Cherie Currie Interview: Runaways Vocalist Sets the Record Straight on Biography Involvement and Perfect Storm Leading to Her Departure
Image attributed to Cherie Currie
California native Cherie Currie joined the all female rock band The Runaways in 1975 at the age of 15. She was the lead vocalist with bandmates Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Sandy West, Jackie Fox and Vicki Blue.
After three albums (The Runaways, Queens of Noise and Live in Japan) with The Runaways, Currie went on to record Beauty’s Only Skin Deep as a solo artist for Polygram Records, and with her twin sister Marie, she recorded Messin’ with the Boys for Capitol Records and Young and Wild for Raven.
“I wrote her and said, ‘You know, Evelyn, it would be really nice for you to tell the truth of why I didn’t want to be involved in this book.’ When I worked with Evelyn on the cover story of Sandy, I was very concerned because my friend is dead. She can’t defend herself. I really didn’t like the questions Evelyn was asking me because I thought that Sandy’s memory meant everything. I was the closest to her of all the bandmates. She and I remained friends right up until the end. In fact, when Sandy got into some trouble, I had her power of attorney. So that just shows what kind of friends we were.”
In the 80s and beyond, Currie worked as an actress on films such as Foxes, Parasite, Wavelength, Twilight Zone: The Movie, The Rosebud Beach Hotel, Rich Girl and others as well as television appearances on Murder, She Wrote, Matlock and Warehouse 13.
Currie wrote a memoir entitled Neon Angel recounting her life with The Runaways. A 2010 film titled The Runaways, executive-produced by Jett, explored the relationship between Jett and Currie. For the past several years, Currie has been a woodcarving artist using a chainsaw to create her art. She is divorced from actor Robert Hays, and they have one son (Jake) together.
The singer will be playing dates across the US next month kicking off on November 6 at Gramercy Theatre in New York, with shows in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Arizona.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Cherie, congratulations on winning the Music Legend Award at the Malibu Music Awards! I saw the photo with you, Lita and Dick Van Dyke.
Cherie Currie: I met him right before the event, and then we took pictures afterward. It was kind of a crazy night. Lita coming to give me the award, and then playing with me was just a dream come true. There really aren’t words to express that feeling of standing on a stage with her after 35 years. It was just a magical experience.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any news or updates regarding the new album being released?
Cherie Currie: No. Basically it’s just right now between my lawyer and Blackheart (Records) trying to come up with a solution. I’m just moving on. I hope it comes out one day, but now I’m just going to move forward and do shows. I just went in the studio and recorded some songs, believe it or not, with Kim Fowley and Lita Ford. I can’t control what Blackheart wants to do or doesn’t want to do. I think I’ve agonized over it for too many years. You get to a point where you just walk away, and that’s what I have done.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You recently recorded some music with the band Shameless?
Cherie Currie: Yeah. I did a few songs with Alexx Michael. He’s really a terrific guy. He had me come in and do a couple of songs for one of his albums, and then I went in and did a couple more. I do quite a bit of that kind of thing. There’s also another record that’s coming out called Waste Management. I’m actually having dinner with them this week. But that record was made back when I made my record for Blackheart close to 3 years ago. It took them this amount of time to get everything mixed and all that. But I enjoy working on other people’s music as well as a performer and singer.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did Joan (Jett) ask you to work on her new album Unvarnished?
Cherie Currie: Nope. Never got asked to. I did reach out for her to work on a song or two on mine or at least my manager did (who was her manager at the time). But I guess there was no interest there.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It’s amazing to me how many books are published on the same subject and every one of them claims to be the definitive biography. Have you read Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways, released earlier this year, by Evelyn McDonnell?
Cherie Currie: I didn’t read it, and I probably won’t read it. They really wanted me involved with that book. Kenny Laguna, Joan’s manager, wanted me involved. But I didn’t really get along with Evelyn very well when she did a story on Sandy West (former Runaway drummer) right after Sandy died. I actually had a little conversation via email with Evelyn about that because they were really throwing stones at me saying I was difficult to work with.
