If not for the cash register up front, it may seem like walking into an old female singer-songwriter’s home with the racks of western-style, vintage dresses, walls lined with rare guitars and cozy practice space.
Fanny’s House of Music captures a feeling of hospitality and humbleness with its decor as well its welcoming owners, Leigh Maples and Pamela Cole. Always causally dressed, one can tell Fanny’s is their comfort zone.
The two considered opening the shop after a discussion about the lack of music stores in Nashville that catered to the needs of women. Five years later, in 2009, their idea came to life in the, then, up-and-coming area of East Nashville.
“We were attracted to this area because there’s not a guitar store on this side of the lake,” said Maples. “It was also a population we wanted to support.”
Walk into any chain music shop, such as Guitar Center, and one might feel the overpowering masculine energy that radiates from within it.
At Fanny’s, women run the show. The underlying pressure to assert your dominance and to play the sickest and loudest guitar riff in the room is nowhere to be found. The atmosphere created by these women could not feel more easy-going.
“Sometime after I started playing guitar, if I went into a shop and the employees weren’t helping me, I’d have to prove myself,” said Maples. “I would start playing guitar and they would say ‘Oh, she can really play’ and they would help me but it shouldn’t have to be that way.”
These two certainly make it a point to welcome every customer regardless of what they look like, what gender they are or how well they know their instrument. They recognize that many different kinds of musicians inhabit Nashville. Although they opened the shop for women, they give the same treatment to men.
“They are very knowledgeable about pedals, brands, modifying your instruments, string gauges, things of that nature,” said customer Marc Giguere, inspecting a Rickenbacker bass guitar. “Every time I visit, whether I am looking to buy or not, they have an answer to all of my questions.”
Along with their carefully selected inventory, the shop also sells many guitars easier for those of smaller stature to play such as women and children.
“We try to help everyone find instruments that fit them. A lot of times you can walk into a music store and someone will try to sell you what they think is the best instrument. However, it may not the best instruments for them,” said Cole. “It’s difficult to get your arm around some of these guitars and for it to still be comfortable. Women have breasts so we take that into account as well.”
Merchandise fills nearly every empty space on the walls and every corner of each room. A variety of unusual musical instruments including pedal steel guitars, ukuleles and accordions sit among various pieces of music-themed art and memorabilia.
The eye-catching vintage and used guitars feature bright colors and uncommon constructions. This is no stark Guitar Center display of instruments straight from the factory. With each imperfection in the wood, one can tell each guitar is well-loved. Each faded color and warped piece of plastic shows the guitar’s contribution in the years of allowing an artist to perform their craft.
From the vinyl to the photographs sprinkled on each wall, badass women command every detail of this shop. The first visible record in the bin is Suzi Quatro’s “If You Knew Suzi.” Quatro paved the way for women musicians and lit a blazing fire in guitarist Joan Jett of the Runaways. She earned her name as the quintessential rock ’n’ roll lady.
For the shop’s fifth-year anniversary in March 2014, painter Scott Guiona unveiled a portrait of women music pioneers playing their guitars along the Fanny’s storefront. The eye-catching, colorful portrait includes the likenesses of Cole’s mother, Eulee, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mother Maybelle Carter, Joan Baez, Memphis Minnie, Bonnie Raitt, Carol Kaye, Joan Jett, Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Quatro, Joni Mitchell and Barbara Lynn.
“Barbara Lynn was one musician in the painting that even I didn’t know about,” said Cole. “We also wanted it to be educational so people could see the painting and go and look these women up.”
Barbara Lynn became popular in the 1960s for her ability to play the left-handed electric guitar. Her singles topped the R&B charts throughout the 1960s and, for their 1965 album, the Rolling Stones covered her single, “Oh! Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin’).” At the time, it was very unusual for a woman to write and play lead on her own songs.
Women must work very hard to be taken seriously as a guitarist but a young woman guitarist can be much more easily discouraged. The women at Fanny’s continue to find innovative ways of helping young women find their place in Nashville’s music whirlwind.
“There’s a worldwide movement happening with women and a lot of the ideas are coming from young girls. In the past, I have seen that young girls didn’t usually play electric guitar, they definitely didn’t play lead electric guitar,” said Cole. “It’s very exciting for us to be a feminine influence in this industry that’s based around men.”
They certainly influence the industry in Nashville, not only with their shop and business model but, also with the events they support.
In February 2015, Fanny’s sponsored a sold-out event called She’s A Rebel put in motion by women, both onstage and off. The songs performed all came from classic girl-groups such as The Shangri-Las and The Crystals.
The event supported girl-centered bands from Nashville such as Those Darlins and Idle Bloom. Drummer and Fanny’s employee, Tiffany Minton, hosted the show as well as performed along with two other employees.
As for the future of the music industry for women, Maples and Cole keep an optimistic mindset. Despite the poor treatment of women musicians in the past, the two know what needs to happen for this to improve.
“When we were music business students, there were women in the music industry who were in very high positions but I don’t know that many of them tried to help other women. I think they were just hanging on themselves,” said Cole. “With more women who are in positions to make decisions, things are getting better and better for them every day.”
With their time spent witnessing how people treat women in relation to music, one can see why they feel motivated to work to make the music industry more inclusive.
“Growing up, it was always the same thing: you’re the only girl in the band and in music stores,” said Cole. “That idea is so bizarre to me now.”