Cherie Currie Interview:
The Runaways original lead singer Cherie Currie returned to the stage for the first time since opening for Joan Jett and The Blackhearts in 2010. Currie opened at the Foundry in Cleveland on August 7th and has played two Florida dates in Pensacola and West Palm Beach later that month. She also played a historical show at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, California supporting Danzig on August 30th. It was one of the final shows at the venue since its inception in 1972. The Amphitheatre will be demolished to make room for The Wizardry World of Harry Potter theme park. Currie witnessed her very first concert, the David Bowie ‘Diamond Dogs’ Tour at the venue in 1974. The David Bowie concert was Cherie’s epiphany. Bowie became her inspiration while granting her the stage presence needed to become lead vocalist in The Runaways.
Cherie Currie was brought up in Encino, California. Her mother Marie Harmon was leading lady to Roy Rogers and Sunset Carson in westerns of the 1940’s. She also appeared in dramas and comedies for Universal. Actress Sondra Currie is Cherie’s oldest sister. Cherie’s twin sister Marie joined Cherie after her Runaways days to form the band Cherie and Marie Currie. Cherie’s ex- husband and her best friend is actor, producer and director Robert Hays (Airplane! He played Ted Striker). Robert and Cherie’s son Jake Hays performs in her band and with his own band called Maudlin Strangers.
Producer/manager Kim Fowley and young guitarist Joan Jett discovered Cherie at the Sugar Shack, an under21 club in North Hollywood. Because of her look, she was asked to audition as lead singer for an all- female rock band called The Runaways. For the audition, Cherie selected “Fever” a Suzi Quatro cover tune most recognized by singer Peggy Lee. The band refused to play the song, so Jett and Fowley wrote “Cherry Bomb” a play on words with Cherie’s name while referring to her bombshell good looks. The tune became an anthem for The Runaways. Cherie Currie was only 15 years old when she became The Runaways lead singer.
The Runaways were signed to Mercury Records. After the release of their self-titled studio album The Runaways (1976), the group quickly embarked on their first U.S. tour and performed at legendary venues like CBGB’s in New York and the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland. The band headlined a show at the Royal Oak Theatre outside Detroit with Cheap Trick and Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers as supporting acts. Later that year, the band launched their first European tour including stops at the Roadhouse in the U.K. and the Apollo in Scotland. Because of the bands teenage stature, the group was dubbed, “Jailbait rock: music’s newest sensation.”
The punk /new wave/rock band’s must successful lineup was comprised of Cherie Currie (lead vocals & keyboards), Lita Ford (lead guitars/ backing vocals), Joan Jett (rhythm guitars & vocals), Sandy West (drums) and Jackie Fox (bass). *Micki Steele and Peggy Foster both played bass briefly for The Runaways in 1975. Vickie Blue played bass in 1977/78 and Laurie McAllister in 1978/79.
The band became an even bigger sensation in Japan selling-out to frenzied audiences. During the tour, Jackie Fox quit the band and flew home, Joan Jett filled in on bass for the rest of their Japan dates. After returning to the U.S., Vicki Blue became their new bassist and Joan Jett their lead vocalist after Cherie Currie left to pursue a solo career.
The Runaways Live in Japan was also released in 1977.
A clash between bandmates deciding on the bands musical direction led to The Runaways demise in 1979.
A Runaways compilation album entitled Flaming Schoolgirls featuring Cherie Currie was released in 1980 after the breakup of the band.
In 1978, Cherie Currie released her debut solo album Beauty’s Only Skin Deep. The album was produced by David Carr and Kim Fowley and only available in the U.S. as an import.
In 1980, the Cherie and Marie Currie band launched their debut album entitled Messin’ with the Boys on Capitol Records. The album spawned the hit single “Since You Been Gone” (#95 on U.S. Charts) written by Russ Ballard of Argent. The album featured various esteemed session players including Toto band members Steve Lukather, Mike Porcaro and Bobby Kimball. Later in 1998, the twin sisters released a compilation album entitled Young & Wild.
Cherie was also spotted by Dennis Brody of the William Morris Agency while performing at the Golden Bear in Newport Beach. The meeting led to an acting career. Cherie has appeared in Foxes with Jody Foster, Wavelength with Robert Carradine, Parasite with Demi Moore, Twilight Zone: The Movie with Dan Aykroyd and TV shows Murder She Wrote and Matlock.
I had the great and warm pleasure of chatting with Cherie Currie recently about her current U.S. tour, life in the Runaways, upcoming collaborations with Lita Ford, her unreleased album, Joan Jett, A famous husband, Chainsaw Chick and so much more.
Here’s my interview with the original lead singer of The Runaways, actress, author, relief and chainsaw woodcarving artist …CHERIE CURRIE.
Ray Shasho: Hi Cherie how are you?
Cherie Currie: “I’m doing good Ray.”
Ray Shasho: How’s the tour coming along?
Cherie Currie: “Oh my goodness … it’s been great! The fans have been really terrific and I’ve been signing after each show for a couple of hours and it’s been fun.”
Ray Shasho: You’ve also got a couple of dates in Pensacola and West Palm Beach Florida.
Cherie Currie: “We’re coming in a day earlier so we can see some sites. It’s going to be three grueling days getting back to the Gibson Amphitheatre as well. But we’re really looking forward to it.”
Ray Shasho: The show at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Los Angeles will be historic, one of the final shows at the venue before it’s demolished?
Cherie Currie: “Yea, I had no idea that they were tearing it down and putting in a Harry Potter ride. That’s where I saw my very first concert, the David Bowie Diamond Dogs Tour in 1974 and that was the show that made me realize, this is what I wanted to do, I wanted to be on stage. It was an epiphany of what I wanted to do. A couple of weeks later I was approached by Joan and Kim …it was just bizarre. So that Harry Potter ride better be really damn good.”
Ray Shasho: Did you ever get the chance to hang-out with David Bowie?
Cherie Currie: “I got to meet him; he came to see us at the Rathskeller in Boston. He came with Iggy and Steven Tyler had come to that show as well, so I got to meet him that night.”
Ray Shasho: I interviewed Lita Ford back in March, her latest album received rave reviews and she’s just knocking em’ dead out on the road.
Cherie Currie: “You know what … Lita and I have become really good friends. Being moms we both really realized how young we were. We were just babies. I mean, her oldest son is sixteen. Lita and I are actually working a little bit together again and it’s really fun … I’m excited.”
Ray Shasho: I heard Lita had a tough chick persona while you were in The Runaways and it may have been one of the reasons for your departure from the band.
Cherie Currie: “I was a little afraid of Lita. She was really tough but had to be that way, I guess for her own reasons. We had Joan, Lita and Sandy and they were really good musicians and I was a little intimidated by all of it because my voice was kind of strange and I never considered myself as a really good singer at all. I felt I wasn’t quite good enough to be in that band.”
“Anyway, Lita and I have been doing a little bit of singing together and it’s really a gas to hear her sing because she didn’t sing in The Runaways. I was talking to her the other day about it and I said why didn’t you ever try? And she was just into mastering her guitar, and she sure did, she’s such a great player and songwriter too.”
“But we’ve been talking about doing some shows together.”
Ray Shasho: You actually opened for Joan Jett And The Blackhearts back in 2010?
Cherie Currie: “I sure did, over in Orange County. It was amazing, a sold-out crowd of nine thousand people. I really didn’t expect to come back into this business at all, but after that show I got such great reviews and immediately got offered a record deal and to do a tour. Kenny Laguna was my manager back then and he wanted me to do the record with Blackheart. It’s still not being released and there’s not much I can do about that. We went right into the studio immediately after that show in 2010 to cut a record. Matt Sorum produced it. Billy Corgan is on it and wrote a duet for him and me, The Veronicas, Juliette Lewis came in and sang … Slash and Duff was on it. For some reason Kenny hasn’t mastered it.”
Ray Shasho: I wonder why Kenny is taking so long to release it.
Cherie Currie: “That’s been my question for the last two and a half years, so when my management contract was expiring in March … I wouldn’t re-sign.”
Ray Shasho: That’s a real shame, you’ve got some great artists on the album and Matt Sorum from Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver produced it.