I wrote her and said, “You know, Evelyn, it would be really nice for you to tell the truth of why I didn’t want to be involved in this book.” When I worked with Evelyn on the cover story of Sandy, I was very concerned because my friend is dead. She can’t defend herself. I really didn’t like the questions Evelyn was asking me because I thought that Sandy’s memory meant everything. I was the closest to her of all the bandmates. She and I remained friends right up until the end. In fact, when Sandy got into some trouble, I had her power of attorney. So that just shows what kind of friends we were.
I was upset because of Evelyn’s questions, I was concerned about the article and if it was going to put a bad light on Sandy. I didn’t enjoy the article. I wasn’t thrilled with it at all. I just didn’t want to do the book. As I was explaining to Evelyn, I was trying to protect Sandy, but I’m the one that’s turning out to be the bad guy in the press because nobody talks about why I didn’t want to do the book (laughs).
Lita is doing a book now with HarperCollins, and she and I are discussing, for the first time, what it was like for different people in different situations. My vision of what was happening was different than her vision of what was happening. Our visions were extremely different. She didn’t understand my side, and I didn’t understand her side. But now as parents looking back, Lita and I have really been able to … it has just been great. It has just been great talking with Lita especially about my last day with the band and why I quit. She feels terrible because she feels she is being blamed for my leaving.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What happened that day?
Cherie Currie: It was really the perfect storm of why I left. If I were going to blame anybody for that disaster that day, it would’ve been the photographer, Barry Levine. I had gotten there early and helped him set up the shots. He knew I had to leave, but he smashed his camera on the floor and was being a drama king and set everyone off. Everybody was so tired, and we’d been working for years without a break. It was just the perfect storm.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And the events leading up to form the perfect storm that day?
Cherie Currie: We’d just gotten back from Japan. We were getting ready to go back into the studio. Jackie (Fox) had hacked her arms up in Japan and was shipped off to go home without even an escort. So, whenever somebody says, “You abandoned the band,” those people are so childish. I was 17 years old. Why didn’t they look at Jackie just a month before that when she took a broken glass and cut her arms? What would drive her to do something like that? Is that a healthy situation? No it wasn’t. Not healthy at all for her to be hacking at herself like that. Then she was just put in a cab to go to the airport all alone with nobody taking care of her. She was only 17 years old. I mean, come on, it was out of control!
We were poorly managed, we were being ripped off, and they didn’t care. We were the moneymaking kids that didn’t make any money. Everybody else was making money off of us, and we were exhausted. We had no mediators to sit us down and talk to us about everything. The rumors were flying. Stories were made up to pit us against each other. It was just ridiculous. Lita and I are the only members who have children now, so we see things from a whole different angle.
I believe that had we taken a break back then and come together to discuss some of this stuff that was bothering us, we would’ve stayed together. But they didn’t want to wait. They just wanted to get us back out on that road and back in the studio so that they could continue to pad their pockets while we were making nothing. We had to ask for a few dollars to buy Tampax. They were raking in all this money and crying poor all the time, but if we weren’t on the road or in the studio, they weren’t making their money. We were just totally abused and used. After a while, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to survive.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Absolutely. Have you basically reconciled with the other band members and with Kim over the years?
Cherie Currie: Yes. Kim has produced 4 songs for me. He has shed many tears looking back on things. Again, bringing up the fact of being a parent, I looked at my son when he was 15 (the age I was when I started in the band), and I really can’t even believe that it happened, that we went out on the road without any parental supervision. Kim never had children. He didn’t know how to deal with children. We were children. His heart breaks a lot. He has been very ill. Kim just wants to do what he can to kind of make up for all of it, for what he feels was wrong.
I’ve been friends with Jackie, and I’ve been friends with Joan. Jackie and I really don’t speak that much anymore. But I felt that Joan and I were considered to be good friends up until this whole problem with this album, and me not working for 2 ½ years. I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t understand why it was happening. I hope her record is doing well. I’d love to have a reunion just for fun, and Joan wants nothing to do with it. Why not, you know? You only live once.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why doesn’t Joan want a reunion?
Cherie Currie: She says she’s too old to do it. But the thing is that she’s still doing Runaway songs in her set. I’m doing Runaway songs, and Lita is doing Runaway songs. Why is Joan too old? It would be one thing if she said she was too old to do these songs and stopped doing them. Then I would understand. It’s just that she doesn’t want to do these songs with us. That’s hard. That’s hurtful. But Lita and I can’t do anything about it but love her. We’ll always love her. She just made too big of a deal out of it. It’s just getting out and being friends, playing and celebrating something we did that was extraordinary.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): When you talk about being on the road without parental supervision, was your mom not reaching out to you at all?
Cherie Currie: My mother was getting remarried and moving to Indonesia. Her life was changing radically. My twin sister and I moved in with my dad, my aunt and my grandma. The problem was that if we had any questions or my dad had any questions about anything, Kim would say, “Well, if you’re going to make a stink about it, I’m just going to pull the plug on everything.” Being the parent of a musical man, and my son Jake is truly a musical man, I can understand the panic that the parents felt back then because this was our dream. No loving parent wants to stand in the way of that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you warned Jake about the temptations of the road?
Cherie Currie: Well, he’s on the road with me. He’s got his band, but they just do shows here and there. He’s on the road with me playing in my band and has acted as road manager at times. Jake has learned so much by seeing what to do and what not to do. When I took off on the road with my band, I had just left my management (Blackheart). I had just left everyone.
We were out on our own to do this without any support. I didn’t have a manager. I still don’t have a manager, and Jake has really seen how this rolls from the ground up. He really enjoys it. It’s like everything that could go wrong has gone wrong so far (laughs). But he has really learned what it’s like out there and what he’ll have to do when it’s his turn to go out and support a record.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You and ex-husband Robert Hays seem to have a fulfilling relationship now. Was this just a case of the two of you not being able to live together?
Cherie Currie: We could’ve lived together, but we’re really both loners. There’s an age difference. There’s a 12-year difference between us as well. All I know is at the time that we got a divorce, I really felt we needed to. But I love him more now than I ever did when we were married and vice versa. We do everything as a family. We support each other. We make decisions together. We’ve seen so many bad divorces and kids that are caught in the crossfire in these really destructive situations that leave lifelong scars on them. We decided right off the bat after witnessing this really close up with family members and others that we were not going to let that happen.
Bob and I both have been single. Neither one of us have gotten remarried. I don’t date. He doesn’t date. We just do everything together. If he has an event, I go with him. If I have an event he comes with me. It’s really like we are a family, but we have two homes. I just love him so much. I would do anything for him, and he would do anything for me. He just emceed the Malibu Music Awards, which I kind of asked him to do (laughs). They were looking for somebody that was qualified, and Bob is just brilliant. I just love him so much. I’m so blessed.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): As far as looks, Jake appears to be the spitting image of his dad. He’s a very handsome young man.
Cherie Currie: Thank you so much. Jake’s a great person and a stellar human being. He has never raised his voice. I’ve never heard him yell at anyone ever or say anything bad about anybody. Bob and I don’t know where that comes from because he certainly didn’t get that from us (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): (laughs) Cherie, how did you get involved in chainsaw art?
Cherie Currie: It was really a fluke. God works in mysterious ways. Art has shaped my life. I wouldn’t even have my very first book (Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story, 1989, Price Stern Sloan) if I hadn’t been an artist. When I was a counselor for drug addicted kids, I had to spend a couple of hours in school with them every day, and I had to do something, so I started sketching. My sketches were very romantic, whimsical princes, princesses and castles, and I took them to Price Stern Sloan as an artist.
I wanted to be an artist for children’s books. When they looked at my artwork, they said, “Wow! How long have you been doing this?” I said, “About a year.” They said, “How is that possible?” I started telling them the story of the band, and they turned to me and said, “We’ve been looking for our first young adult book, and this is it.” So I walked in as an artist and walked out as an author. I went from sketching to painting a deer skull on an oak top tabletop, but I wanted just to carve it out. I just needed to do that, so I bought a pine tabletop at the local hardware store and sketched out a desert scene and carved it out with a dremel. That dremel scared me too (laughs). But I painted it, and it was very beautiful.
