Sandy West

When Kim Fowley introduced a young Joan Jett to a hard hitting girl drummer from Huntington Beach, California named Sandy West, it was the start of a revolution, a hard rock band; all girls from Southern California, The Runaways, would soon be hitting the road reaching their pinnacle of success in Japan, which was documented on the Live in Japan album just after their second release Queens of Noise.

The Runaways with Kim Fowley, 1975 pre-Jackie Fox

Everywhere they went, they planted a seed for girls that wanted to do what had been a male dominated thing. They weren’t the first to do this. There has always been kind of a secret or not much lauded history of female performers having their own groups going back to early frying pan Rickenbacker Electric Hawaiian guitars through late 60’s group, Fanny.

The biggest difference was that the idea finally broke into the mainstream, especially with the Japan Tour in 1977 when The Runaways were in the running for the biggest group in Japan with Abba and Kiss.

Jackie Fox – 1977

What should have been a platform for further success became a time of a breakdown on the part of bassist, Jackie Fox, who exited the tour early and left the scene altogether to further her education and a breakoff in regards to Cherie Currie, who left the group soon after returning to the states due to some infighting ( I somehow see Kim Fowley in the mix on this one ) after some photo spreads of Cherie by herself came out, much the way it happened to Blondie and No Doubt later on.

Vicki Blue in The Runaways

The Runaways soldiered on as a four piece with a new bass player, Vicki Blue for another album on Mercury, Waitin’ For The Night, before Mercury pulled the plug and a band that should have been the biggest all girl hard rock band of all time was now left to their Indie selves, sitting somewhere between the world of The Ramones and Aerosmith in a field of one.  

The young dream team that were just excited for the possibility of being out on the road, now were dividing into two camps with Joan Jett making roots in the punk community among The Sex Pistols and Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers while Lita Ford and Sandy West were wanting to follow out their dreams of Deep Purple Highway Stars. The rub had set in, despite the mighty efforts to keep it all in one place.

Their fourth album, And Now…The Runaways, [The Runaways featuring Joan Jett – Mama Weer All Crazee Now – 4 song mini EP]was not released until 1981 on L.A. label Rhino Records.

Cherie had tried to go more mainstream alone with Kim Fowley as Producer then later with her twin sister to some limited success as well as a little acting in Foxes and This is Spinal Tap.

Kim was both the biggest problem for the band and at the same time the main reason they were able to pull all the pieces together. If there ever was a person, the human equivalent of a search engine, that connected to everybody on the Sunset Strip in the mid 70’s it was Kim Fowley.

Rodney Bingenhiemer in front of popular club where Joan Jett and Cherie Currie hung out

Kim was a songwriter, promoter, entertainer but most importantly a deal maker. He put the deal together. In this case, it would have been better if anybody and I mean anybody else had helped to get these girls together, but, at the same time, probably nobody else could have put the right talent together from such a small pool in such a large metropolitan area that included a stretch from the San Fernando Valley down to Orange County.

In an age where there was no internet, only a mastermind like Kim Fowley could have put these teenage girls all in the same practice place and tell them how great they were going to be.

Lita Ford with famous Hamer during The Runaways

Now, Lita has made some statements to the effect that it would be great for a reunion. It is a known fact that this is what Sandy always wanted. I am sure that Sandy would love to see this happen, just as Phil Lynott has been able to watch the work that Gary Moore, Scott Gorham and Brian Downey have done to carry on the Thin Lizzy torch all these years later.

When I watch video of Sandy West, she was hitting those drums and cymbals hard, I felt like she was modeling her playing after Joey Kramer, but, she was hitting as hard as John Bonham and Bill Ward. She was a great drummer, which is the anchor of every great band.

I bought The Runaways first album when it came out, just out of curiosity. I might have read about them in Circus or something, but, I don’t remember it. I do remember seeing a girl my same age on the cover, Cherie, holding a microphone, ready to rock.

When I flipped it over, it had the rest of band, their ages next to their names. They were like 15 or 16. I bought it because I wanted to know what girls my own age were doing to get on Mercury Records.

