“There was no support for girls playing rock and roll, at first people thought we were cute, but as soon as anyone figured out that we were serious, then that’s when the name calling would start. I never understood what the problem was”. Joan Jett
The Runaways formed in Los Angeles California in 1975. At 16 years old they were introduced to each other through producer Kim Fowley who helped founders Sandy West and Joan Jett recruit other members to form the classic Runaways line-up, featuring lead guitarist Lita Ford, singer Cherie Currie and Jackie Fox on bass.
Producer Kim Fowley called them “Amazonian…like Wonder Woman with guitars, like a sports team with musical instruments, and teenage lyrics”. Fowley himself contributed to the lyrics of the bands first hit “Cherry Bomb”.
Fowley described himself as the “drill sergeant and they were the recruits” and immediately sent them to what he called “boot camp”, which entailed daily rehearsals mixed with a regular slew of insults from their drill sergeant/producer, who according to the band would just use the word “dog” in front of everything to make a new put-down.
In the film “Edgeplay: A Film about The Runaways” Jackie Fox described her band-mates as; “ A group of five people imitating five other people. Cherie was David Bowie, Joan was Suzi Quatro, Lita was Ritchie Blackmore or Jimi Hendrix, I don’t know who Sandy thought she was but probably a member of Queen, and I was Gene Simmons”.
“Can’t stay at home, can’t stay in school” – Cherry Bomb
In 1976 the band signed to Mercury Records and recorded their debut album with Fowley at the controls “I was trying to capture noise…I’m looking for magic and noise, I want authentic slime…” he said. Fowley’s version of authenticity also included sending bassist Jackie Fox home from the studio and employing Nigel Harrison from Blondie to play all the bass parts.
After the album’s release they played a number of shows with Cheap Trick and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and after their second album, Queens of Noise (1977) the band embarked on a world tour. Despite their obvious influences from both the worlds of glam (Jett) and metal (Ford and Fox) the Runaways quickly became associated with the growing punk rock movement and went onto play with the Ramones and the Dead Boys, as well as becoming familiar figures around the UK punk scene, where especially Joan, was regularly seen loafing around with members of The Adverts, Blondie and the Sex Pistols.
In Punk’s summer of 1977, The Runaways scored a hit record in the shape of “Cherry Bomb” in Japan, making them the fourth biggest imported music act at the time, only behind ABBA, Kiss and Led Zeppelin. The mass hysteria they generated there was later described by Jett as being “like Beatlemania”. When the group returned to the US, bass player Fox was replaced by Vicki Blue, and then after more disagreements, Cherie left in the autumn of 1977, leaving Joan Jett as the band’s vocalist. Further disagreements led to The Runaways and Kim Fowley parting company in 1977, which was followed by the final Runaways final album “and now…The Runaways”. The band played their last concert on New Year’s Eve 1978 and officially broke up in April 1979.
In 2010, Sony pictures released a film “The Runaways”, based on the book “Neon Angel – Memoir of a Runaway” by Cherie Currie, that focuses on the friendship between Joan Jett and Cherie. Sony’s accompanying blurb tells us,
“With its tough-chick image and raw talent, the band quickly earns a name for itself and so do its two leads: Joan is the band’s pure rock n’ roll heart, while Cherie, with her Bowie-Bardot looks, is the sex kitten”. Despite being only 16 years old when they started, making three albums together, touring the world, being more than proficient at both writing and playing music,
the role of girls in bands has once again been reduced to either tough rock-chick, or sex kitten. Tut.
There is so much to say about The Runaways, so much about how they were the natural successors of Quatro, and the pioneers for riot grrls like Bikini Kill. We’ll be dealing with the separate members of the band more thoroughly in the coming months. Until then, their own website is a treasure trove of all things Runaways.
In July 2015, after Fowley’s death, Jackie Fox revealed in The Huffington Post, that she was raped by Fowley on New Year’s Eve 1975 at an after-party following a Runaways performance at an Orange County club. Sixteen years old at the time, Fox was reportedly given Quaaludes by a man who she thought was a roadie, and while she was incapacitated, Fowley raped her.