Cherie Currie: “He’s very talented and really put everything into this album. Kenny wouldn’t let me play any shows after I performed with Joan either. For someone my age, a year is like five. Why wouldn’t he let me play? Even with the movie and my book, that would have been PR enough for me to be able to get out there and have fun and play Runaway songs, and say hi to the fans old and new, but he wouldn’t let me do it.”
Ray Shasho: I wonder if Kenny is protecting Joan’s legacy is some way.
Cherie Currie: “That seems to be what everybody else is saying because there’s no rhyme or reason to it. I’ve really had to work super hard trying to forgive this man for this. To me it just does not make sense.”
Ray Shasho: Joan really hasn’t had anyone else achieve the level of success as she has after The Runaways, but now Lita is back and drawing huge crowds and the original lead singer of The Runaways Cherie Currie is touring.
Cherie Currie: “Without a record it’s very difficult for me, so it’s a cruel and unusual punishment. He just wants me to sign a record contract that I will not sign. It’s one of those 60/40 contracts that they own you for life. Are you f*ing kidding me? He was one of my best friends for seventeen years and I just really want him to do the right thing and give me my record. It’s so hard to go out and do these shows with no record. The record has been finished for three years. I’ve had to walk away and let it go and I thought the evil was out of this business. Joan’s record is coming out in October and it just blows my mind because she hadn’t even thought about making a record when I went in to make mind. I wish her the best, but it will be a cold day in f*ing hell before I ever let anyone do this to me again.”
“I really knew there was a conflict of interest way back when we signed with him, and believing without Blackheart I wouldn’t have a chance in hell. But I’ve had so many offers after I signed with him and the people were mistaken. I signed with him because I trusted him. I’ve known him for seventeen years and is really good friends with my son and my wonderful ex-husband Robert Hays and felt like family to me, so I feel extremely betrayed by the whole thing. I don’t think Blackheart had any other hits out of that record company besides Joan, so it doesn’t seem to make sense to me.”
“But Joan is a sweetheart and is a good person; she just works and works, probably three hundred days out of the year, and has been doing that for the last thirty years. I commend her for all she’s done.”
Ray Shasho: ‘Chainsaw Chick’ … wow, you’re so incredibly talented. The woodcarvings that you have created with your chainsaw are magnificent! I visited your website and was in absolute awe of the beautiful works that were showcased.
Cherie Currie: “If you click on the new feature camera on the front page (view my photo album at the bottom of the page) that will take you to albums of my most recent works. The website alone is pretty massive. That new feature camera at the bottom of the page will take you to album after album … I shoot things from start to finish to show people how it’s done and you’ll see some really cool things. I did a bench for the Kelly Thomas Foundation for them to auction off for the homeless. It’s a guitar bench, for his memory. He was the guy that was beaten to death by the Fullerton police.”
Ray Shasho: How long did it take you to finish the guitar bench?
Cherie Currie: “I was a relief carver before I was a chainsaw carver. I would do two- dimensional carvings with Dremels and then I would stain, so I got into painting before I got into this. The bench kind of incorporates all of that in one piece. I used different wood stains to do the flowers, vines, leaves, guitar, birds and the book, so that took me start to finish and because I was on a deadline about a week and half. I was working just about every day, eight hours a day, trying to get it done in time for the auction.”
Ray Shasho: When did you first decide to use a chainsaw?
Cherie Currie: “It was a fluke. I was already doing relief carvings … tabletops, wall hangings and things like that, and I was on my way to the beach in Malibu and I saw these guys carving at the side of the road. They had some gallery there at the very top at Mulholland; I didn’t stop but couldn’t get it out of my mind. Every night I went to bed I kept thinking about it, and every morning … this voice in my head kept saying you have to go back, a voice that we don’t listen to but we need to listen to. So about a week or two later I did go and walked into the gallery and saw these beautiful mermaids, dolphins, tikis and seals. I was just in awe because they weren’t crude or what you expected of a chainsaw carver, kind of like Mountain Man crude/ chopped up kind of thing. Instead, it was very-very delicate and detailed. So I talked with the owner Rio and then I heard the voice … You can do this! So I asked him if he could apprentice me and he saw some of my artwork and he said yes. But I learned that you can’t really teach someone how to chainsaw, you can teach them the basics and how to not kill themselves which is the most important thing.”
