All-male bands fronted by women are common in rock and its subgenres. What’s less common? Big, arena-level, all-man rock bands hiring women to join as instrumentalists on guitar, bass, drums, keys, or brass. But a handful of notable non-lead-singer ladies who have broken through the rock n’ roll glass ceiling. Here’s seven that we love:
MELISSA REESE (keyboard, Guns N’ Roses)
Musical prodigy Melissa Reese — who was born three years after the release of Appetite for Destruction in 1990 — first caught my attention during Guns N’ Roses’ 2017 show at Madison Square Garden. And she’s pretty much impossible to miss. The keyboard/synthesizer prodigy’s been a part of the band since 2016 and might be the highest-energy rock keyboardist (and background vocalist) I’ve ever seen. Apparently, she worked 15 hours a day to learn more than 50 GNR songs to prepare for the ‘Not in This Lifetime …’ tour.
TANYA O’CALLAGHAN (bass guitar, Whitesnake)
In 2021, ‘80s metal band Whitesnake announced the hire of bassist Tanya O’Callaghan, replacing outgoing bass guitar player Michael Devin. The Irish American freelance bassist has racked up tons of accolades for rockstars like Dee Snider, Steven Adler, and Maynard Keenan.
“For whatever reasons, Whitesnake has never featured a female musician in the band before,” frontman David Coverdale said at the time, “Bad boys! We are thrilled and delighted to welcome Tanya O’Callaghan to Whitesnake. Let the music do the talking!”
NITA STRAUSS (guitar, Alice Cooper)
Guitar virtuoso and Los Angeles native Nita Strauss is a showstopping talent. But as she told the audience at the NYC Guitar Center workshop a few years ago, the opportunity to play guitar for Alice Cooper “didn’t just fall out of the sky.”
She worked her butt off, auditioning for gigs even when the genre was out of her comfort zone, and showed up early. Now, it’s hard to imagine the AC band without her – though she’s busier with her own stuff (including this year’s solo album and tour with Mammoth WVH).
ORIANTHI (guitar, Michael Jackson & Alice Cooper)
The Australian blues-guitar player got her start as Carrie Underwood’s guitarist, before Michael Jackson hired her to play his ill-fated ‘This is It’ 2009 world tour. She went on to play with several others — and was the first female member of the Alice Cooper band. Her signature PRS guitar is swoonworthy.
CINDY BLACKMAN (drums, Lenny Kravitz & Santana)
Lifelong drummer Cindy Blackmangot her big break in 1993, when she was hired by Lenny Kravitz: After he flew her out to L.A. for two weeks, in which they shot the video for “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” she went on to have an 18-year run as Kravitz’s touring drummer. Blackman reportedly played with Carlos Santana for the first time in 2010, and they eventually They married in December of that year and she formally joined his band in late 2014.
SOPHIE LLOYD (guitar, Machine Gun Kelly)
Sophie Lloyd first made a name for herself through her YouTube videos, before catching the eye of Machine Gun Kelly. Today the British soloing superstar is the only woman in the star’s band and has her own Kiesel signature guitar.
Drummer Samantha Maloney is a classically trained powerhouse who’s filled in for some of the greatest — including Hole and notorious party animal dude band Motley Crüe, as well as the almighty Peaches. We think she’s fierce as heck!
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor in chief of Rockmommy.