The Case of the Electrified All Girl Band
The mystery of a two-hit wonder
Though performers’ big dreams sometimes get shelved, so does vinyl, which lasts for decades in thrift-shop bins, used record stores, and attics that’ll someday give up their contents to a yard sale. That promise is what keeps crate-digging music hounds on the hunt, pawing and sneezing their way through the dusty stacks mining for treasure. Not just theoretically: it’s a rule of the marketplace that scarcity drives value, and a rare platter doesn’t necessarily have to be a triumph of talent to command a price tag plump with zeroes from collectors who catch their thrills from the chase. In that way, recordings do live on and potentially garner a cult fan base—twenty-first-century-era digital tools, via which the owner of one copy of a physical recording can make that music available to uncountable listeners on the internet, can help with that. If the performers don’t stay in the business, though, the stories and the personalities behind the music can slip into the realm of mystery.
In the mid-1970s, New Orleans’s Electrified A.G.B. (All Girl Band) put out two twelve-inch singles that lots of people agree are not only holy-grail rarities but truly funky gems on their own merits: “Fly Away” and “Shed Some Funk On You.” Original copies of both are hundred-dollar purchases on auction sites, but local record collectors and WWOZ DJs Brice “Brice Nice” White and Melissa “DJ Soul Sister” Weber came across theirs in the time-honored tradition—poking around in junk-shop crates.
“I first learned about the Electrified A.G.B. when I came across their twelve-inch single of ‘Shed Some Funk on You’ in a bin at the old Thrift City store, in the strip mall on North Carrollton Avenue at Tulane Avenue. This was in the 1990s,” wrote Weber, who is also currently curator of the Hogan Archive of New Orleans Music and New Orleans Jazz at Tulane University Special Collections, in an email.
“Anyone shopping for used records at the thrift store is usually doing it with a purpose—to find something interesting, good, and sometimes rare. When I was searching for records in this way, I’d always scan liner notes to pick up on unique song titles and other interesting details. This single gave me all of that in the mentions of ‘electrified,’ ‘all girls band,’ and ‘funk.’ Then when I looked at the record label, Dome City, and saw the illustration of the Superdome, I realized it was a New Orleans production. I deduced from the listed ‘disco version’ of the song that it had to be from the late 1970s, even though no year is included on the label. With all those clues, I couldn’t leave it in the store. It wasn’t a hard sell at one buck, but even if the price tag was much higher, I would have absolutely bought it because I’d never heard of any female-only funk or disco band from New Orleans. It became one of my prized rare possessions and, even better, the song was catchy too. I’ve never seen another copy of it, and always wondered who this group was.”
White, who found a promotional copy of “Fly Away” inscribed to a DJ at New Orleans’s WYLD radio, thought he might be able to reissue it on Sinking City Records, the local independent label he co-founded with another WWOZ show host in 2012—but discovered that the record’s producer and Dome City label owner, former McDonogh 35 band director Lloyd Harris Jr., had already sold the rights to Tuff City, a New York–based label that specializes in obscure funk and rhythm and blues reissues (a track from the Dome City Orchestra, the only other band on Harris’s small local label, appears on Tuff City’s Funky Funky New Orleans Volume 5 collection, along with tracks from Ernie Vincent, Eddie Bo, and Deacon John.)
Tuff City licensed “Fly Away” to a small Italian record label for a special 2022 release as part of that year’s Record Store Day, a marketplace holiday for which unique, limited-edition items are often prepared. The label, Serendeepity, noted that their team’s hopes to reissue the track had long been “stymied by its extreme rarity” and praised its jazzy, soaring, horn-spangled sound as “flawless.”
Lloyd Harris Jr., who died in 2021 at age eighty-one, worked in elementary, middle, and high-school band programs in New Orleans for almost fifty years. In the mid-seventies, he was at McDonogh 35 and also dabbling in writing and producing for Chocolate Milk, the funk band that eventually took the Meters’ old slot as Allen Toussaint’s studio band. Maybe it was the success of that group’s big, disco-fied, horn-heavy groove that led him to put together a band of students with a simpatico sound—with the twist that his new ensemble was all girls.
Synn Claire Banks had played clarinet and choreographed for the McDonogh 35 band under Mr. Harris. She’d graduated and started attending Xavier by the time he put together the A.G.B from current McDonogh 35 students, but came back to help with makeup, costumes, and dance for the new group, an eight-piece like Chocolate Milk.
“And then the lead guitarist quit, and the band director looks at me,” she said during a recent phone call from her home in New Orleans. “The next thing I know he’s taking me to the music store to buy a guitar.”
With lessons, Banks picked up enough to handle lead guitar duties. The busy schedule honed her chops as well: “We booked at least one gig every weekend, Friday or Saturday or both Friday and Saturday,” she said. “And on Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving, he would book a Marriott Hotel and have a big dance party with three bands, and we were the main one. It was very empowering to get a chance like that. We were always the only all-girl band.”
Banks went on to graduate school at the University of New Orleans, earning a master’s in drama and communications; she also competed in the 1975 Miss Black Louisiana pageant and placed second runner-up. She stayed in touch with theater friends and was active in Toastmasters; she worked as a jobs recruiter and career counselor. The only member of the A.G.B. she stays in active touch with, she says, is drummer Carol Davis—who still drums every Sunday at church. Once, shortly after Hurricane Katrina, Banks recounted, she was driving and heard the A.G.B. on WWOZ and called up the station. “I wanted to see if I could get a copy through them!” she said. “I didn’t have one.”
“I’m partial to not calling a band like A.G.B. a ‘mystery band,’” Melissa Weber wrote. “Just because we weren’t there doesn’t make them mysterious. Because to them, their families, their producer, and their fans back in the day when they released their recordings, they were very much not a mystery but, perhaps, the biggest thing happening.”
A columnist since 2016, Alison Fensterstock has written for 64 Parishes about music, dogs, witches, hippies, and other things.