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Cherie Curie - The Culture Vultures Interview (Part 1)

Cherie Currie has had a long, interesting life; first bursting into prominence as the singer of the Seventies all-female rock band The Runaways, then branching into acting with her debut with Jodie Foster in 1980’s Foxes; then becoming a drug addict; cleaning up and becoming a counselor for addicted teens; a fitness trainer; the wife of Airplane star Robert Hays and having a son, Jake, who is a musician in his own right and plays in her band; and finally an acclaimed chainsaw carving artist. (What have you done with your life?)

In the wake of the release of The Runaways biopic in 2010, starring Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as Currie, interest was heightened for a possible reunion and Currie opened for Jett at a sold-out show in California. She went into the studio with Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum to record an album with an all-star collection of collaborators, but a couple years later the album hasn’t been released and in a posting on her Facebook page it sounds like it may never come out.

Now managing herself, Currie is hitting the stage performing solo tunes, classic Runaways tracks, plus select covers she loves. She’s playing The Magic Bag in Ferndale, MI on August 8, 2013 and while promoting the show she graciously participated in a long (74 minutes!), wide-ranging conversation with Peter Schorn (in his Dirk Belligerent persona from the show) which will be aired in its entirety on the Culture Vultures Radio show on Raw Radio X at 9 pm EST on August 1, 2013 and will be available as a podcast via the Culture Vultures Radio site and iTunes shortly thereafter.

Here is the first half of a very small sampling of the conversation:

It’s been 36 years since you’ve performed in Detroit and while doing some research for the interview I saw that you were opening for Rush at Cobo Hall in 1977.

Yeah, that was a very interesting show....I don’t know it it was actually the band members or maybe some of their roadies who thought they’d teach these little teenage girls a lesson and decided to throw some 8 by 10 pieces of paper out on the stage and I jumped off Sandy’s drum riser in my six-inch platform-heeled boots and landing on one of those pieces of paper and slid right to the edge of the stage. And I’ll never forget - I still see it quite vividly in my mind - these photographers putting their hands up to catch me because I was so off balance; I was going over. I caught myself at that very last minute and I just pointed, you know, trying to come out if it like with a little bit of dignity, but yeah, that was a close call. That orchestra pit was calling my name.

You also played the Royal Oak Music Theater with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Cheap Trick opening for The Runaways?

That’s right. That was a great, great show. That was just the very beginning for everyone, you know, Tom and also Robin and Cheap Trick was just coming out of the gate as well as Tom Petty and it was an awesome show. We also brought Cheap Trick out to open for us at Santa Monica Civic.

When this tour was booked was it to promote the new album that’s now in limbo or are you just looking to play?

I’m just looking to play. I actually left my management in March, not only because my record just wasn’t even mastered yet and it was finished in early 2011, but because I wasn’t allowed to play for these last three years. The last time I played was opening for Joan Jett at the Pacific Amphitheater to a sold-out crowd of 9,000 people and the reception was far more than I ever dreamed and actually Matt Sorum, who I reached out to help me put a band together for this show, was blown out of the box at how great it turned out. We actually won Best Live Show of the year [by Real Rock Report], that performance, and he was immediately approached with a record deal but my manager, Kenny Laguna, asked for me to sign with them and I did.

My whole concept and Matt’s concept of what we wanted to do was to put out an album, get out there and play, and that’s what we wanted to do and worked very hard at it, but the thing is that Kenny just didn’t want me to play. So one summer would go by, I said, “Please don’t let me wait another summer;” another summer went by and it just got the point where it was like being an animal in a cage. Thank God I’ve been able to just walk away; walk away from the resentment and the anger and confusion of why?

Was any reason giving for why you weren’t being allowed to play?

No, no. He was saying, “It’s not the right time, it’s not the right time.” You know when you’re 53-years-old the time is now, the time is now. At that time I was 50 and I didn’t understand and it’s still something that I’ll never understand, but hey, it’s the past and you just move forward and you reclaim your life and that’s what I’ve done and I think that’s what people have to do. Because there’s a lot of people that are stuck, whether they’re stuck in a bad marriage or their stuck in work that they’re completely unsatisfied and feel crushed in and you feel like a caged animal, you’ve got to get out and that’s what I did. I’m sure he had the best intentions, but the thing is that it didn’t work for me and I’ve reclaimed my life.

It took a lot for me to walk away from this record because it’s a great album. We’ve got Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins who wrote a duet for he and I to do. Matt brought in Slash and Duff to do a song called “Mister X.” I’ve got The Veronicas, I’ve got Brody Dalle on it, even Juliette Lewis came in and lent her voice to a Runaways song we remade. It was just really a great experience and Matt is a fantastic producer and then it was as if none of it ever happened. So, time for me to take control and do what I wanted to do in the first place; that’s get out there and thank the fans for their decades of support.

After every show I go to the merchandise booth and I meet everyone, take photographs, sign their collectables and it’s my way of saying thank you for believing in a band long after I’d given up so it’s really exciting and I’m proud to be able to do this.

The mystery of this is that you were doing this album for Blackheart Records, the label that Joan Jett and Kenny Laguna run, they have you open this show in the aftermath of the movie, it’s a success, they offer you a deal, you record a record, but then they don’t release it and they don’t let you tour and they’ve never given you a reason other than, “It’s not time”?

Correct. There’s people out there are defending Blackheart, which is fine. I wrote a little letter on Facebook basically explaining to the fans exactly why this record hadn’t come out because it got to the point after about three years - Matt and I actually went on That Metal Show and we went on radio shows promoting the album that it was coming out in a month or two and all that stuff and then it didn’t.