I started making these beautiful tabletops and wall hangings, and then I was driving to the beach one day on Kanan Dume Road which is kind of the highway to Malibu and just happened to see a couple of guys chainsaw carving on the side of the road. I didn’t stop, but I couldn’t get them out of my head. Every day there was this voice in my head saying, “You have to go back.” A couple of weeks went by, but I went back and walked into their gallery and saw these stunningly beautiful, really finely detailed pieces of art mermaids and dolphins, but not the crude kind of stuff you would associate chainsaw carving with. They were beautiful. I thought to myself, “You can do this.” I immediately asked the owner if I could apprentice there. He looked at some of my artwork and said, “Sure.” So I started carving there the next day.
It’s really hard and a lot harder than I expected it to be, but my third piece was accepted into the Malibu Art Expo, which is very difficult to get into. They guy who taught me this craft never had any of his pieces accepted, so I really realized at that point that I was on to something. I absolutely love it. I love being my own boss, by the way (laughs). I don’t like anyone telling me what to do, and that stems from way back. But I’ve been doing this now for 12 years.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I believe Linda Ronstadt is the only 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame female inductee. Do women sometimes get snubbed there?
Cherie Currie: I really don’t know. First of all, Linda Ronstadt was such an enormous star. I don’t know who is up against her, but I think it’s all political which is a shame. I don’t trust anything anymore. I think honesty doesn’t really exist that much in this day and age. I think it is all back door deals and all that kind of stuff. But she deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and so do a lot of other people. I wish her the best. I have no idea how they run that. All I do know is that I can go up against males in the chainsaw world and kick their ass!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): There you go (laughs).
Cherie Currie: (laughs) But I really don’t spend much time doing the pity pot thing asking why men get all this appreciation and women get less. I think it’s a waste of time. I think eventually if they find some way to right that wrong, they will. But the thing is that women are a lot better at things than men are. Unfortunately, I don’t think men are quite ready to admit that yet (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): If you had the power to change things, Cherie, and go back in time, would you choose another path instead of joining the band?
Cherie Currie: No. I can look back and say, “Boy, I really wish I would’ve been more focused on us being ripped off.” But I couldn’t have been. We were in a world of mostly all men. It was one thing being women and doing it, but we were kids doing it. I think it was the 5 of us doing what we needed to do at that time. It’s just great to be acknowledged now over 35 years later. That’s really great. Everything in my life has been for a purpose in the end. I’ve learned so much. It has been a very interesting life. So no, I wouldn’t change anything.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was the corset your idea?
Cherie Currie: Oh yes. We were playing the Starwood on Santa Monica Blvd. We were doing a soundcheck, and I walked outside. I was smoking a cigarette looking across the street at this little lingerie store. It was literally a little cubicle type store, and there was a single corset in the window. That’s how small the store was. It just had one window, and there was the corset. The sun was hitting it a particular way so that I saw it very well.
I walked over to the store, went in and tried it on. I thought, “This is what I need to wear for ‘Cherry Bomb.’” I just wanted it for that single song, you know? It definitely brought a lot of attention to that song and to that band. Even though the girls really didn’t like the idea, I think it had much more of an impact than just doing the song by itself.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’d say it definitely did have an impact (laughs). Cherie, good luck on the tour next month. Will you be performing new material as well as Runaway songs?
Cherie Currie: Oh yes. I’ll be performing songs off the new record, doing Runaway songs, doing what the fans want to hear. I sign autographs, sign collectibles and let fans take pictures as a way to say, “Thank you.” No paid meet and greet for me. That’s my way to say thanks for coming, and thanks for supporting this band for all these decades. If it weren’t for the fans, we’d be nothing. I think that’s forgotten. The fans are number one. They want a reunion, and that’s why it’s so sad.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It is sad.
Cherie Currie: But it could happen. We’ll see.
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