Kim Fowley, Runaways Producer and L.A. Rock Icon, Dead at 75
Runaways producer and notorious L.A. music legend Kim Fowley has died. In recent months, he had been undergoing cancer treatments, though no cause of death has been announced. He was 75.
Charismatic and eccentric, Fowley is best remembered as the record producer for the all-female rock group the Runaways. He introduced Joan Jett, who was 15 at the time, to teenage drummer Sandy West and helped them find frontwoman Cherie Currie, lead guitarist Lita Ford and bassist Jackie Fox. He produced the band’s 1976 self-titled debut and co-wrote the band’s biggest hit, the punkish “Cherry Bomb,” with Jett. He also co-produced the following year’s Queens of Noise and helmed the same year’s Waitin’ for the Night.
Fowley was born in 1939 to Singin’ in the Rain actor Douglas Fowley and actress Shelby Payne and grew up in Los Angeles and around southern California. After a bout with polio in 1957, he began a career in the music industry, producing his first single – the Renegades’ “Charge” – in 1959. In the Sixties, worked with Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Seeds and Gene Vincent, among others, as well as launching his own solo career; his 1968 LP Outrageous, Fowley’s third, was the only one to chart in the U.S. Fowley closed out the Sixties by MCing John Lennon’s performance at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival, where he asked the audience to hold up its cigarette lighters, arguably starting the concert fad.
The Seventies found Fowley working with the Modern Lovers, Blue Cheer and Helen Reddy. He also co-wrote songs on Kiss’ hit Destroyer and a “Escape” on Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare. Fowley and the Runaways severed their ties in 1977, after which he set out to find another group he could market as a novelty. Although he worked with a few groups over the ensuing decades and continued to put out his own solo LPs, none reached the success or notoriety of the Runaways.
In the 2000s, he tried his hands at experimental film, and in 2012, he won a special jury prize for innovation and audaciousness at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival for his films Golden Road to Nowhere and BlackRoomDoom. In 2014, Fowley made an appearance in Beyoncé’s “Haunted” video.
In September 2014, Billboard reported that Fowley had been receiving cancer treatments and that Runaways frontwoman Currie, with whom he had been in legal battles over royalties over the years, had been caring for him. The pair had been working with Lita Ford that was earmarked for 2014 but has yet to come out. At the time of the Billboard report, Currie said she was optimistic about Fowley’s condition, even though he had been hospitalized and was recording a radio show for SiriusXM’s Little Steven’s Garage channel from his bed.
“Kim Fowley is a big loss to me,” E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt said in a statement. “A good friend. One of a kind. He’d been everywhere, done everything, knew everybody. He was working in the Underground Garage until last week. We should all have as full a life. I wanted DJs that could tell stories first person. He was the ultimate realization of that concept. Rock Gypsy DNA. Reinventing himself whenever he felt restless. Which was always. One of the great characters of all time. Irreplaceable.”
“Kim was a great and often misunderstood individual,” Blondie drummer Clem Burke said in a statement. “When Blondie first came to Hollywood Kim was one of the legends we wanted to meet. We did meet him at the Tropicana motel and became friends. I had the privilege of sitting next to Kim at a screening at SXSW of the Runaways film. When it ended, I turned to Kim and told him he was the hero of the film. He seemed happy to hear that.”
In a 2012 interview with the San Diego Reader, Fowley characterized his own role in rock music. “It’s necessary for a band to have charisma, and it’s necessary for a band to have a Kim Fowley in there someplace,” he said. “The behind-the-scenes people are as much a part of rock ‘n’ roll as the guys onstage…. Kim Fowley is a necessary evil.”
Ralph Peer, the chairman and CEO of Peer Music was the first to report on Fowley’s passing saying, “He and his energy will be missed.” He confirmed the news with author Harvey Kubernik.