Birtha


Band members                              Related acts

  line up 2 (1967-68)

- Rosemary Butler (aka Rosemary Lane) -- vocals, bass

- Sherry Hagler -- vocals, keyboards 

- Shele Pinizzotto (aka Michele Pinizzotto, aka Shel Le, aka

  Michele Urqhart) (RIP 2014) -- vocals, lead guitar

 

  line up 2 (1968-75)

- Rosemary Butler (aka Rosemary Lane) -- vocals, bass

NEW - Olivia 'Liver' Favela -- vocals, drums, percussion 

- Sherry Hagler -- vocals, keyboards 

- Shele Pinizzotto (aka Michele Pinizzotto, aka Shel Le, aka

  Michele Urqhart) (RIP 2014) -- vocals, lead guitar

 

 

 

- Rosemary Butler (solo efforts)

- The Daisy Chain (Rosemary Butler and Shele Pinizzotto)

- The Ladybirds (Rosemary Butler)

 

 

 


 

Genre: rock

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Birtha

Company: Dunhill

Catalog: DSX 50127
Year:
 1972

Country/State: Glendale, California

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: gatefold sleeve; promo copy; minor ring wear

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5880

Price: $25.00

 

Alright, I'll readily admit I bought this one for the album cover - I'm a push over for jukeboxes and never had a chance when I saw this one.  

 

Showcasing the talents of bassist Rosemary Butler, keyboardist Sherry Hagler, and lead guitarist Michele "Shele" Pinizzotto, Birtha came together in 1967.   Butler and Pinizzotto had started their musical careers as members of The Rapunzels while attending high school and Los Angeles.  Under the name Rosemary Lane, Butler had been a member of The Ladybirds whose major claim to fame was having opened for The Rolling Stones during one of their Spring 1965 American shows.  When The Ladybirds broke up she hooked up with friend Pinizzotto (then playing as Shel Le) in The Daisy Chain who recorded an interesting and hard to find LP "Straight or Lame" for United International (catalog number LPM-13001 / LPS-13001).  By 1967 Butler and Pinizzotto had formed Birtha with the addition of keyboard player Sherry Hagler.  The following year they added drummer Olivia 'Liver' Favela to the lineup and spent the next three years touring the West Coast.  They finally got their shot at the big time in 1972 when producer Gabriel Mekler signed them to ABC Dunhill.

 

Dunhill promo photo: left to right - Hagler - Pinzzotto - Butler - Favela

 

Mekler and Dunhill were clearly interested in cashing in on the same demographics that saw Reprise score with the all-girl band Fanny.   Dunhill's marketing plan culminated in a hideous ad campaign built around the phrase 'Birtha Has Balls'.  For what it was worth, Birtha's hard rocking sound wasn't all that different from Fanny and while critics were generally deferential to the former, that wasn't the case for Birtha or their 1972 debut "Birtha".   Rolling Stone gave the album a good review, but at least one nationally published music critic slammed the album while managing to suggest the quartet were dykes.  While it wasn't the most original set you've ever heard, anyone doubting a "chick" band could rock, had to be impressed by original material such as 'Free Spirit', 'Judgment Day' (featuring a great Favela drum solo) and 'Too Much Woman (For a Hen Pecked Man)'.  Having three members contribute material didn't hurt, nor did having three lead vocalists.  In fact. song for song the performances were easily as good as anything Fanny, Isis, or Joy of Cooking were kicking out during the same period. 

 

"Birtha" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Free Spirit   (Michele Pinizzotto) - 2:49    rating: **** stars  

'Free Spirit' was the collection's best performance.  Nice rocker with a suitably snarling vocal from Favela (they should have let her handle more vocals) and a great Pinizzotto guitar solo (who said girls couldn't play guitar?).  Easy to see why Dunhill tapped it as a single throughout the world, though in the States it was only released as a promotional 45: 

 - 1972's ''Free Spirit' b/w 'Working On a Dream' (Dunhill catalog number D-4328)

2.) Fine Talking Man   (Rosemary Butler - Michele Pinizzotto - Sherry Hagler) - 5:56    rating: ** stars

Opening with a nice Butler bass line 'Fine Talking Man' quickly degenerated into a routine blues-rocker.  Yeah, it generated some energy but the over-the-top, yell-from-every-mountain ending killed it. 

3.) Tuesday   (Rosemary Butler - M. Wickham) - 3:23   rating: ** stars

'Tuesday' was a decent blues-rocker with a catchy hook that was unfortunately somewhat marred by a shrill lead vocal from Butler.  She literally sounded like she was about to lose a lung on this one.  Blame producer Mekler for recording it so loud.  

