Ah, to be young, moneyed and musically inclined in late-1950s Southern California.
With wealthy, Hollywood-connected parents, the golden beaches right around the corner and plenty of similarly “privileged” friends around, what couldn’t be yours if you really wanted it?
If you were a teenaged Kim Fowley just out of the hospital after your second bout with polio, a place to live might have been a good start. But Fowley’s dad wasn’t interested, so the gangly teen — who’d already lived in foster homes as well as Hollywood mansions during childhood due to his parents’ “approach” to raising him — crashed with a buddy.
Then he started bunking with his buddy’s mom. (No word on his buddy’s reaction).
Fowley was privileged the way Southern California was Eden, and we have a lot of great rock ‘n’ roll to thank for both of them — Fowley and his stomping grounds, I mean.
I learned this from the latest episode of the Let It Roll podcast, which for the second consecutive week includes mention of Fowley and his contributions to popular music emanating from the Los Angeles area.
Aspiring record man Lou Adler sure did appreciate Fowley’s star-spotting and hit-making talents. Adler signed Jan and Dean right out from under Fowley, then produced a second version of the song “Alley Oop” after Fowley discovered it and helped make it a hit. Adler also snagged another Fowley discovery, the Mamas and the Papas.
I wonder if Adler ever had any musical ideas of his own. Or was Fowley already so unlikable that he asked for it, considering his well-documented villainy?
Far be it from me to determine who was the bigger a-hole and when—that exercise is liable to take forever and end up leading all the way back to the original Eden, at which point we’re still left with that age-old question, “whose big idea was it, letting the snake in?”
The Runaways in their heyday keep reminding me of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the latter of whom I have long considered the Baddest Band in the Land in the summer of 1976.
The Runaways were pretty damn bad then, too, and by “bad” I mean what Isaac Hayes was talking ‘bout when he said Shaft was a “bad mother-“ only to be interrupted by the backup singers.
I was reminded of that halcyon summer this week when I listened to the latest episode of Let It Roll. I was 15 and I knew about the Runaways by then because I had a subscription to Creem, and I was certainly intrigued but they never got any radio airplay so I didn’t take the plunge.
Then that fall they — the Runaways, not Skynyrd, who were never on any magazine cover, ever — showed up on the cover of Crawdaddy, all of them staring out at me like a gang of toughs about to kick my ass for stumbling into their gathering in a back alley somewhere.
Later on Creem ran a beach photo, all of them in bikinis, and my life was complete. Ok, not really, but think about it—they were enduring, they hung around for a goodly while and I salute Old Dominion University for booking them in the spring of 1978, perhaps as far into the Deep South as the girls — who surely were women by then — ever got.
I never saw ‘em live, and, like the New York Dolls, I sure do wish I had. But I did get to interview Joan Jett once, she then invited me to the gig where I met her and Kenny Laguna as well, and now maybe my life really is complete.
Ed Legge (@freebirdyeller) is a life-long musician, long-time journalist and sometime corporate dweeb who’s writing a book about originating rock ‘n’ roll’s most absurd tradition.