Tuesday, October 7, 2008

She's A Little Runaway

The Runaways were a groundbreaking teenage all-girl rock band that performed in the 1970's.

Drummer Sandy West and rhythm guitarist Joan Jett on separate occasions approached American record producer, Kim Fowley to discuss their interest in starting an all-girl rock band. Fowley eventually gave Jett's phone number to West and the two met up on their own to discuss the possibilites. After several rehearsals they contacted Fowley to hear the results. Fowley believed that 5 teenage girls playing rock n' roll music in leather and lingerie was highly marketable and agreed to be their manager and help the girls find other members.

Bassist Micki (Michael) Steele was their first recruit and The Runaways began the party and club circuit in Los Angeles. In 1976, they added 16-year old lead guitarist Lita Ford and lead singer Cherie Currie to the fold. Micki Steele was the first to leave the group, later resurfacing in the hugely successful band The Bangles. Ann Bolelyn replaced Steele as the new bassist and keyboard player, but soon left after a disagreement with Fowley. Peggy Foster took over on bass, but she also left the band after sometime. Finally the line-up was complete when Jackie Fox was added on bass.

The Runaways were signed to Mercury Records in 1976 and their debut album, "The Runaways" was released shortly after. The band toured the U.S. and played numerous sold out shows. They opened for such legendary bands such as Cheap Trick, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Ramones and Van Halen.

Their second album, "Queens of Noise" was released in 1977 and the band began a world tour. Constantly being lumped in with the growing punk movement The Runaways formed alliances with Blondie, The Dead Boys, The Ramones, The Damned, Generation X and The Sex Pistols.

In the summer of 1977, the group arrived in Japan for a string of sold out shows. The Runaways were the #4 imported music act in Japan, only trailing behind Led Zeppelin, ABBA and Kiss in terms of album sales and popularity. The girls were unprepared by the mass hysteria and legions of fans that were waiting for them at the airport when they arrived. While in Japan, The Runaways had their own TV special, did numerous television appearances and released a live album that went gold. Shortly before the group was scheduled to appear at the 1977 Tokyo Music Festival, bassist Jackie Fox left the band and upon returning to the states was replaced by 17-year old Vicki Blue.

Singer Cheri Currie then left the group and Jett took over lead vocals. The band released their fourth album, "Waiting For the Night" and started a world tour with The Ramones. Currie released a solo LP "Beauty's Only Skin Deep", which was produced by Kim Fowley, and began her own tour which included her identical twin sister Marie.

Due to disagreements over money and the management of the band, the Runaways and Kim Fowley parted ways in 1978. The group quickly hired new management, who also worked for Blondie and Suzi Quatro. When the group split with Fowley, they also parted with their record label Mercury/Polygram, to which their deal was tied.

Bassist Vicki Blue left the group and was replaced by Laurie McAllister. The band partnered with Thin Lizzy producer John Alcock, to record their final album "And Now......The Runaways." The band played their last concert on New Year's Eve 1978 and broke up in April 1979 with the departure of Joan Jett.

Although The Runaways were only together for four years, their status in rock history is firmly cemented. Initially dismissed by American music critics and radio programmers as another one of Kim Fowley's gimmicky acts, The Runaways proved in reality, to be excellent musicians. L.A. Weekly called The Runaways an "enormously influential band.", noting that after The Runaways success, everything had changed for female rock musicians. The Runaways success paved the way for many top female artists and female bands over the past 30 years, including The Go-Go's, Sahara Hotnights, Bikini Kill, L7, and more recently The Donnas. The Runaways have some historical significance for being the first all-girl rock band to have hit-songs, record platinum albums (at least 1,000,000 units sold), tour internationally, and acquire fame. Despite those accomplishments, the girls themselves never made a big deal about any of it.

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