I played guitar and that was my dream, which was way beyond my ability at the time. When I opened the gatefold, I thought that Cherie and Joan were particularly hot, but, Sandy’s name and the way she looked reminded me of the girls I would run into at Magic Mountain, when I would get the chance, leaving the doldrums of Fresno, California, with my friends and heading to L.A. in a Led Zeppelin shirt and acting like I was just part of the Strip.

Samantha Maloney

I still think Samantha Maloney, who I saw rock with Motley Crue like nobody’s business, not to mention Hole and Chelsea Girls with Allison Robertson of The Donnas, could be as strong for Sandy’s throne.

I know there has also been a debate of who should play Bass since Jackie Fox did play with the “Famous Five” that went to Japan, but, Vicki Blue aka Victory Tischler-Blue,  held the bottom line doing another album and getting along with the band, maybe in a much easier way because of less personality conflicts then Jackie.

That is where it gets difficult. The two members of The Runaways that I got to know on a more personal basis were the two aforementioned bass players and I like them both.

The Runaways with Vicki Blue

I worked at West LA Music in the Pro Audio Department around 1989-90 and hit it off as a friend and Beatles trivia expert with a co-worker that turned out to be a good friend with Vicki Blue. I didn’t know it until I ran into her in the Pro Audio department one day wearing a black leather jacket and jeans, looking not much different than the Waitin’ For The Night Cover.

I found out he went to high school with her and friends referred to them as “Black and Blue” because his last name was Black, in fact, the bass she used in The Runaways was his that she had borrowed for the audition. I liked her; in fact after she directed the Edgeplay documentary I did message back and forth with her on Myspace about how much I liked it. I think that documentary did more than anything to keep the dialogue going, even if Joan Jett wasn’t directly involved. Edgeplay had those important last personal interviews with Sandy. It was almost like the band had to speak for themselves because others weren’t doing the job. This would include the committee that sets up the voting for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Jackie Fox in The Runaways

Later on, back before Facebook and Myspace, Jackie Fox had a website showing off her black and white photography and had an email group that you could join to get emails about her world travel exploits and Runaways stories as she would remember and put them together. Her writing was really entertaining. A couple of times I sent back a kind of funny off the wall humor email back to her and she made the same kind of reply back, so I really enjoyed her humorous side.

I don’t know why, but, when I was going througha rough time in 2004, I emailed her to let her know all the changes I was going through. She sent me back one of the most supportive, if I could say, one of the best things that could be said at the time that just told me to look ahead. Things were going to be better.

Early U.S. Runaways tour

If you learn about Jackie, you will find out, that even though she was not on the Bass in The Runaways, she still loved music and was involved more than you would think. She was the key to linking Ozzy up with Randy Rhoads as well as Gene Simmons going to see Van Halen, leading to the Gene Simmons demos. She may be an Attorney, but, she is an Entertainment Attorney. Her heart is in the arts.

The Runaways Mercury records signing

To tell you the truth, I could not decide between the two in a reunion. I feel like they would both need their time on stage with the band.  I think both of them have worked hard to keep the bands’ name and image out there.     

Cherie with her Sandy West mermaid carving, the mighty chain saw artist!

Cherie has done so much in the last decade, from being a part of Edgeplay to the whole Sandy West tribute show and her statue carving of Sandy. It’s like, despite all the inner tension that had to be worked out, in reality, they are all family.

 I don’t think a lot has to be said about Joan Jett and Lita Ford. They have both become successful in their own rights. I think the reunion sends a different message. A reunion that shows all the band together, not  on film, or as a couple of members getting together as a one-off would show how important they are in that whole family tree of bands and how good they really were and are.

I’d love to see them get into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but, this is the same hall that has not inducted the three bands that got me started in this whole rock and roll thing, Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy and UFO.  It should happen for all three, I will be lucky if any of them make it.

I can say, if Patti Smith made it, The Runaways should definitely be inducted. Sometimes you got to wonder if there is still some back office black ball game going on. It makes no sense at all. A band that inspired girls much in the same way The Ramones did playing every little watering hole in the United States.

There have been online petitions to get them into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, documentaries and movies about Joan and Cherie’s relationship within the band in The Runaways movie. Wouldn’t it be something just to see at least of four of them onstage with maybe Samantha Maloney on drums? I think so, better yet, LIVE in Nashville so I don’t have to drive too far! Ha!

– Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN