Nathan Dee reflects on the remarkable life of Kim Fowley – producer, performer, songwriter and manager for some of rock and roll’s most timeless artists…
Have you ever lit a candle, a match or a lighter and held it in the air during a concert? Most people have.
There was once a time when such a thing just wasn’t done. This was until the emcee at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival on September 13, 1969 had audience light matches and lighters to welcome a nervous John Lennon to the stage for his first live appearance since playing Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 29, 1966 with his former group, The Beatles.
The man who created that iconic experience, which is now a concert staple, died this week – on January 15, 2015.
We have lost one of rock n roll’s most notorious, eccentric, charismatic and peculiar figures.
Kim Fowley was many things in his illustrious and prolific life. Songwriter, producer, impresario, publisher, manager, promoter, artist, publicist, sex worker, consulter, recording artist, performer, emcee, DJ, businessman, musician, filmmaker, actor, writer, chameleon, creep and cult figure. The list can go on and on. This man not only had his fingers in all these proverbial pies, he wrote the recipes, baked them himself and then gourmandised every last crumb left on the plate. As a record producer and songwriter, his name is connected to a near endless list of artists. To name a few: Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Seekers, Gene Vincent, Leon Russell, Kris Kristofferson, Frank Zappa, Slade, Cat Stevens, The Soft Machine, Blue Cheer, The Modern Lovers, Alice Cooper, KISS, Helen Reddy, Motley Crue and Nirvana.
But to the everyday music lover, he was probably best known for launching the careers of Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Cherie Currie, Sandy West and Jackie Fox by bringing them all together in 1975 and creating a teenage all girl band and phenomena known as The Runaways. He acted as their manager, songwriter, publisher, record producer and retrospectively was also the Svengali like figure behind the exploitation, or sexploitation rather, of this band of teenage girls, notably front woman/girl, Cherie Currie.
All this considered, it wasn’t until 2010 that Kim Fowley’s existence was thrust into the eyes of the mainstream audience with Michael Shannon’s portrayal of him in biographical film The Runaways.
There’s that old cliché, when a person, always having been on the fringes of the mainstream for their life and career, finally gets their moment in the limelight, fate always seems to step in and something goes horribly wrong.
Well it seems not even the “untouchable” and unique Kim Fowley was safe from this strange incidence, and in 2010 he had been diagnosed with bladder cancer. Sadly for the first time in his life, he had become another cliché.
In late August 2014, news broke that despite years of constant slagging matches in the press and public forums plus legal disputes over unpaid royalties in the courts and a general feeling of ill will toward Fowley, ex-Runaway vocalist Cherie Currie had moved her former Svengali and manager into her Los Angeles home to care for him during his battle with cancer. It was during this time Fowley also got to make amends with former Runaway lead guitarist Lita Ford, so much so that there was news that for the first time since 1977, Cherie Currie, Lita Ford and Kim Fowley were starting to work on a new album, despite Fowleys ill health.
On September 24, 2014, a now fully hospitalised Fowley married his long time girlfriend and music executive Kara Wright. They were initially to be married on Halloween, 2014, but Fowley’s health had deteriorated to the point where it was unclear whether or not he would make it to Halloween.
After a life and career full of controversy and mayhem it seems Kim Fowley died today surrounded by love and at finally at peace.
His biography describes him as being “one of the most colourful characters in the annals of rock & roll” and as “a shadowy cult figure well outside the margins of the mainstream.”
But underneath all the layers of mystique Kim Fowley built up around himself, one would simply find “the ultimate Hollywood pop hustler.”