The Runaways were an American all-female rock band that recorded and performed in the second half of the 1970s. The band released four studio albums and one live set during its run. Among their best-known songs are “Cherry Bomb”, “Hollywood”, “Queens of Noise” and a cover version of the Velvet Underground’s “Rock & Roll”. The Runaways, though never a major success in the United States, became a sensation overseas, e.g. in Japan, thanks to the hit single “Cherry Bomb”.
- Joan Jett – rhythm and lead guitar, lead and backing vocals (1975–1979); bass guitar (1977)
- Sandy West – drums, percussion, backing and lead vocals (1975–1979)
- Micki Steele – lead vocals (1975); bass guitar (1975)
- Lita Ford – bass guitar (1975, 1978); lead and rhythm guitar, backing and lead vocals (1975–1979)
- Peggy Foster – bass guitar (1975)
- Cherie Currie – lead and backing vocals, keyboards, tambourine, snare drum (1975–1977)
- Jackie Fox – lead and rhythm guitar (1975); bass guitar, backing and lead vocals (1975–1977)
- Vicki Blue – bass guitar, backing vocals (1977–1978)
- Laurie McAllister – bass guitar (1978–1979)
- Rodney Bingenheimer – orchestration on The Runaways (1976)
- Duane Hitchings – keyboards on And Now… The Runaways (1978)
The Runaways were formed in late 1975 by drummer Sandy West and rhythm guitarist Joan Jett after they had both introduced themselves to producer Kim Fowley, who gave Jett’s phone number to West. The two met on their own at West’s home and later called Fowley to let him hear the outcome. Fowley then helped the girls find other members. Two decades later he said, “I didn’t put the Runaways together, I had an idea, they had ideas, we all met, there was combustion and out of five different versions of that group came the five girls who were the ones that people liked.”
Starting as a power trio with singer/bassist Micki Steele, the Runaways began the party and club circuit around Los Angeles. They soon added lead guitarist Lita Ford who had originally auditioned for the bass spot. Steele was fired from the group, later resurfacing in the Bangles. Local bassist Peggy Foster took over on bass but left after just one month. Lead singer Cherie Currie was found and recruited in a local teen nightclub called the Sugar Shack, followed by Jackie Fox (who had originally auditioned for the lead guitar spot) on bass.
The Runaways were signed to Mercury Records in 1976 and their debut album, The Runaways, was released shortly after. The band toured the U.S. and played numerous sold-out shows. They headlined shows with opening acts such as Cheap Trick, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The documentary Edgeplay: A Film About the Runaways, directed by former Runaway bassist Vicki Blue (aka Victory Tischler-Blue) revealed that each girl patterned herself after her idols: Currie patterned her look after David Bowie, Jett after Suzi Quatro, Ford as a cross between Jeff Beck and Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, West after Queen drummer Roger Taylor, and Fox after Kiss bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons.
Their second album, Queens of Noise was released in 1977 and the band began a world tour. The Runaways quickly became lumped in with the growing punk rock movement. The band (already fixtures on the West Coast punk scene) formed alliances with mostly male punk bands such as the Ramones and the Dead Boys (via New York City’s CBGB) as well as the British punk scene by hanging out with the likes of the Damned, Generation X and the Sex Pistols.
In the summer of 1977, their booking agent David Libert sent the group to Japan where they played a string of sold out shows. The Runaways were the number 4 imported music act in Japan at the time, behind only ABBA, Kiss and Led Zeppelin in terms of album sales and popularity. The girls were unprepared for the onslaught of fans that greeted them at the airport. The mass hysteria was later described by guitarist Jett as being “like Beatlemania”. While in Japan, the Runaways had their own TV special, did numerous television appearances and released the live album Live in Japan that went gold. Also in Japan, Fox left the band shortly before the group was scheduled to appear at the 1977 Tokyo Music Festival. Jett temporarily took over bass duties and when the group returned home they replaced Fox with Vicki Blue.
Currie then left the group after a blow-up with Ford in the fall of 1977. Jett, who had previously shared vocals with Currie, took over lead vocals full-time. The band released their fourth album, Waitin’ for the Night and started a world tour with their friends the Ramones. Currie released a solo LP, Beauty’s Only Skin Deep, produced by Kim Fowley, and began a separate U.S. tour, which included her identical twin sister Marie. Mercury Records chose not to release Currie’s album in the U.S., although it was available as a pricey import via France. In 1980, billed as Cherie and Marie Currie, the sisters released an album for Capitol, Messin’ with the Boys, produced by Steve Lukather, who was engaged to and later married Marie Currie. Cherie had some success after the Runaways. “Since You Been Gone”, a duet with Marie, off Messin’ with the Boys charted number 95 on U.S. charts.
Due to disagreements over money and the management of the band, the Runaways and Kim Fowley parted ways in 1977. The group quickly hired new management, Toby Mamis, who also worked for Blondie and Suzi Quatro. When the group split with Fowley, they also parted with their record label Mercury/Polygram, to which their deal was tied. In the Edgeplay documentary, members of the group (especially Fox and Currie) as well as the parents of Currie and West, have accused Fowley, and others assigned to look after the band, of broken promises as to schooling and other care, using divide and conquer tactics to keep control of the band, along with the verbal taunting of band members. The band reportedly spent much time enjoying the excesses of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle during this time. They partnered with Thin Lizzy producer John Alcock, after Jett’s future partner Kenny Laguna turned down the job, to record their last album And Now… The Runaways.
Vicki Blue left the group due to medical problems and was briefly replaced by Laurie McAllister in November 1978. Laurie McAllister was referred to the band by her neighbor, Duane Hitchings, who played keyboards on And Now… The Runaways. Before joining the Runaways, Laurie played with Baby Roulette and the Rave Ons, who had one song released on a Kim Fowley compilation LP called Vampires From Outer Space. Laurie appeared onstage with the Runaways at their final shows in California during the last weeks of December 1978 and McAllister quit soon after in January 1979.
Disagreement between band members included the musical style; Joan Jett wanted the band to take a musical change, shifting towards punk rock/glam rock while Lita Ford and Sandy West wanted to continue playing hard rock/heavy metal music. Neither would accept the other’s point of view. Finally, the band played their last concert on New Year’s Eve 1978 at the Cow Palace near San Francisco and officially broke up in April 1979.