4.) Feeling Lonely   (Rosemary Butler) - 4:21   rating: ** stars

With the exception of a nice lead guitar solo from Shele Pinizzotto (perhaps the album's best performance), the mid-tempo blues-rocker 'Feeling Lonely' wasn't anything special.  Once again Butler screeching vocal and Mekler's muddy mix sapped what ever energy the song had.  

5.) She was Good To Me   (Michele Pinizzotto) - 2:21 rating: *** stars

A pretty and heavily orchestrated ballad, 'She was Good To Me' was the most radio friendly song on the album and the only one to spotlight Pinizzotto on lead vocals.   Normally a sappy ballad like this wouldn't do much for me, but this one was interesting if only for the fact it stripped away all of the band's rock-orientation.  

 

(side 2)
1.) Work On a Dream   (Michele Pinizzotto) -   rating: *** stars

The first couple of times I heard 'Work On a Dream' it didn't make much of an impression on me, but given time the song's charms have come out including a bouncy hard rock melody and some nice harmony vocals from the four.  Musically this one spotlighted Favela who literally kicked the crap out of her drum kit.   

2.) Too Much Woman (For a Hen Pecked Man)   (Ike Turner) -   rating: **** stars  

One of the few non-originals, their cover of Ike Turner's 'Too Much Woman (For a Hen Pecked Man)' was also the album's hardest rocking performance.  Favela literally spewed out the lyrics with the rest of the band holding on for dear life.  Another nice fuzz solo from Pinizzotto !!   

3.) Judgment Day   (Vegas) -    rating: *** stars

'Judgment Day' found the band taking a break from conventional hard rock with a song that was almost proto-progressive, complete with Uriah Heep-styled keyboards from Hagler.  Favela again handled the lead vocal, but this time she abandoned her rock screech for a deeper key that hadn't been heard anywhere before.  Very different from the rest of the set and kind of interesting. 

4.) Forgotten Soul   (Olivia Favela - Gabriel Mekler) -   rating: ** stars

Co-written by Favela and producer Mekler, 'Forgotten Soul' started out as a stark ballad with Favela pulling out her best Janis Joplin impersonation.  Unfortunately, the end result was shrill and over-the-top.  Interestingly about two thirds of the way in, Butler kicked in with a killer slinky bass line, sending the song in a totally different and much more likable direction.  Shame it didn't start out with that groove.   

 

Frankly better than most of the Fanny, Isis, or Joy of Cooking LPs, but it could have been even better had ABC and Mekler not pushed them to out rock their male competition.  While funny, I'm not sure Dunhill's promotional campaign, which included the slogan "Birtha has Balls" helped or hurt the group.

The band toured extensively in support of the LP, including opening for The Kinks on a quick English tour, though it didn't do a great deal commercially, the set stalling at  # 209 on the album charts.

 

For anyone interested, there's a small Birtha website at: http://www.birtharocks.com/

 

SRB 11/2009


 


Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Can't Stop the Madness

Company: Dunhill

Catalog: DSX-50136

Year: 1973

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Country/State: Glendale, California

Comments: ring wear; writing on cover; white label promo cover

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5881

Price: $25.00

 

 

Produced by Christopher Houston, Birtha's 1973 follow up "Can't Stop the Madness" was actually better than their debut.  Perhaps because they were feeling more comfortable in the studio, or simply didn't care what people thought, this time out the emphasis wasn't as singularly focused on out-rocking the male competition.  That gave the band space and a willingness to try a more diversified attack with several songs reflecting a much more open and commercial feel.   Mind you tracks like 'Freedom', 'My Pants Are Too Short' and 'Rock Me' underscored their ability to handle a hard rock tune with ease, but those rockers were balanced out by the pop-flavored 'Let Us Sing'.  Of course being blessed with three talented writers in Rosemary Butler, Olivia Favela and Shele Pinizzotto certainly didn't hurt the proceedings, nor did the fact all three were good vocalists.  Drummer Favela in particular distinguished herself in the vocal department.  The first time out she seemed to confuse Joplin-styled shrieking with power.  This time out her performances were much more deft - check out the 'All This Love' or '(When Will Ya) Understand'.   

 

"Can't Stop the Madness" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Freedom   (Olivia Favela - Shele Pinizzotto) - 3:07   rating: **** stars   

'Freedom' opened the album with a rocker than had a distinctive gospel-ish edge.  Imagine something Delaney and Bonnie might have recorded.  Nice melody, great vocal and tasteful lead guitar from Pinizzotto, and classic harmony vocals.

