Latest release: Reverie (Independent)Website: www.cheriecurrie.com
1976 was an exciting year for music. Disco was in full swing and some of the biggest artists of the decade were at the height of their popularity and their creative powers. Bowie was transitioning into the Thin White Duke, ABBA mania was sweeping the globe, Led Zeppelin were still the biggest touring act of all time – and the world was on the cusp of the punk explosion. Into this turbulent period, five teenage girls from LA with a rock-or-die attitude and a sound like Aerosmith crossed with the Stooges dropped their first album. With their youthful energy, teenage sexuality and oestrogen-driven guitar aggression, the Runaways seemed to happen at exactly the right moment. A lot older and wiser than the 15 year old she was when first joined the band as its blond bombshell lead vocalist, Cherie Currie is quick to agree.
“The mid-70s you had Bowie and Elton John, Alice Cooper and Suzi Quatro… the list just went on and on and on, all of these amazing performers – people that were like nothing we had ever seen before,” she says pleasantly. “So it was the perfect time for the Runaways to happen. I don’t think it could have happened before or after then. We opened the door and then we had the Go Gos and all these other great girl bands. It was a magical time, and it was the perfect time.”
Picked up for a deal almost immediately through the auspices of their notorious manager/producer Kim Fowley, the Runaways toured the US with mainstream acts like Cheap Trick but it wasn’t long before they were being labelled a punk band. But punk, Currie insists, never really caught on in the US, and it was nothing like the phenomenon of anger and rebellious violence that was sweeping the UK.
“It never really hit in the US,” she says. “Not real punk. Not what was happening in Britain and Scotland. The kids had pins in their faces and the mohawks and they were spitting on each other and beating each other up.”
Currie saw first-hand just how dangerous the movement was during the Runaways’ British tour in 1977. At a show in Scotland, the singer feared for her life when the audience went completely out of control. Someone even threw a knife at the stage.
“I’ll never forget being at the Apollo Theatre in Glasgow and all of a sudden the lights went out and there was a thud at my foot and the lights came up and there was this huge Bowie knife that had been thrown at me,” she recalls. “I just ran for my life, I was so terrified. They actually tried to turn our car over when we were leaving and we ended up running a child over. It was just – my Goodness Gracious! It was almost like something from The Walking Dead, it was so crazy. It scared me to death.”
As a polar opposite, in Japan they were greeted with the kind of euphoria normally reserved for the biggest bands in the world, appearing on their own TV show and out-selling every other contemporary Western act except Zeppelin, ABBA and Kiss. The band’s only live album, and both Currie’s and bassist Jackie Fox’ last with the group, was recorded and released there in late 1977. Soon after, Cherie Currie left the Runaways, leaving guitarist Joan Jett to take over full-time vocal duties. They limped on for another two albums before finally disbanding in early 1979 after disputes about musical direction. The first two years of the Runaways rocket ride were immortalised in Floria Sigimondi’s 2010 film, somewhat loosely based on Currie’s biography, Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway. While generally positive about the film, she admits to some mixed feelings about it.
“I’m very proud of the film,” she says, before elaborating. “I would have liked it to dive a little bit deeper, but I’m going to say anything other than to give it praise because I think they did a fantastic job. It is kinda crazy putting two years of insanity into 90 minutes, so I think Floria Sigismondi did a great job at capturing the 70s, and of course Dakota (Fanning, who played Cherie) and Kristen (Stewart, as Joan Jett) and Michael Shannon (Kim Fowley) were fantastic.”
Currie also expresses some disappointment that other members of the band couldn’t be involved. Neither Lita Ford nor Jackie Fox were able to meet the producers’ terms, which Currie says would have meant “a completely different movie”. She is quick to agree too that a mini-series would have been better to give further depth to the story, with their parents’ stories adding another dimension. As a mother herself, Cherie Currie finds it difficult to come to terms with how her own parents were feeling as their 16 year old daughter was touring the world in a rock band.
“My son is 25. When he was 15 and 16 and he was a musician and wanted to go on the road, I turned to him and said, ‘How would you like your ‘No’ – fast or slow?’ Being a parent, and having parents who let us go on the road, I take my hat off to them, because I could not have done it. I couldn’t have loved my son enough to let him go! But we had a record deal and they didn’t want to take our dream away from us. It had to be really hard on them.”
On the other side of the coin, however, she has no illusions about how determined children can be to do what they want to do. By way of advice, there’s this to offer: “The advice that I would ever give any kid wanting to be in this business – if you know that deep in your soul you want to do this – is just never ask for anybody’s opinion. Kids have to deal with social media now and they have to deal with so much more than what we did when we were growing up. They have to be a lot tougher and a lot braver because you’re not just dealing with a school bully, you’ve got social media where anybody can attack you at any time. Just go with your heart. If your daughter wants to be a musician,” she warns, “she’ll be a musician!”
When her Runaways days were done, Cherie moved on to make records with her twin sister Marie before turning to acting in the 1980s, appearing in a string of films beginning with Foxes alongside Jodie Foster and Scott Baio. After a downward spiral into drug addiction, she was later married to actor Robert Hays for several years. Their son Jake is now part of her band and co-produced her latest album Reverie, taking over after Fowley died in January last year. Reverie also features team-ups with Lita Ford, and is what is bringing Cherie Currie down to Australia for the very first time in May.
“I’ve wanted to come to Australia more than any other place in the world for the past 40 years,” she declares, with a promise that she is going to make up for never visiting before. “I’m gonna give the fans what they want. They want the Runaways songs, I’m gonna give them the Runaways songs, and some cool surprises and some songs from Reverie, my new record. It’s gonna be a blast.”
Catch Cherie Currie live in May:
26/5: The Triffid, Brisbane QLD
27/5: Manning Bar, Sydney NSW
28/5: Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC
31/5: The Gov, Adelaide SA
1/6: Rosemount Hotel, Perth WA