Women Learn To Be Women – Part 2 (Runaways edition)

You know, I actually believed that this series would be no more than four posts (and that I would have it done before now, but I should have known better on that account). When I started looking more deeply into the bands that came along in the mid- to late-1970s, I realized how wrong I was. There’s a bunch of them. Thanks to punk coming on the scene in the UK and later in the US, a lot more women jumped into the mix of rock ‘n’ roll after the Quatros and Fanny, et al. Among them, the earliest, and probably most influential, is the band I’m going to talk about today. The Runaways.

Joan Jett (rhythm guitar) and Sandy West (drums) were the first girls to join the band, meeting in 1975 in L.A. thanks to controversial manager Kim Fowley. Another original band member was Micki Steele on bass. She was fired from the band before things really got started, but went on to join the Bangles (I’ll talk about them in another post). The rest of the classic lineup was set when Lita Ford, Cherie Currie, and Jackie Fox came along (lead guitar, lead vocals, and bass, respectively).

And here they are.

the runaways-classic lineup

(l to r) Cherie Currie, Joan Jett, Sandy West, Lita Ford, Jackie Fox

The Runaways had mixed success. While they signed with a major US label (Mercury), they never made it big in this country, even with the “jailbait” marketing that went with their name, the band’s outfits (pretty risqué for the time–no kidding), and the ages of the band members (16-17 when the band first started up). In Japan, though, they were huge, playing to sellout crowds and appearing in their own tv special.

And, as we’ll see as these posts go along, they influenced a lot of other women to pick up guitars or drum sticks and play.

By 1978, however, internal politics and trouble with their manager led to the band calling it a day (1979, officially). They had released four studio albums, one live record, and Joan Jett and Lita Ford would go on to have very successful careers in rock music. Sandy West became a drum teacher and did session work with John Entwistle before her death from lung cancer in 2005. Jackie Fox became a lawyer, and Vicki Blue (actually Vicki Tischler-Blue) became a filmmaker, directing documentaries on the Runaways and Suzi Quatro, as well as playing Cindy in This Is Spinal Tap.

cindy spinal tap

Yeah, but who is Cindy? I don’t remember.

Tischler-Blue has also produced music videos, including one of a 2011 Suzi Quatro song! How can I not include that here?

Back to the matter at hand.

Here are two Runaways videos for you. The first is from a 1977 concert in Japan where they’re performing probably their most famous tune, “Cherry Bomb.” So many rules being broken here.

This next video was filmed on the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test after Cherie Currie left the band, also in 1977.  By this point, too, Vicki Blue had replaced Fox on bass. Joan Jett took over as lead singer, and, um, contrary to what the caption says, that’s Lita Ford on lead guitar (although Currie is, indeed, an accomplished chainsaw artist). A solid band, wouldn’t you say?

And what about after they broke up? Given how influential Joan Jett and Lita Ford were in their own solo careers, it only seems fair to post some of their work, too. (I posted Suzi Quatro by herself, too, so…)

One of the many reasons the Runaways broke up was stylistic. Jett and West really wanted the band to move in a punk direction while Ford was more interested in keeping the music hard rock or even metal. And that’s the direction she went as a solo artist, releasing several successful albums before retiring to raise a family. She returned to the music scene in 2008 and released a new album last year.

Here Ford is playing “Kiss Me Deadly,” one of her big hits from 1988.

And here she’s playing a track from her most recent album.

And then there’s Joanie (oops, fangirl slipped out there). After being turned down by more than twenty labels, she, with her business partner Kenny Laguna, went on to form Blackheart Records, becoming one of the first women to create her own label. She’s released 14 albums at this point and 34 singles, 18 of which have charted around the world. She also decided to market herself a little differently than Ms. Ford.

Here she is in 1981– (I especially love this video because Jett’s attitude toward revealing her body is just awesome)

and in 2012 with a brand new song!

Now, one thing that is blatantly obvious with Joan Jett and Lita Ford (and Suzi Quatro before them) is that after leaving the Runaways, they never played in an all-woman band again. Why is this? When Jett was forming the Blackhearts, the ad she ran in the L.A. Weekly called for “three good men.” A 2010 article in the Irish Times made the assumption that this was because of her bad experiences with the Runaways. Perhaps it was the same for Ford. I don’t know. Fortunately, more all-women bands came along because of them. I hope you’ll tune in next time to read more about them.

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2 thoughts on “Women Learn To Be Women – Part 2 (Runaways edition)

  1. paperkingdoms

    Hmm. I wonder if it has more something to do with marketing / clearly fronting the band. All girl bands seem to be marketed more as a unit, rather than front-person-and-band… at least as far as I’m remembering, and outside of motown.

    • Agreed. That’s certainly part of it. The Bangles and the Go-Gos were definitely marketed as a unit. Not sure about more contemporary bands although Kathleen Hanna stands out as a band leader to me.

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