“My third piece was three sea turtles swimming around a piece of coral and that was accepted into the Malibu Arts Expo which is so hard to get into. They are all artists that choose what pieces go into this Expo at Pepperdine University and it’s a big deal. They didn’t even take Rio’s pieces, they took the sea turtles, that’s when I realized that I was on to something and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Ray Shasho: I’ve witnessed some beautiful pieces on your website, are they all for sale?
Cherie Currie: “Everything on my website has been long sold. But what I do now is take special orders. So they just reach out on my website and I’ll carve anything and everything that someone would want. They just tell me what they want, design it, I carve it and they have it. I take what I do seriously and I’m a perfectionist, so I do the very best that I can.”
Ray Shasho: “You have a remarkable gift Cherie.
Cherie Currie: “Thank you so much! Even my son who is in my band, and also has a band of his own was drawing in two dimensions at the age of four. He’s been a tattoo artist since he was seventeen years old. He’s extraordinary, an amazing artist and just incredible. There are a lot of tattoo artists that don’t draw. Jake will sit down and just blow your mind. He’s brilliant and just a great human being.”
Ray Shasho: Your biography on your website says you were overworked and underpaid during the height of The Runaways, explain why.
Cherie Currie: “We weren’t making any money. All we ever heard was … we had debts to pay and all that. We got a little per diem of twenty dollars a week and if we needed Tampax or something we’d have to ask. Or can we have a dollar for a cheeseburger … and we were selling places out! I mean we had merchandising and all that stuff and never saw a penny of it. The first check that we ever got was after we came back from Japan and we were there for a long time. After everybody else was paid, I think they gave us a check for $1,700.00 each or something. And we just worked all the time and selling places out all the time. Everybody else was stealing our money. We never even got royalties or anything so we ended up suing in 1997. We sued Kim Fowley and PolyGram for royalties and for the name The Runaways, which Lita, myself, Joan and the late Sandy West owned. We paid fifty percent of all of our royalties to insure that fact. So we were working all the time and not making any money.”
Ray Shasho: Do you think you were taken advantage of because you were young teenage girls?
Cherie Currie: “We weren’t just taken advantage of … we were absolutely robbed! Then the IRS came after me after I left the band for $20,000.00 of unpaid taxes and Kim Fowley had even said my sister had made $20-40,000.00 from him. He was laundering money in a way and should have been put in prison for it. But I ended up having to pay the IRS all this money. I could only afford paying $100 per month and I paid that every month since I was seventeen until I married my wonderful husband Robert Hays. I think I still owed $2300.00 which he paid off after we got married. So I was paying taxes on money that I never saw. We were screwed over big-time!”
Ray Shasho: I saw an interview that Kim Fowley gave around the same time The Runaways movie was released. He was an odd fellow wasn’t he?
Cherie Currie: “He was brilliant when it came to getting The Runaways marketed, I got to take my hat off to him for that, but he was emotionally abusive, but back then I guess it was no holds barred with people who wanted to get from point A to point B, I imagine. There weren’t much morals involved, I’ll say.”
Ray Shasho: Cherie, what was the trigger that got you to stop using drugs?
Cherie Currie: “In 1984 that was the year, I had lost my acting career, I wasn’t making music anymore and I was freebasing cocaine, I guess they call that crack these days. Literally, I just happened to look in the mirror one day and I had that moment of clarity, I saw a dead person looking back at me and it scared me to death. I was actually living with my drug dealer at the time and I just packed up everything and moved home to my Aunts house. I started working selling linens at the mall and just got really humbled and then went on to become a drug counselor for addicted teens. Then I started drawing and that’s how I ended up going to Price Stern Sloan as an artist for children’s books. They asked how long I’ve been drawing and I said a year, and then explained to them The Runaways story. They said wow; we’ve been looking for our first young adult book and this is it. It’s kind of odd how one thing led to another.”
Ray Shasho: Did you enjoy your acting career?
