Joan Jett and The Blackhearts Bad Reputation Nation

Cherie Currie & Sandy West interview

VOL. 3 / NO. 4
Winter 2000

Let's get it straight how The Runaways became a band.

Sandy (West): I met Kim Fowley, who gave me Joan Jett's number. I called Joan, Joan came down to my house. Then me and Joan were working together, Kim put advertisements out, and this girl Mickey came up and auditioned.

That's Michael Steele who was in the Bangles, right?

Sandy: I don't know her as Michael Steele.

But it's the same person we're talking about?

Sandy: Yeah, it is. So we practiced together and we did like one show at the Whiskey or something with a bunch of record companies.

Wasn't Kari Krome involved with the band at one point?

Sandy: Kari and Joan were friends. Kim Fowley was working with Kari as a lyricist - he went through Kari to get Joan's number for me.

Did Kim Fowley write...

Cherie (Currie): He wrote a lot.

Sandy: Well, what he did was, he'd come up with ideas for lyrics and stuff, He'd have some lyrics in his head and would start screaming out lyrics in his living room or whatever - ideas, you know. And Joan would be on the guitar going, "Here's the chord of that... How about this?" So she'd be like masterminding all the music.

So Mickey (Michael) Steele comes in briefly on bass, right, and then she left for another project?

Sandy: What do I say, truth or no?

Cherie: Yeah, tell the truth.

Sandy: She had some emotional problems. She would cry every time before she went onstage.

So she went her own way...

Sandy: All right, so we got rid of Mickey. We had this stupid girl named Peggy, man - a nurse - for a minute. She was out. So we were advertising for bass players. Now suddenly Lita Ford comes up, auditions for bass. But when (the rest of the band) took a break, it was just me and her in the room, and we were talkin'. I said, "Well, I been playing in live bands since I was 13, playing Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath..." Lita goes, "That's where I come from, my background." She had brought her guitar up and she played great - Black Sabbath songs note for note. We jammed, and when the rest of the band came back from break I went, "This girl's gotta be hired as lead guitarist. She's absolutely amazing."

And you eventually ended up with Jackie Fox for the first record (The Runaways).

Cherie: Except not really. Jackie couldn't play bass well enough to play on the record, so...

Sandy: We hired a bass player, Nigel (Harrison) from Blondie, to do all the bass parts as a ghost player.

How'd you find Cherie?

Sandy: Well, (me and Joan and Kim Fowley) walked into a club, just to hang out, you know...

Cherie: The Sugar Shack.

Sandy: And Kim sees Cherie and he goes, "My god, this is perfect! That's the star right there." Because Kim was really into David Bowie and the whole glam thing... she had that look.

Cherie: Actually, Kim approached (my twin sister) Marie first, and Marie basically told him to fuck himself - she thought he was such a creep. Naaasty.

Sandy: Marie, man, she's funny. She's hardcore, like me.

Cherie: But then, when I recognized Joan I was like wow! Joan had her leather jacket on. As soon as I saw Joan I knew I wanted to be in a rock band. And The Runaways were already making a little bit of this celebrity thing happen.

Sandy: Kim was very good at the hype; he pushed it good. So Cherie was like the perfect frontperson. She already had the talent, the skulls, the look...

Cherie: Except I'd never sang in front of a bunch of people in my life. I was on the bus that first night and all of a sudden I was hit, because I'd never been away from home, my twin sister, anybody, ever in my life. I turned to Lita and I said, "Oh my god, I'm very homesick." and I started to cry. And she goes, "I'm fucking homesick too, man, but when I come back I wanna be somebody." And I looked at her and I went "Yeah." I never got homesick again. Me, Joan and Sandy got along so well, loved hanging out. We were all kinda scared and bewildered 'cause here we're on the fucking road - really watching this little group of ours take off. Trying to figure out everything. And then Lita was always very distant because she was just a fucking bitch.

Isn't there a story about The Runaways getting thrown in jail on tour?

Cherie: Major, major weird stuff... We were busted in Europe.

Sandy: Our tour manager goes to exchange some money in Dover, England - that's where you cross the English Channel to go over to Belgium. Now, he's wearing a police walkie-talkie... and the guy goes, "Do you have permission to carry those (walkie-talkies)?" He goes, "I'm a tour manager for a rock band and they're sitting in the cars outside." (And the guy finds out we're underage and says,) "We'd like to check their passports before you can leave to cross the Channel." This is like '76; It was before Japan. So they come out, check our passports, want to look in our luggage. They open the trunk; open, you know, a coupla makeup cases or small bags.

Cherie: What we were doing... who told us? Robert Plant, I think, told us to start collecting those little skeleton keys. He had shadowboxes of his hotel keys, like souvenirs, and they clock all the places you've been - these cities 'cause it's kind of hard to remember, "Was I there?" "Yeah..." Well, we started collecting those keys. There was this detective guy, like the guy in The Pink Panther, Peter Sellers, but a very mean, evil twin of Peter Sellers who basically looked at us and hated us for no reason... As soon as he finds the keys in Joan's bag he goes, "What are these?" And he dumps 'em all out and it's all the hotel room keys, and he goes, "Book her." Sandy: For theft! For friggin' hotel room keys!

How long were you in jail for that?

Cherie: Nineteen hours, Scotland yard...

Sandy: We all sang songs as loud as we could 'cause it was a big cement room, you know? Joan was down the hall in this little tiny cell, crying and screaming the whole night.

They had her in her own cell?

Cherie: Well, Joan was 18, a little bit older.

Sandy: We were still minors!

Cherie: So Sandy and I would sing louder and louder...

