women in Minneapolis’s rock scene. And what an interesting project it’s been, tracing everything back to the very beginning.

Many associate Babes and Toyland and the bands they would share bills with—Zuzu’s Petals, Smut, the Menstrual Tramps, etc.—with the beginning of the all-girl rock band boom here in the Twin Cities, but in reality the women who blazed the trail for the more genre-balanced scene we enjoy today actually got to work in the early ’80s.

One of those bands, Têtes Noires, actually holds the title of the first all-female band from Minneapolis. Of course, Minnesotan women’s history extends back much further than this—to this day, our most commercially successful group is still vocal trio the Andrews Sisters—but Têtes Noires emerged after a very male-dominated period of rock music in the Cities, and whether they knew it or not, they would stand and the forefront of a new era for women in Minnesota music.

Têtes Noires were active from 1983-1987 and independently released an EP and full-length, American Dream, before signing to Rounder Records. The sextet were known for intricate vocal harmonies (which, to my ear, sound an awful lot like the Andrews Sisters at times) and arty, experimental rock music; for the first part of their career they didn’t employ a drummer, and would rely on clapping and guitar and synth parts to keep the beat.

To learn more about Têtes Noires, I got a hold of members Camille Gage and Angela Frucci—and, as it turns out, Angela happens to be hard at work remixing and reissuing their debut full-length American Dream. Learn more about the group in the audio interview below.

  1. Listen Interview: Têtes Noires

Cindy Lawson and Karen Gratz at the Current (Andrea Swensson/MPR)

The Clams emerged just a few short years later, playing their first gig in 1985. The quartet were a more straightforward rock group, and garnered frequent comparisons to the Rolling Stones. Though they didn’t release as many albums as Têtes Noires, they earned a reputation as a solid live act, and gigged everywhere from First Ave to the Stillwater state penitentiary.

In the clip below, hear frontwoman Cindy Lawson, drummer Karen Gratz, and bassist Patsy Joe reminisce about their time performing in the group.

  1. Listen Interview: The Clams

Both groups also brought in lots of old photos and flyers to share, and I’ve scanned many of those in below.

16 Photos

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    The Clams
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    The Clams
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  • TheClams12
  • Tetes Noires - First Ave
  • Tetes Noires Chicago or bust
    Têtes Noires on tour
  • Tetes Noires First Ave 2
    Têtes Noires at First Avenue
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    Têtes Noires at First Avenue
  • Tetes Noires Loring Park
    Têtes Noires playing their first gig in Loring Park, 1983
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    Têtes Noires playing their first gig in Loring Park, 1983
  • Tetes Noires Steve McClellan
    Steve McClellan with Tetes Noires in the mid-1980s
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    Cindy Lawson and Karen Gratz at the Current (Andrea Swensson/MPR)

View 15 More Photos