Cherie Currie: “Loved it, it happened so fast. I did a show at the Golden Bear in Newport Beach and Dennis Brody from William Morris was there and approached me. He asked, did you ever think about being an actress? I always thought of myself as an entertainer so why not. The first two things he sent me out for was Foxes and Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. And I got both of them. I chose Foxes because I really wanted to work with Jody Foster. For me to be brought into a film like that and right out of the gate was a miracle for me. It was really hard to get that, I did a lot of screen tests and I think it was down to me, Rosanna Arquette and Kristy McNichol. I was very-very lucky that I got that part.”
Ray Shasho: Your ex- husband is actor, producer and director Robert Hays, probably most recognized as Ted Striker from the Airplane I & II movies.
Cherie Currie: “Was, is kind of an odd word, yes we were married but we’re actually closer now than we ever were. He was here yesterday, he takes care of my dog when I go away and I take care of him. He broke his neck a few years back and he was very lucky, it was the same break as Christopher Reeve had. And I took care of him. I mean, he’s my best friend, I love him and he’s the greatest man on the planet. We just adore each other and go to all the events together. He doesn’t date and I don’t date. We’re a wonderful family with two houses. But Jake has really benefited a lot from that and we love each other deeply. I’d do anything for him.”
Ray Shasho: Your son Jake plays in your band and also has a band of his own?
Cherie Currie: “Jake Robert Hays. He’s 22; the band is called Maudlin Strangers and Jake writes all the music and is an amazing singer, he’s got a voice that’s just killer. He’s also a producer and plays guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. He has actually drummed for me when my drummer couldn’t make it to Cleveland; he played drums for that show. Jake is a music man and an artist. The main thing about having Jake on this tour with me is that he gets to see how the business works. He’s learned so much of what to do and what not to do. And not let him get in the position that I’m in where you let somebody have the kind of power to completely stop you in this business for no reason at all.”
Ray Shasho: When you auditioned with The Runaways, didn’t they want you to audition with a Suzi Quatro song but “Cherry Bomb” was quickly written for you instead?
Cherie Currie: “They asked me to learn a Suzi Quatro song considering my background was Dean Martin and The Andrew Sisters and all that (laughing). So I ended up picking “Fever” from Your Mamma Won’t Like Me, I was a big Quatro fan. I thought that song could showcase my voice. So I learned “Fever” and the girls weren’t happy, they wanted a rock and roll song. So Kim and Joan looked at me and wrote “Cherry Bomb” right there for me to audition to.”
Ray Shasho: It’s amazing how it was written so quickly just for the audition and while you were standing there.
Cherie Currie: “Well they thought Cherry…Cherie and they just thought I was a cherry bomb. They just wrote this song and it was a great.”
Ray Shasho: I chatted with Suzi Quatro not long ago in a Skype interview from England. She looked fantastic!
Cherie Currie: “I just love Suzi; she’s just a wonderful human being, I’m so happy that she’s still in this business because we need her. She was the original badass and kick-ass female musician. Suzi held her own and was in the business when we were coming in and she knows firsthand that it was trying to say the least.”
Ray Shasho: Cherie, here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview. If you had a ‘Field of Dreams’ wish like the movie, to play, sing or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be?
Cherie Currie: “I would have to say David Bowie. Number two would be Suzi Quatro. I almost would rather Suzi Quatro but Bowie would be right up there too. No, Bowie link Suzi Quatro (All laughing).”
Ray Shasho: How about David Bowie and Suzi Quatro on stage with you?
Cherie Currie: “That would be a dream …and link Lita Ford. If I could stand on the same stage as Bowie, Quatro and Lita …I could die and go to heaven … I’m sorry, I can’t just pick one.”
Ray Shasho: Cherie, thank you for being on the call today, but more importantly for all the great Runaways music and brand new music into the future.
Cherie Currie: “Ray, good luck with your next book, thanks sweetie … bye!”
Cherie Currie official website www.cheriecurrie.com
Cherie Currie Chainsaw Chick
Cherie Currie on Facebook
Cherie Currie on Myspace
Cherie Currie on Twitter
The Runaways website http://therunaways.com/
Jake Hays (Maudlin Strangers) on Facebook
Very special thanks to Pati deVries of Devious Planet and Robert Rowland of Red Entertainment
Coming up NEXT … My recent interview with Roger Earl -legendary drummer and founder of FOGHAT.
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