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Cherie Currie Makes Peace With Lita Ford, Dying Kim Fowley on New Album
For someone who left the groundbreaking and highly influential band the Runaways in 1977 under less than harmonious circumstances, then rapidly descended into a downward spiral of cocaine addiction and severe depression, Cherie Currie is doing pretty well. For Currie, finding contentment meant forgiving those she felt formerly wronged by, and focusing on singing for the first time in 14 years.
The individual who inadvertently helped her find that path was someone she used to hate, the late Kim Fowley. In the mid ‘70s, Fowley discovered, produced, and managed the Runaways, the first all-girl teenage rock group to send seismic tremors throughout the music industry with songs like “Cherry Bomb,” “Heartbeat,” and “Queens of Noise.”
But after a few years of recording and touring, Currie fell out of favor with Fowley and the Runaways, and she left to pursue a solo singing and acting career, with varying degrees of success — but plenty of excess and drama.
For her new album, Reverie, not only did Currie reunite with Fowley, but she took care of him as he was dying of cancer. In addition, she ended her longstanding feud with the Runaways’ former lead guitarist, Lita Ford, who also sang on Reverie.
Currie’s first proper studio album since 1980’s Messin’ With the Boys, Reverie is an eclectic release colored by Currie’s passionate vocals and Fowley’s simple, effective songwriting. Currie address a variety of subjects, including the healing power of love, the importance of positive thinking, and the need for self-empowerment under conditions of adversity.
With the help of Fowley and her son, Jake Hays, Currie spreads exploring a variety of music styles including alt-rock (the title track), reggae-rock (“Inner You”), dusky pop (“Dark World”), and bluesy hard rock (“Queen of the Asphalt Jungle”). There is also a pair of old Runaways tunes (“Is It Day or Night” and “American Nights”) that ratchets the volume to levels old fans will appreciate.
Shortly after Reverie debuted on iTunes, Yahoo Music caught up with Currie to talk about the inspiration for her new album, her final days with Fowley, her relationship with her former bandmates, and how good mothering made Reverie complete.
YAHOO MUSIC: Your first studio album in 35 years features a couple tunes by the Runaways, but it’s not a hard-rocking record in the style of that group. Did you want to break away from your roots and reveal another side of yourself?
CHERIE CURRIE: Ithappened all by happenstance. We went in with Kim Fowley to do an entire record. But Kim got so ill after four songs, we had to stop. We worked with him on “Queen of the Asphalt Jungle,” which is more of a Runaways-type tune. And he also wrote “Inner You,” “Dark World,” and “I’m Happy.” But then his cancer made him unable to continue, so he turned the rest of the record over to my son, Jake [frontman of the band Maudlin Strangers].
After a bad falling out, you and Kim didn’t speak for years. How did you settle your differences and enter into this project?
Becoming a mom changed everything for me. I started thinking back to what it must have been like for Kim, being in his early thirties, dealing with five girls that were just coming into womanhood, and knowing he had a terrible childhood himself; he was abused and his parents were never there. I started to think, “Wow, you know he did the very best he could. He was actually trying to protect us.” That’s why he treated us the way he did. He wanted us to develop a tough skin, because he knew that being teenagers and being out there on the road was going to be hard for us. He knew we were in for an ass-kicking, and he was right. I finally realized I had to forgive him, for my sake. I couldn’t continue to hold onto all that resentment, even though he did things that were not right.
What was the worst thing he did?
Well, that’s all in the past now, especially since he’s no longer with us. I truly believe you have to move on in life. You’ve got to forgive. The man was brilliant, and that’s what he should be remembered for. When he reached out to me two years ago to do this record together, I couldn’t say no. I also wanted my son to see what a brilliant guy Kim was, and for Kim and Jake to work together was incredible. It was like everything had come full-circle, and Jake got to see what I saw as a teenager.
Not only did you mend fences with Kim, you took care of him as he was dying of cancer.
Yes, I did, and I honestly believe it was a great way to close the book on a very important chapter in my life.
How ill was he when you started working together?
He was not in good shape. He had cancer three times. He was in a wheelchair with a bladder bag. And he had problems with his intestines, so he was having blockages. He was basically bedridden when he moved into my house.
Were the sessions with Kim productive and rewarding?
Oh my goodness, they were wonderful. You don’t sit around when Kim Fowley’s in the studio, no matter how badly he’s feeling. It was like it was when I was in the Runaways. It had to be done, and it had to be done right then. My vocals were basically done in two takes, and that’s all I got. He knew he had it. It was just the same as when I was a kid. We got those four tracks done, and then Jake took them to his studio and polished and refined them.
How did Lita Ford wind up on Reverie?
I contacted her and asked her if she would do it. I wanted her to play guitar, but she hurt her hand so she didn’t play on the record. She did sing, though. She came into the studio with Kim there at the helm and I had her do some ad-libs for “Dark World.” She tried to play guitar, but she just couldn’t manage it with her hand. But then she came to my son’s studio and did a duet with me on both Runaways songs, “American Nights” and “Is It Day or Night.”
Was there any enmity between the two of you when you called her up or had you buried the hatchet already?
We settled our differences a couple years ago. I have been in touch with [founding Runaway] Joan Jett, and Joan was having dinner with Lita. So I said to Joan, “Please, tell Lita I want to talk to her.” I hadn’t spoken to her since I was 17 years old. And Lita was as excited to see me as I was to see her. We actually sparked up a friendship that we never had in the Runaways.
Did you ask Joan if she was interested in performing on your record?
No, Joan lives in New York and… no, I didn’t. Lita was here and I wanted to work with her. I’m sure Joan wouldn’t have been able to do it anyway. She’s always very busy.
Reverie may not have been what you expected when you started working on it with Kim Fowley, but in some ways it seems like it turned out to be more rewarding than you expected it to be.
It was a tremendous experience. I would still love to do a great “rock” rock record, but I don’t know if that will happen or not. But I’m very happy with this record because it was Kim Fowley’s goodbye with me, and it marked a reconnection between me and Lita Ford and my son was so heavily involved with it. I couldn’t be any more proud of what we accomplished out of a phone call than we did. I just wish we could have finished it before Kim passed on. That’s the only thing that was really hard from me. We were so close, just weeks away. And Kim couldn’t hang on.
Was it heart-wrenching to take care of him in his final days?
No, not at all. In fact, it’s the best times I will ever recall with Kim. Of course, the tables had turned and as much as I needed him as a kid, he needed me to take care of him now. But we had some great times. There was a lot of laughter and he was just wonderful and caring, and I was caring to him. So it was just a really nice way to remember him. I don’t think of him as the tyrant like I did as a kid. I remember him as the friend who needed help, and I was just glad to be there for him.
What was the highlight of making Reverie?
Standing in the studio with Kim, Lita, and Jake was amazing. I was in awe that this was actually happening. There’s my son playing with Lita; it was just surreal. And then also just sitting there very late at night in the studio with my son, the two of us collaborating on songs, was inspiring. I’m so grateful to him, because this record would not have happened if it wasn’t for him. We would have ended up with four unfinished songs. He took the reins and really came through for me and Kim.
Did Jake have a strong musical upbringing?
Yes, Jake [born to Currie and her ex-husband, Airplane! actor Robert Hays] is very talented, and he just signed a lucrative record deal himself. He was juggling this record and his album at the same time, which is why it took us close to a year to finish it. We ended up doing the two Runaways song, which Kim suggested, and then Jake and I wrote the rest of the record together.
Did you enjoy writing with Jake?
Well, I’ve been working with him since he was 13 years old. [Sex Pistols guitarist] Steve Jones used to have a radio show called Jonesy’s Jukebox and I brought Jake to accompany me on that. He was 13 years old, and that’s the first time he was in that kind of environment. But I always believed he had something very special, and I wasn’t wrong. Not only did he play almost all the instruments on this record. He produced it, sang and I couldn’t be more blessed. He’s a great stage performer as well as a terrific singer.
The Runaways broke the doors open for so many girl bands that followed in their wake. But in the process, you encountered tremendous adversity and got into some fairly harrowing situations that are well documented in your book, Neon Angel. That was such a different era from today. Do you think girls in bands today have it easier, and do they give credit where credit is due?
I don’t think girls ever have it easy, but I’m gonna say I don’t think anyone has it easy. Girls or guys in this business have to fight and prove themselves and get really lucky. It’s tough. I’ve met a lot of girls in this business. The Go-Go’s thank me and the girls for what we did, and that’s great. But it’s a tough business. It really is.