Sometimes when we’re reading, or doing research for punkgirldiaries posts, the same names often crop up again and again. These people aren’t always band members or even necessarily staunch believers in punk ethics or even music, more often they’re the behind the scenes people; producers, managers or promotors. When researching mid 1970s Los Angeles, there’s one name that comes up over and over, and it’s almost always followed by tales of controlling behaviour, massive fall outs, law-suits, and even accusations of dreadful impropriety… and worse. In fact this whole post could just as easily fit into our “Dealing with a difficult man” series, but here we wanted to focus on and celebrate Kari as herself, rather than just talk about her under the shadow of one of pops most polarising Svengalis.
It’s not that Kim Fowley didn’t already have a fairly successful music career behind him. In the 1960s, and dividing his time between London and Los Angeles he arranged “Nut Rocker” for B. Bumble and the Stingers, worked with a pre-Bread David Gates, did publicity for PJ Proby, supplied the lyrics for a Cat Stevens B-side, produced the first single for Soft Machine and renamed the Farinas, Family.
In the 1970s and after a stint on the soundtrack of American Graffiti, co-writes with KISS, Alice Cooper and Helen Reddy amongst others, legend goes that Kim made another brilliant and inspired move when he put an advertisement into the Bomp fanzine seeking female band members for his next project. The story continues that in 1975 he met a young Joan Jett, who he then introduced to a 15-year-old girl drummer called Sandy West, and the rest, as legend would have it, is history. Kim gets to go down in the annuls of rock as the man with the foresight, patience, talent and imagination to create and manage a band like The Runaways.
But how about this – let’s say that Kim had actually received little or no response to his own 1974 Bomp advert, and Joan Jett was in fact introduced to him by a 14 year old songwriter, who had told Fowley about HER idea to put together a young all female rock band? How about that?
Kari Krome was that 14-year-old girl. Considered something of a song-writing prodigy, she signed a contract with Kim on her 14th Birthday. She also shared with him her idea of forming an all girl New York Dolls…
The story goes that during a night out in Hollywood at Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco in 1975, Rodney introduced 13 year old Kari to Kim Fowley. At this stage Kari claims she had no idea who he was or what he did. As they got talking, she told him that she was a songwriter and as she tells it, he laughed at her “because I was a kid”, however after hearing some of her songs, Kari says, “he shut up immediately”.
Kari already knew Joan, they would ride on the same bus, and they had been talking about forming a band, “If Suzi Quatro can do it, then we can do it”, she recalls Joan saying. The Runaways themselves have always acknowledged her input, and she provides an insightful and grounded narration about those early days in the Runaways documentary “Edgeplay – A Film about The Runaways” by Victory Tischler-Blue.
With Kim suddenly putting all his energy into fast tracking the formation of the same new all girl New York Dolls that Kari had thought up, he not only claimed the project on as his own, but he also side stepped her for the final Runaways line-up. He did however keep her on for her song writing talents. Maybe she was too street smart, or maybe too punk, or even too headstrong to be a part of Kim’s “boot camp” practice sessions.
During this period, Krome penned many of The Runaways early songs including “California Paradise”, “Thunder”, “Waiting for the Night”, “Secrets”, “Switchblade Music” and “Yesterday’s Kids.”
Kari recalls an instictive and early obsession with popular music, and because of the era she was living through, was especially taken by glam rock and then punk. In 2016 Kari posted her own touching tribute to those 1970s glam nights at Rodney’s English Disco;
“I still have dreams about Rodney’s, 42 years later. I first went there when I was 12 years old. The minute I entered the club, I heard this strange music I never experienced before, and saw the fabulous creatures gliding about, my life was forever changed. I drove my family nuts, begging and cajoling rides from anyone who was either kind, or aggravated enough to take me, just to shut me up. I searched high and low for the music in my boring suburban town. I stole Rock Scene, Star, and Creem magazines from the liquor stores and mag racks. I cut my hair, I changed my clothes, and my fantasies were now consumed by rock and roll…” the full article from rockerzine.com can be found HERE.
Talking to Alice Bag in 2005, Kari spoke more about the impact that music has had on her life, concluding with characteristic, dead pan humour; “It’s always been about glam and punk for me and always will be. Nothing’s changed. When I’m 80, I’ll be on the bus: confused, covered in cat fur, but I bet I’ll be able to quote you the words to “Rebel Rebel.”
It never fails to floor us, just how many creative, sassy independent women have been forced, coerced, sidelined or shut up by controlling, and in this case much older men. You can read the harrowing “The Lost Girls” interview that was published in the Huffington Post if you have the stomach for more about the darker side of Kim’s relationship with himself, the world and more especially Kari and the other teenage girls in The Runaways. While other members of the Runaways will always have the fame and notoriety that comes with being the most visble members of a well known rock band, Kari – whose idea they sprung from and whose songs they performed, is not recognised in the same way. We’re sure that there are plenty of other “less visible” but integral women out there, but to us Kari Krome comes pretty high up on that list.
Kari now blogs for the LA Beat and the Huffington Post, and is working on a recording under the moniker “Kari Krome is Teenage Frankenstein” and you can also follow her on her (not so active) twitter @KariLKrome