Meet Honey Lantree, the Trailblazing 1960s Female Drummer

Quick, who’s your favorite female drum­mer?

Hard­ly a strange ques­tion!

(Yes, you are allowed to pick more than one favorite.)

Things were decid­ed­ly dif­fer­ent when drum­mer Hon­ey Lantree, the only female mem­ber of the 60s British Inva­sion group the Hon­ey­combs, took up the sticks.

Drums were not her orig­i­nal instru­ment. Her boyfriend, employ­er, and even­tu­al band­mate Mar­tin Mur­ray was giv­ing her a gui­tar les­son when she asked if she could take a whirl at his kit.

Mur­ray recalled his sur­prise when she start­ed whal­ing away like a vet:

She was just a born, nat­ur­al drum­mer; she hadn’t played before and just went for it. I was aghast, star­ing at her, and said, “All right, you’re our new drum­mer.”

Lantree’s gen­der helped the Hon­ey­combs secure press.

She snagged a celebri­ty endorse­ment for Carl­ton drums and turned 21 with a cake fes­tooned with marzi­pan bees, and, more impor­tant­ly, a #1 sin­gle, “Have I the Right.”

Of course, her gen­der also ensured that most of the cov­er­age would focus on her appear­ance, with scant, if any men­tion of her musi­cal tal­ent.

Lantree was not the only mem­ber of the Hon­ey­combs to find this galling.

As lead singer Denis D’Ell told the Record Mir­ror in 1965:

How can it be a gim­mick just because we have a girl, Hon­ey, on drums? Hon­ey plays with us pure­ly and sim­ply because she is the right drum­mer for the job. If she wasn’t any good, she wouldn’t hold down the job.

On tour, we don’t have any trou­bles by hav­ing a girl with us. We just oper­ate as a group. Per­haps it is that the nov­el­ty has worn off — we hope that fans soon will for­get all about this so-called gim­mick.

The fol­low­ing year, he quit, along with lead gui­tarist Alan Ward and Peter Pye, who had replaced Mur­ray on rhythm gui­tar. Lantree and her broth­er, Hon­ey­combs’ bassist John, sol­diered on with new per­son­nel until the 1967 death of pro­duc­er Joe Meek.

Still, for a brief peri­od, the Hon­ey­combs’ record­ings, tours, tele­vi­sion appear­ances, and yes, press cov­er­age made Lantree the most famous female drum­mer in the world.

Admit­ted­ly, the field was not par­tic­u­lar­ly crowd­ed. Just chal­leng­ing in ways that out­stripped the dis­pro­por­tion­ate focus on fig­ures, boyfriends, and beau­ty tips.

Male fans dragged Lantree off­stage dur­ing a con­cert in Corn­wall, lead­ing her to remark, “You expect this sort of thing but it’s still ter­ri­fy­ing.”

Around the same time, anoth­er British band, the all-female Liv­er­birds, were invit­ed to cross the pond for a cov­et­ed gig in Las Vegas…provided they’d play it top­less. “Can you imag­ine me on the drums play­ing top­less,” Sylvia Saun­ders, who short­ly there­after was forced to choose between the drums and a high risk preg­nan­cy, gasped.

Although she is said to have inspired a num­ber of young female musi­cians, includ­ing Karen Car­pen­ter, Lantree, who died in 2018 at the age of 75, rarely shows up on curat­ed lists of notable female drum­mers.

In a strange way, that spells progress — there are many more female drum­mers today than there were in the mid 60s, and mer­ci­ful­ly more oppor­tu­ni­ties for them to be tak­en seri­ous­ly as musi­cians.

via Messy Nessy

Relat­ed Con­tent

Meet Vio­la Smith, the World’s Old­est Drum­mer: Her Career Start­ed in the 1930s, and She Played Until She Was 107

Meet the Liv­er­birds, Britain’s First Female (and Now For­got­ten) Rock Band

The Women of Rock: Dis­cov­er an Oral His­to­ry Project That Fea­tures Pio­neer­ing Women in Rock Music

Meet Fan­ny, the First Female Rock Band to Top the Charts: “They Were Just Colos­sal and Won­der­ful, and Nobody’s Ever Men­tioned Them”

The Woman Who Invent­ed Rock n’ Roll: An Intro­duc­tion to Sis­ter Roset­ta Tharpe

New Web Project Immor­tal­izes the Over­looked Women Who Helped Cre­ate Rock and Roll in the 1950s

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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  • David J Harvey says:

    A lot of those crit­ics and reporters were clue­less — Hon­ey’s gen­der was com­plete­ly irrel­e­vant to her musi­cal tal­ents and she was nei­ther a gim­mick nor a visu­al nov­el­ty.

    She real­ly could play the drums and I bet that she and her band­mates must’ve got­ten tired of fac­ing the same futile ques­tions from reporters over time.

    Hon­ey was not just a drum­mer, but she could also sing and play a bit of gui­tar.

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