On the surface, being lead singer of The Runaways, a pioneering all-female teen rock band in the 70s seemed like a glamorous proposition. However for a 15 year old Cherie Currie, she could never have imagined the drama which would unfold in her brief two and a half year stint with the band. Created by svengali producer and songwriter Kim Fowley in 1975, the Runaways lineup also debuted now-famous rockers Joan Jett and Lita Ford. Although the American public were slow on the uptake, the band gained immediate success with their first single ‘Cherry Bomb’ and self-titled debut album in Australia and Japan. While The Runaways did tour Japan (which was where it all fell apart for the girls), they never made it to Australia. Cherie Currie is about to rectify that when she will tour Australia in May with her own band, playing songs from The Runaways period as well as tunes from her solo recordings, including the recently released album Reverie. Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips spoke to Cherie about the upcoming tour and her incredible life story.
Much of the mayhem involved with the band is well documented in Cherie’s memoir Neon Angel, which led to film The Runaways, starring Kristen Stewart and Dakato Fanning. The book was updated a decade later to include more candid detail. After Cherie left the band, she released a solo album in 1978, recorded further music with her sister Marie and began working in film. More recently she became involved in chainsaw carving, opened her own gallery and then in 2015, returned to music to release a new solo album called Reverie. But to learn what this girl has endured in her life is to realise how much of a survivor she is. Going into The Runaways she was not in a great emotional state to begin with, having been raped by her sister’s boyfriend merely a year or so earlier. Then once in the band, Cherie and the other girls were taken advantage of by those in control, managers Kim Fowley and Scott Anderson. It wasn’t long after the formation of the band, that Cherie became attracted to Anderson, fell pregnant to him but felt obliged to have an abortion so that the band could continue touring. Oblivious to Cherie at the time was the fact that Anderson had been sleeping with other members of the band too. If it wasn’t Anderson taking advantage of Currie, it was Fowley, who verbally and emotionally abused the girls and even pimped them out to male music industry identities in order to further the band’s career. Also documented in Neon Angel and confirmed by other members of the band is the story of how Kim Fowley made them all watch him having sex with a girl, supposedly as some sort of bizarro toughening-up exercise, a taste of what they may or may not encounter during their time on the road. The catalyst for Currie leaving the band however, was the suicide attempt by the band’s bass player Jackie Fox, who slashed her wrists while on tour in Japan. Cherie says that Fox was placed in a cab unsupervised, flown back to America and was immediately replaced so that the band could record their next album. Tensions were high between band members too after Fowley had sent Currie on a photo shoot of her own in Japan without the other band members. Currie suggests she was just doing what she was told but Lita Ford didn’t believe that and confronted her aggressively over the incident. That became the final nail in the coffin as far as Cherie was concerned, so she quit the band.
Amazingly, despite everything that Fowley had put the band through, Currie recently made peace with him when she found out that he had become seriously ill. In fact, Fowley wrote and co-produced (with Cherie’s son Jake) 4 tracks on Cherie’s 2015 album Reverie. Fowley passed away on January 15, 2015. I asked Cherie how she remembers Fowley now.
“Well you see, I changed the narrative there because I used to think back and it was not a good feeling,” she begins to explain. “I was very, very angry and hurt because when you are that young and impressionable and somebody is verbally abusing you, it was hard. To be in a teenage band where all of us girls are just finding out who we are together, there was a lot of jealousy and resentment. Kim and I buried the hatchet a few years ago. Then he called me about a year and a half ago and asked me if I would be interested in making a record with him. Now I knew he was ill. I said I would absolutely love to do that. For me it was coming full circle and having good feelings about what happened and being able to change the memory. My son came in on the project too and wrote with Kim and myself. Then after 4 songs, Kim was so ill that he couldn’t continue and he turned the record over to my son. So Jake ended up producing and finishing off the record, which is out now and will be available when I come out there. I think the most memorable part was that toward the end of his life, he called and asked if he could stay at my home. I was going to care for him until he passed away. Unfortunately he got terribly ill after just 9 days and was put in a hospital and passed away shortly after. But I was able to spend time with him. It was just him and me and he was bed ridden, so trust me if I have had any bad intentions, I could have definitely done something about it then because he hit on me for everything. I had a great time with Kim and I will miss him.”
To understand how Cherie could be such a forgiving person, we need to look to yet another, even more horrific event which took place after Cherie had left The Runaways. At the age of just 17 with so much disturbance already inhabiting her mind, Cherie says she was then kidnapped by a guy whom she naively accepted a ride from. The guy took her to his home, tied her up, told her he had already murdered some girls and that she was to be next. With nothing to lose, Cherie claims she took a small knife that she found and stabbed the guy in the stomach. The wound did little but agitate him and he then threw her on the bed and bashed her. The only reason she is alive today is that, for some reason she decided to play along with the guy’s delusional thoughts that he and Cherie were meant to be together. It’s no wonder that she became addicted to drugs and alcohol for much of the 80s. For a girl who has experienced too much life to comprehend, how has she survived and become the happy person she is today?
