Legendary Runaways producer and Los Angeles rock legend Kim Fowley died today after a long battle with cancer, although no official cause of death has been released at this time, according to Rolling Stone. He was 75.
The son of actors, the Los Angeles, CA-born Fowley began his career in the music business in 1959 and spent the 1960s working with acts such as Paul Revere and the Raiders and Gene Vincent. His career as a solo artist yielded a minor hit when his third LP, 1968’s Outrageous, broke Billboard’s Top 200. Many credited Fowley with the advent of the raised lighter concert salute after he encouraged the crowd to do it while MCing John Lennon’s Toronto Rock and Roll Revival performance in 1969.
He would spend the early part of the 1970s working with artists such as Helen Reddy and Blue Cheer, but it was a fateful meeting with a 15-year-old female guitarist in 1975 that would seal Fowley’s notoriety in the pages of rock history. Her name was Joan Jett and Fowley would put her in touch with drummer Sandy West and singer Cherie Currie. Together with lead guitarist Lita Ford and bassist Jackie Fox, the quintet would become The Runaways. Fowley acted as both their manager and producer through the band’s first three albums. He also co-wrote (with Jett) the band’s most famous anthem, “Cherry Bomb.” (Listen to the track here below.) Fowley and the band would have a falling out and Cherie Currie would later accuse him of inappropriate behavior while overseeing the group of underage girls. (Fowley’s role and relationship with the teenage all-girl rock band was dramatized by actor Michael Shannon in the 2010 film The Runaways, based on Cherie’s memoir.)
Kim Fowley went on to co-write songs for KISS, Alice Cooper, and numerous others as well as dabbling in film. In recent years, Fowley had been undergoing treatment for cancer and had reconciled with Currie, who had been acting as one of his caretakers. The two had even been working on material for Lita Ford’s upcoming solo album. Currie posted the new of Fowley’s death to her Facebook this evening:
Just before 8 am this morning, January 15, 2014, Kim Fowley passed away at his home with his wife, Kara Wright by his side after a long battle with cancer. He was 75 years old.
I am so blessed that I got to get to know you again Kim.. really get to know you on a personal level and that we became friends. Mostly that you spent time here at my home. It’s a time I will never forget. The last record you made is in good hands and I am so glad that record is mine. It was a pleasure. Thank you for starting my career when I was a just a child. You were instrumental in so many getting started in this crazy world of music. You are a genius… you are loved. You will be so missed.
Rest in Peace my friend.
Fowley remained active in the music business even while bedridden. He had contributed to Little Steven Van Zandt’s Underground Garage as recently as last week. Fowley was a controversial figure and, love him or hate him, he was a one of a kind character whose absence will be felt in the Los Angeles music scene and beyond for a long time to come.
RIP Kim Fowley
July 21, 1939 – January 15, 2015
Update – Lita Ford posted about Fowley’s death on her FB page: