The Runaways were an American all-girl rock band that recorded and performed in the second half of the 1970s. The band released four studio albums and one live set during its run. Among its best known songs: “Cherry Bomb”, “Queens of Noise”, “Neon Angels On the Road to Ruin”, “California Paradise” “Dead End Justice”, and the cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Rock n Roll”. The Runaways, though never a major success in the U.S., became a sensation in 1977 Japan thanks to the hit single “Cherry Bomb.”
The Runaways were formed in late 1975 by drummer Sandy West and rhythm guitarist Joan Jett after they had both introduced themselves to producer Kim Fowley, who gave Jett’s phone number to West. The two met on their own at West’s home and later called Fowley to let him hear the outcome. Fowley then helped the girls find other members. Two decades later he said, “I didn’t put The Runaways together, I had an idea, they had ideas, we all met, there was combustion and out of five different versions of that group came the five girls who were the ones that people liked.”
Starting as a power trio with singer/bassist Micki Steele, The Runaways began the party and club circuit around Los Angeles. They soon added lead guitarist Lita Ford who had originally auditioned for the bass spot. Steele got fired from the group, later resurfacing in The Bangles. Local bassist Peggy Foster took over on bass but left after a month. Lead singer Cherie Currie was found and recruited in a local teen nightclub called the Sugar Shack, followed by Jackie Fox (who had originally auditioned for the lead guitar spot) 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 headlined shows with opening acts such as Cheap Trick, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Van Halen. The documentary Edgeplay: A film about The Runaways, directed by former Runaway bassist Vicki Blue (aka Victory Tischler-Blue ) revealed that each girl patterned herself after her idols: Currie patterned her look after David Bowie, Jett after Suzi Quatro and Keith Richards, Ford as a cross between Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and Jeff Beck, West after Queen drummer Roger Taylor, and Fox after Kiss bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons.
Their second album, Queens of Noise was released in 1977 and the band began a world tour. The Runaways quickly became lumped in with the growing punk rock movement. The band (already fixtures on the West Coast punk scene) formed alliances with mostly-male punk bands such as Blondie, The Ramones and The Dead Boys (via New York City’s CBGB) as well as the British punk scene by hanging out with the likes of 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 number 4 imported music act in Japan at the time, behind only ABBA, Kiss and Led Zeppelin in terms of album sales and popularity. The girls were unprepared for the onslaught of fans that greeted them at the airport. The mass hysteria was later described by guitarist Jett as being “like Beatlemania”. While in Japan, The Runaways had their own TV special, did numerous television appearances and released the live album Live in Japan that went gold. Also in Japan, Fox left the band shortly before the group was scheduled to appear at the 1977 Tokyo Music Festival. Jett temporarily took over bass duties and when the group returned home they replaced Fox with Vicki Blue.
Currie then left the group after a blow-up with Ford during a photo session in the fall of 1977. Jett, who had previously shared vocals with Currie, took over lead vocals full time. The band released their fourth album, Waitin’ For The Night and started a world tour with their friends The Ramones. Currie released a solo LP, Beauty’s Only Skin Deep, produced by Kim Fowley, and began a separate U.S. tour, which included her identical twin sister Marie. Mercury Records chose not to release Currie’s album Stateside, although it was available as a pricey import via France. In 1980, billed as Cherie and Marie Currie, the sisters released a poorly-received pop-rock album for Capitol, Messin’ With The Boys.
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, Toby Mamis, 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. In the Edgeplay documentary, members of the group (especially Fox and Currie) as well as the parents of Currie and West, have accused Fowley, and others assigned to look after the band, of broken promises as to schooling and other care, using divide and conquer tactics to keep control of the band, along with the verbal taunting of band members. The band reportedly spent much time enjoying the excesses of the rock n’ roll lifestyle during this time. They partnered with Thin Lizzy producer John Alcock, after Jett’s future partner Kenny Laguna turned down the job, to record their last album And Now… The Runaways.
Vicki Blue left the group due to medical problems and was briefly replaced by Laurie McAllister in November 1978. Laurie McAllister was referred to the band by her neighbor, Duane Hitchings, who played keyboards on “And Now… The Runaways”. Before joining The Runaways, Laurie played with Baby Roulette and the Rave Ons, who had one song released on a Kim Fowley compilation LP called “Vampires From Outer Space.” Laurie appeared onstage with The Runaways at their final shows in California during the last weeks of December 1978 and McAllister quit soon after in January 1979.
Disagreement between band members included the musical style; Joan Jett wanted the band to take a musical change, shifting towards punk rock/glam rock while Lita Ford, backed by drummer Sandy West, wanted to continue playing hard rock/heavy metal music. Neither would accept the other’s point of view. Finally, the band played their last concert on New Year’s Eve 1978 at the Cow Palace near San Francisco and officially broke up in April 1979.
Jett arguably achieved the most success after the Runaways. She went on to become a partner and work with producer and former Shondell Kenny Laguna. After being rejected by 23 record labels, they formed their own label, Blackheart Records, in 1980. In doing so, Jett became one of the first female recording artists to found her own record label. The label continues to release albums by The Blackhearts, and also other new up and coming bands. Jett went on to have massive success with a cover of the Arrows’ song “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll”, as well as other hits such as “Crimson and Clover”, “Bad Reputation” and “I Hate Myself For Loving You”. Jett also co-starred in the 1987 film Light of Day with Michael J. Fox, and appeared in the 2000 Broadway revival of The Rocky Horror Show as Columbia. Jett is also on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”. She still continues playing to this day and is still touring all over the world.
