Today is the 35th birthday of Donita Sparks, guitarist and vocalist of
the all-female punk-rock group
L7. In 1986, Sparks, who was born in the Chicago suburbs, joined
Jennifer Finch (bass), Suzi Gardner (guitar/vocals) and Anne Anderson
(drums) to form L7 in Los Angeles. They immediately began gigging on
the club scene. Their punk-based sound, heavily influenced by Joan Jett
and the Ramones, began to earn them a steady following. Songs with such
crazy titles as "Bite The Wax Tadpole" delighted fans with their wit and
sarcasm. L7, being all women and fond of heavy rock, were, of course,
deemed a "grrl" group early on; this description stuck, despite the presence of
drummer Roy Koutsky at one point in the group's evolution.
L7's self-titled debut album was released on Epitaph records in 1988, and
they promoted it with heavy touring that increased their cult fan base.
When the band moved to Seattle, Dee Plakas replaced Koutsky. An '89
U.S./U.K. tour -- on which L7 opened for Nirvana in England -- and a '90
European tour soon followed. The band's 7-inch vinyl single,
"Shove/Packin' A Rod," was a big hit with U.S. college radio stations at
this time. Also in 1990, L7 released an EP entitled Smell The Magic
on Sub Pop, which led to a contract with Slash records and gigs
with new labelmates Faith No More. L7's first Slash release was 1992's
Bricks Are Heavy, which contained angry, pointed lyrics attacking
men and society in general. The album, co-produced by Butch Vig,
established them as the leading female heavy-rock band of the period and
bandmembers became very outspoken on the issue of women in rock. A song
from the album, "Pretend We're Dead," made the U.K. top 30, and suddenly the
group was more popular in the U.K. than in the States.
Sparks' striptease on British television also added to L7's popularity
across the Atlantic. The band toured steadily in 1992 and 1993 and even
appeared on David Letterman. L7 coordinated benefit shows, featuring
Nirvana, Hole and Pearl Jam, among others, for Rock For Choice, an
organization they founded to raise awareness in the rock community of
the growing threat to civil liberties and women's rights. L7's next
release, 1994's Hungry for Stink, reached the top 30 on the U.K.
charts, and Sparks co-directed its first video, "Andres." That same
year, L7 joined the Lollapalooza tour. Beauty Process: Triple
Platinum, their 1997 album, was critically acclaimed but didn't sell
enough for their record company, which dropped L7 shortly after its
release. In early '98, the band held "The Ugly Drawing of L7 Contest,"
in which the entrant who depicted the most childlike, ugly image of the
band received framed, L7-autographed shoe insoles with a letter of
authenticity. L7 are currently writing songs.
Steve Howe (Yes), 51; Izzy Stradlin (Guns n' Roses), 36; and Julian