And then there was a rerun of That Metal Show and then there was another rerun of That Metal Show and the fans kept asking, “Well, when’s it coming out?” and it got the point where I just couldn’t answer it anymore because I didn’t know, I had absolutely no control and that’s a really, really rough place to be when you don’t have answers, you’re not given any answers, so I just gave up.

I just wrote a letter and I said look, this is what’s happened and I’m sorry, but I don’t expect the record to come out now, but I’m gonna play and that was it. When my management contract expired [on] March 16th, I didn’t re-sign. But I wish Kenny all the success; I wish all the people at Blackheart all the best; but I’m moving on. You only got one life. Only one.

What can the fans expect from your show? Detroit’s going to be the second night of this tour, right?

Yes! Well, I’m doing Runaways songs and some songs off my record and I’ve reached out to the fans and asked them what their favorite songs were. It’s been really fun to go back and listen to these tunes because some of them were like, “Wow, really? That’s the song you like, OK?” It’s just a blast to be doing music that takes me back to my very, very early days and they’re great tunes and it’s just to have fun and to celebrate a band that I’m really glad and proud I was a part of.

As you said and you’ve posted on Facebook, after you perform you’re going to be at the merch booth signing stuff and meeting the fans?

Yeah, that’s my way to say thank you. This whole “pay to meet-and-greet” stuff it’s just not who I am; I’d never do that. I want to say thank you. I want the fans to know that without them, we are nothing and that’s the one thing that I think that’s forgotten so much. That’s why Lita [Ford - The Runaways’ lead guitarist and solo artist who did “Kiss Me Deadly” and “Close My Eyes Forever with Ozzy Osbourne] and I want to do a Runaways reunion because it’s for the fans. It isn’t about protecting what you would believe would be a legacy. In my eyes, I think that that’s the way Joan feels and she’s a right to feel that way, but to me it’s about the fans. It’s about going back in time and reliving it with the original living members.

I know Sandy West [The Runaways drummer who died of cancer in 2006], God rest her soul, not being with us would be a hard hurdle for us, but I know Sandy would be there in spirit because that’s the kind of person Sandy was and is. I still feel her around me today. I was so blessed that I had her play so many shows with me right up until the end, so I’m very lucky to stay so close to Sandy. I miss her a lot.

Despite being signed to a major label and touring the world, the girls were hardly rolling in dough, sharing hotel rooms until they hit Japan in 1977. Despite being the 4th most popular imported band in Japan - behind KISS, ABBA and Led Zeppelin - Currie says they only received $1200 each when they returned from their triumphant tour which is documented on the excellent Live In Japan album which was never really released domestically, but is now available on all usual digital services (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music) and as a reasonably-priced import CD from Amazon. The band’s struggle to get paid was discussed.

There was no money. We still had to ask for money to buy Tampax or a dollar for a cheeseburger. We just never saw any money, but I know that a lot of money was made. We were ripped off. Royally ripped off by Kim Fowley and our record company. I don’t know where the royalties went - certainly didn’t go to us - it went to Kim and he just kept it all.

You guys eventually had to sue Kim and the label, right?

That’s right. We did that in 1996, 1997.

So 20 years later you had to sue to get paid.

Right. That’s right. Jackie [Fox - the original bassist who quit during the Japanese tour after a suicide attempt where she slashed her arm with broken glass], wasn’t involved in the lawsuit because unbeknownst to any of us, she had already sued for her back royalties which angered me very much because at that time Sandy [had] hit the skids and she had no money and I was helping to support her, as well as Joan and I believe Lita; and Jackie went and sued without telling any of us and her being a lawyer at the time I thought that she could’ve done a suit for all of us. But she did it in a stealth kind of way, so when we found that out, we were happy to move on without her and Sandy and Lita and Joan and I sued and got the name and got our royalties.

Where do things stand with Kim now? Are you friendly with him; do you still hate him or did you hate him?

It’s kinda sick but you always seem to have a fondness for your abuser. Kim and I really buried the hatchet a couple of, three, four years ago. I saw him at a party in the Hollywood Hills and I was just at a point a where this doesn’t help me at all to feel this anger and resentment toward this man. You know, you move on. We had some long telephone conversations, hours, and actually it was a defining moment for me when he apologized. Me being a mother, he turned around and said, “I just didn’t know how to handle you girls.” He was in his thirties, here we are 15, 16, and you know what, that just rang true. I knew he was being honest. He didn’t know how to handle us. He didn’t know what to say and how to deal with the teenage angst.

As a manager, as a hustler, I don’t think there’s anyone better than Kim. But he didn’t know how to deal...he wasn’t a father, he never had a child, he didn’t have that maternal instinct to be able to sit us down and try and help us through going from child to woman and that was what we were doing while we were on the road. We were turning into young women and you have all the insecurities. We’re doing it public. We’re doing it in front of thousands of people and to stand on stage in front of thousands of people at that age and we’re trying to make a statement. You’re on choppy water there and it hadn’t been done before. It has been done with women, of course, with the great Suzi Quatro and also Fanny, but it had never been done before, teenage girls going out there like we did.

For more of this conversation, please visit the Culture Vultures Radio site for Part 2 of these excerpts to learn more about life as a Runaway; whether the band could've survived; how "What's in a name?" has cosmic significance; what’s up with the Runaways reunion; the shocking revelation as to why Lita Ford didn’t participate in the Runaways movie; how the movie portrayed the exact opposite of what really happened; and more which only scratches the surface of what was discussed.
Cherie Currie performs Thursday, August 8th at The Magic Bag with special guests White Shag. Tickets are $18 in advance. Doors: 8 pm. 18+ welcome.