Did you sing "Dead End Justice" in there?

Sandy: No... we played hopscotch.

Cherie: But, BUT! Dig this - this is a big story; this is in my new book. Sandy, you knew that (our tour manager) gave me a vial of blow. I was doing blow at the time. That day we were to go into Dover and I did like a coupla hits... The thing is, I had our manager's blow in my makeup kit. But there was this one guy... (To Sandy: Remember the guard that was nice? He had taken a liking to me, a father figure, no doubt, and he's looking at me and going...) (Cherie makes "Take it easy, calm down," motions with her hands). I don't know if he overheard, knew I was trying to tell my manager something, knew that something was bad and knew that we were kids. And the thing is, he turns around and (Peter Sellers' evil twin) walks in and goes, "Well, I wish I had found something, because I really wanted to bust your asses, but unfortunately we didn't find anything." I'm looking (at the nice guard) and he's just staring at me, and I thought, "Okay, then he's obviously taken the drugs and..."

Sandy: Got rid of 'em.

Cherie: So this guy saved my life.

Sandy: It was like good cop, bad cop.

Well, thank you, whoever you are over there in Dover... Cherie, you eventually left the band and recorded with your sister, and solo, and pursued a movie career.

Cherie: Well, I left the band basically because I was miserable because nobody was enjoying each other's company anymore. Lita was just intimating me to the point that I just didn't want to do it anymore. She was so mean... What we should have done is taken a break. We never had any time off. And it was like, "You know what? Wait a minute, we're also kids - do we have a life?" We didn't have a life, and we were going back to Europe, which I hated. Everybody was fighting. It was awful.

Sandy: They had us on such a schedule, you don't understand. We just needed a break; we were getting tired.

(Cherie left The Runaways, recorded one LP with her sister Marie, Messin' With the Boys, and a couple of solo records, and appeared in the movie Foxes with Jodie Foster before disappearing from the public eye for a few years. The Runaways continued as a four-piece, with Joan Jett taking over lead vocals, until disbanding. The conversation now shifts to current events.)

Sandy, you have this new four-song EP out.

Cherie: She's got some shows, too, coming up in LA with some major, very cool surprises. There's so much stuff that's gonna be happening with Sandy this year - it's going to be amazing.

Sandy: Cherie's going to produce my new record. Cherie Currie's gonna produce Sandy West! I love that!

Cherie: I've got my new book (an updated edition of her autobiography, Neon Angel), coming out in February or March 2001. My book has a lot of stories in it that a lot of people don't want told.

There has been rumors of a Runaways reunion. What's the story on that?

Cherie: The thing is, we always thought a Runaways reunion could happen. The only problem was that we always thought Joan Jett would be the one who wouldn't be doing it.

Sandy: She's so busy and this and that.

Cherie: Lita Ford approached us about two and a half years ago - had us all write letters to Joan, begging her. Lita staged this whole thing. Joan all of a sudden goes, "Okay, let's do this." So we had like a million-dollar record deal right then. We were starting to think about the tour when we did a conference call between me and Sandy and Lita and Joan and Kenny Laguna (Joan's musical partner). Lita didn't last three minutes on the phone. Joan had just flown in from Hong Kong; she was exhausted. And Joan talks like, (deadpan sounding) "Yeahhh..." Joan's very Zen. And Lita gets so pissed off - she goes, "I want you to be doing fuckin' double backflips over this. I want you excited." And Joan said, "Hey, Lita, man, you know, chill out. I'm tired, I just got off a plane after fifteen hours." And Lita says, "Sorry - I can't do this. I'm out." It was like, "Wait wait wait, Lita! Lita, wait!" She goes, "No, sorry, fuck all you guys, forget it" and she hangs up the phone. That was the first reunion attempt. Then we were offered a substantial amount of money to tour two months ago, 40 dates. Joan is totally into it, we're all into it. And Lita freaks out again and says, "You know what? I don't need the money. I'm moving into my two-million-dollar house in the Caribbean - have a nice life, everyone. Good-bye." And it was just like, "What the hell?" The unfortunate thing is that the contract has to have four original members. Of course, we're not going to have Jackie, because Jackie doesn't play; she never really could play. Vicki Blue hasn't picked up a bass in a decade. Suzi Quatro, I heard, was interested in doing it..

Wow! That would be so amazing!

Cherie: And Lita walks away. She walks away again. Lita's been lying to people, blaming everything on Joan. Joan's never been the bad guy in this - she's always been the supportive one. There's something wrong with Lita. She's unstable.

Sandy: Yeah, she's being mean.

Let's talk about the upcoming Runaways documentary film, Edgeplay, for a second.

Cherie: The movie Edgeplay is coming out hopefully in the next few months. It's a documentary film about The Runaways that Vicki Blue directed - she's an absolutely fantastic director, a very talented girl. You're gonna have to see it.

Do you have any final words?

Cherie: Just that I love everyone, all the people that have stood by us all these years, that want to see The Runaways back together. Of course, now with the way I'm really making Lita stand up and take responsibility for her actions, she might never, ever want to do this again. But you know what? That's fine because...

Sandy: You never know.

Cherie: We'll just keep rockin'.

Sandy: I would like all the fans that could to call in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame judges, whoever they are, and let them how how important it is for us to be nominated. I mean, we opened the doors for all the girls, okay? It didn't matter if it was a hard rock song or a nice ballad song - just to be able to do that and have so many women come back today and go "You know, you affected our lives an you have inspired me" saying, "Because of you guys I have the inspiration and confidence to play drums... play the guitar... get up there and perform." I'm grateful for it - it blows me away.

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