2.) My Man Told Me   (Rosemary Butler - Olivia Favela - Gabriel Mekler - Shelee Pinizzotto) - 3:19   rating: **** stars   

'My Man Told Me' was simply a fun rocker.  For her part, Favela showed a surprisingly deft touch on vocals - the song rocked, but without the shrillness that she brought to much of the debut album.  Great tune and one of the album highlights.   Easy to imagine The Bangles covering it.   The song was tapped as a single in at least four countries - Holland, Germany, Japan, and the UK:

- 1973's 'My Man Told Me' b/w 'Freedom' (Probe PRO 598) 

3.) Don't Let It Get You Down   (Rosemary Butler)- 6:03   rating: *** stars

One of the prettiest songs in their repertoire (and a highlight for Favela), the ballad 'Don't Let It Get You Down' had an instantly hum able melody, a simply killer bass line from Butler, and some angelic harmony vocals.  This one would have made a nice single.

4.) Sun   (Olivia Favela - Shele Pinizzotto) - 3:20   rating: *** stars

With Butler and Pinizzotto sharing lead vocals, Sun' started out as a take-no-prisoners rocker before opening into an appealing acapella segment and the cutting lose with one of Pinizzotto's best solos.      rating: *** stars

5.) Let Us Sing   (Rosemary Butler - Dumont - Shele Pinizzotto - Shinohofen) - 4:46   rating: *** stars

Very different than anything they'd done before, the acoustic ballad 'Let Us Sing' served to showcase their harmony vocals.  Pretty and highly commercial, this one probably drove their hard rock fans insane.   

 

(side 2)

1.) Rock Me   (Rosemary Butler - Mark Wickham) - 3:36    rating: *** stars

Side two started out with a slinky rocker in the form of 'Rock Me' (even though the liner notes showed the lead of song as being '(When Will Ya) Understand'. The track saw Butler turn in her best vocal, while Pinizzotto responded with a killer solo.   

2.) All This Love   (G. Belisle - D. Garlend) - 3:30   rating: *** stars

'All This Love' was the kind of commercial tune they never would have dared record on the debut. Kicked along by Hagler's keyboards it rocked, but had a radio friendly vibe, including a super catchy chorus.   

3.) (When Will Ya) Understand   (Rosemary Butler - Mark Wickham) - 4:53    rating: ***** stars

My pick for standout performance, '(When Will Ya) Understand' had it all - a dark, and ominous melody, fantastic lead vocal from Favela, and those amazing group harmonies - The Bangles should bow in recognition and gratitude to Birtha.

4.) My Pants Are Too Short   (Olivia Favela - Shele Pinizzotto) - 3:29   rating: *** stars
'My Pants Are Too Short' was the one track where Favela fell back on her old habits, shrieking her way through the song.  The funny thing is that this one had such a strong swamp rock rhythm you really didn't notice her vocal that much.   

5.) Can't Stop the Madness   (Rosemary Butler - Shele Pinizzotto) - 5:22    rating: ***** stars

A mid-tempo ballad that could have given the Wilson sisters a run for their money, the title track opened up with some excellent Butler bass moves and one of Pinizzotto's most melodic solos.  Very atmospheric (okay I'd suggest the orgasmic panting wasn't necessary) and commercial, this one would have sounded great on FM radio.  YouTube has a clip of the band performing the song on an April 1974 edition of the the BBC's Old Grey Whistle Test.  It looks like live vocals over a pre-recorded rhythm track.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDiEfwXRNiM 

One of those albums that's grown on me every time I've played it.  Sadly they're largely forgotten in this day and age, but they really were ground breakers.  Shame they didn't come to the market five years later.

 

Naturally, in terms of demographics and public taste the album was about five years ahead of itself, and like the debut failed to set the charts ablaze. 


Later in the year the band managed to release a cover of Steely Dan's 'Dirty Work' as a non-LP single before falling apart in 1975:

 

 

- 1973's 'Dirty Work' b/w 'Dirty Work' (Dunhill D-4362)

 

When the single tanked Dunhill dropped Birtha from its recording roster.  Over the next two years the band toured extensively opening for a never ending stream of first tier bands, but by 1975 they'd run out of energy and called it quits.


Butler has release some solo material and become an in-demand studio singer. She has a web presence at:
http://www.rosemarybutler.com/

 

After Birtha called it quits Pinizzotto relocated to California where she set up a recording studio and taught guitar, keyboards, and vocals.  In the early '80s she moved to New Zealand, were she married and established a store - Lee Vining gift shop.  After a brief illness, she died in February 2014.

 

I'm sure someone out there knows what Hagler and Favela are doing these days.

 

 

SRB 11/2009

 


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