Lindsay Lindenbaum’s Tomboy takes an earnest look at an unrecognized segment of the music scene: female drummers. As she chronicles the stories of four different women, each representing a generation of musical styles, she paints a rich portrait of the role of women in the music business.
The subject whose career began the earliest is Bobbye Hall, who started out as a session drummer for Motown in the 1960s and eventually made her way to touring with Bob Dylan. Back then, someone said to her: “You don’t sound like a woman playing drums,” which pretty much sums up the theme of the film. Now retired and living in Joshua Tree, California, she reminisces about those days as she flips through photo albums filled with faded memories.
Then there’s Samantha Maloney, whose rock and roll dreams came true as she drummed for Hole and Motley Crüe in huge stadiums. She toured the world, and even had her photo adorn a product package for Zildjian cymbals. Still, when she is introduced by Nikki Sixx in a rather sexist way as “the most beautiful member of the band,” she plays along. A girl’s gotta do what she’s gotta do.
Tomboy‘s still-performing subjects are Chase Noelle, who plays with the New York-based punk band Boytoy, and Bo-Pah Sledge, who formed the Sledge Grits Band with her three sisters when they were literally children.
Mixing archival footage (rescued from film and old videotapes) with new interviews, Lindenbaum tells their stories in a nonlinear way. As we watch an episode of Maloney’s life, we’re suddenly transported into Sledge’s world, and so on. But the narrative continues to move along, making for compulsive viewing. In one moment, you’re looking at a young Hall playing the bongos in the Motown studios, and in the next you’re watching Maloney power-drumming onstage with Courtney Love.
Although there are plenty of examples of their admittedly awesome drum skills to see here, Lindenbaum’s film settles down in the last third for the women to talk frankly about their lives, including their regrets. Sledge, who lived with her beloved father (afflicted with multiple sclerosis), has probably the most touching story to tell.
Also poignant is Hall’s wistful return to Detroit after so many years to set eyes on the old studio again. And Maloney laments her inability to conceive a child, thinking she’d wasted too much time on the road.
The archival footage is fascinating. For example, there’s dressing room footage of Hole warming up to go onstage, and a clip of the Sledge Sisters performing on the CBS Morning Show when Bo-Pah was just six years old. Her drumming skill is incredibly precocious, to say the least.
One of the anchors asks, “Where were you when they were doing tryouts for The Partridge Family?,” which is hilariously inane and probably flew way over her head.
Originally scheduled for the canceled SXSW, the premiere of Tomboy is TK, but it’s worth looking out for.