West continued her association with John Alcock once the group disbanded. She and Ford attempted to record some music, but nothing materialized. She formed the Sandy West Band and toured California throughout the ’80s and ’90s, sometimes with Cherie Currie. She also did session work with John Entwistle of The Who and became a drum teacher. West was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005 and, after many treatments, succumbed to the disease in October 2006. A memorial tribute concert featuring The Sandy West Band, Cherie Currie, The Bangles, The Donnas, Carmine Appice, Vinny Appice, and several others, was held in Los Angeles.
Steele joined the all girl band The Bangles in the early 1980s and went on to success with songs like “Manic Monday”, “Walk Like an Egyptian” and “Eternal Flame”.
Lita Ford returned as a solo artist to Polygram in the 1980s, where she released several albums before pairing with manager Sharon Osbourne. She also had success with songs like “Kiss Me Deadly” and “Close My Eyes Forever” (the second a duet with her manager’s husband Ozzy Osbourne). She was married to Chris Holmes of W.A.S.P. and former Nitro singer Jim Gillette. They have two young sons. After a long hiatus, Ford staged a comeback, performing at Rock The Bayou, and other hard-rock festivals during the summer of 2008. She released Wicked Wonderland, her first studio album in 14 years, on 6 October 2009. During 2009, Lita toured as a special guest during many shows of the American Soldier tour for the ever-enduring progressive metal band, Queensryche where she performed two songs from Wicked Wonderland and reprised her duet “Close My Eyes Forever” with Queensryche lead singer, Geoff Tate. Ford is also currently making her rounds on TV, appearing on Vh1’s Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy Camp, That Metal Show, and recently filmed a guest spot on the Nickelodeon show Big Time Rush.
Upon leaving The Runaways, Currie released a 1978 solo album entitled Beauty’s Only Skin Deep and a 1980 duet album with her sister Marie, Messin’ With the Boys, in which the duo was backed by most of Toto. She also appeared in a number of films, most notably Foxes with Jodie Foster. Throughout the 1990s, Currie worked as a drug counselor for addicted teens and as a personal fitness trainer. She married actor Robert Hays; they have a son together, Jake Hays, but split up in 1997.
Currie still performs and records but her current passion is chainsaw carving. She has an art gallery in Chatsworth, California where her works are currently on display. She is also currently under contract with Jett’s Blackheart Records label.
Fox returned to using her birth name of Fuchs and graduated from UCLA summa cum laude, with a B.A. in Linguistics and Italian, and received her J.D. from Harvard becoming a lawyer, focusing on entertainment. She has lived abroad and is an amateur photographer. Fox has photographed many other famous actors such as James McAvoy and George Clooney. She co-wrote “Delilah’s Scissors” with Tischler-Blue and executive-produced and appeared in Edgeplay, Tischler-Blue’s 2005 documentary about the Runaways.
Vicki Blue, now known as Victory Tischler-Blue, briefly had a band with Currie in the early ’80s (Currie-Blue Band), but never released an album, though they did appear together in the film This is Spinal Tap. After leaving The Runaways, she shifted her focus to film and television production eventually becoming a producer/director for several reality and magazine based television shows, including Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood & Real Stories of the Highway Patrol—receiving an Emmy nomination along the way. She went on to form Sacred Dogs Entertainment Group—a motion picture production company and released a documentary on The Runaways called Edgeplay: A Film About The Runaways. Edgeplay went on to win numerous awards and became the highest rated rock documentary film on the Showtime Networks. In 2005, Tischler-Blue directed “Naked Under Leather”, a documentary about fellow female rocker, Suzi Quatro which is yet to be released. Focusing on music driven productions, she is currently executive producing a network special: The Bee Gees “Unbroken Fever”—The 30th Anniversary of Saturday Night Fever (2007). Additionally, Tischler-Blue and Ford have teamed up together with Ford recording music for El Guitarrista, an animated series that Sacred Dogs Entertainment Group is producing.
McAllister joined another of Fowley’s all-girl bands, The Orchids, who released a single LP in 1980. The original Orchids members were Laurie Bell on drums, Jan King on vocals, McAllister on bass, Sunbie Sinn, and Sandy Fury. She retired from the music industry and worked as a veterinarian technician in Eugene, Oregon. On 30 August 2011 The Runaways website reported that McAllister had died on 25 August, 2011.
The Runaways’ success paved the way for many successful female artists and female bands over the past 30 years, including The Go-Go’s, Sahara Hotnights, L7, The Donnas and new French rock and roll girl band Plastiscines to enter the male-dominated arena of rock music. They are named as influences by several male and female artists, including Running Thoughts, The Germs, Courtney Love, The Adolescents, Taylor Momsen, Ryan Ruins, Ryan Anne Kane, White Flag, and Rhino Bucket who acknowledged The Runaways’ influence on their music during their performance at the December 2006 tribute concert honoring Sandy West.
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