“What got me through was a gal that had been kidnapped as well, right after or around the time I was,” says Cherie. “She had been hitchhiking and got kidnapped by a murderer and he took her arms with a hatchet and left her to die. But he hit her with such a blow, that it cauterized her arms and she shoved them into dirt and she was found naked, walking down the road. Then there was this picture that I saw in People magazine of her getting married. The thing was, I thought if she can live with that, then who am I to complain. I always looked for the people that survived as well and took courage from them because at the time, it is really difficult to get over that. I realised that I was not a victim. I was an absolute survivor and a lot of girls don’t survive and who am I sit on a pity pot and feel sorry for myself. And I also realised that I have to listen to that inner voice. That inner voice told me not to get into that car. Even though it was in front of my friends and he was just fooling around in the park, my inner voice said don’t do it but I did it anyway because we don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings. We don’t want to hurt other people, so we put ourselves in harm’s way and I have learned that I always listen to that voice now.”
Currie is keen to point out that there were many positive elements to her time with The Runaways too, including the fact that along with a few other female artists, the band was paving the way for young girls to pick up a guitar and join a rock band. “We had Suzi Quatro who was just blazing a trail,” she says. “An all-girl teenage rock band had never been done. We really did see when we got to Japan how much we were appreciated because at that time there was a real movement there. You know, young girls didn’t want to be so subservient to the men, which was kind of their culture at the time. Again, when you are that young and you are out there without any parental supervision, it was a concrete jungle out there I tell you. But I think I was able to be rebel and get out there and do something that hadn’t really been done before, with girls that I really did appreciate. It happened very fast. It wasn’t like we’d worked so hard and there was this pot of gold at the end of a rainbow kind of thing, it happened extraordinarily fast. We were in the studio before we knew it and we were on the road. It was a whirlwind. But anything is possible now for girls. It wasn’t that way for us. It was a different time.”
One of the joys of Cherie’s life today is watching her son Jake grow as an artist. As well as co-producing the Reverie album, Jake also played in Cherie’s band for several tours. However, his own band Maudlin Strangers had begun to develop a larger audience and he now concentrates on that project. “No, my son won’t be coming to Australia,” Cherie tells me. “He has gone on to bigger and better things. He has his band Maudlin Strangers and he’s doing great. He’s been on the road, I think the longest was about a month and a half on the road but he did four tours with me. Now he’s seeking a record deal. He wasn’t too happy with the record company. But in the meantime he has got the acting bug, which is great. He’s also an accomplished tattoo artist, a very accomplished music guy who plays almost every instrument brilliantly, great singer, songwriter and producer and now he wants to act.”
One of Cherie’s major musical influences was David Bowie. She even cut her hair short while in The Runaways to replicate his Ziggy Stardust look and got to meet her idol once, when he and Iggy Pop attended a Runaways’ concert in Boston. I wondered how the rock legend’s death affected her. “I actually had the flu and I was really sick. I had a 102.5 fever when I got the text,” she recalls. “I was so ill that … I think it would have been even more devastating to me but I was almost too sick to even comprehend it. I actually watched The Man Who fell To Earth yesterday. It’s very sad. I’d heard a couple of years ago that he was ill, although he didn’t look it. People like that, you just think it will never happen, that they will live forever but they don’t and it’s tragic because he was so amazing, truly amazing. If it wasn’t for him I would not have been in The Runaways. I absolutely know that for a fact.”
Cherie is excited about her first trip to Australia and recent performances seen on YouTube reveal that she is in fine voice, perhaps even better than her days with The Runaways. “I was 15 years old when I joined that band and It still shocks me today because my voice was so low,” she says. “Girls voices change as well. I didn’t know the first thing about singing. They liked my looks, saw that I could deliver a song. How that happened I will never know. As I grew older, I was actually able to hold a tune or sing a lot better than I used to as a kid. You find yourself as you get older and you really don’t care anymore. It allows you to stretch your artistic legs a bit. But my goodness, I have always wanted to come to Australia. I believe that our album went gold there which is what I heard in the 70s and that was so exciting. The fact that I never got a chance to come over… it is just a dream come true for me. So there’s going to be a lot of very cool Runaways’ songs and a few covers that I really like that I have recorded. I think people will be pleasantly surprised. What I think they loved so much about The Runaways’ music was how it made them feel. It takes you back to a time that was a lot more carefree and I want to be able to give that to them. It’s going to be a very cool setlist. I have always, always wanted to come to Australia. To me it is such a gift. It will be fun, we’ll have a blast.”
Friday 20th May – Kings Arms, Auckland
Saturday 21st May – Bodega, Wellington
Sunday 22nd May – Churchills, Christchurch
Thursday 26th May – The Triffid, Brisbane
Friday 27th May – Manning Bar, Sydney
Saturday 28th May – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Tuesday 31st May – The Gov, Adelaide
Wednesday 1st June – Rosemount, Perth