- PHOTO COURTESY OF CHERIE CURRIE
- THEN AND NOW: Cherie Currie, former singer for the original all-teen-girl rock act The Runaways, plays SLO Brew on Aug. 18.
They paved the way for bands like the Go-Go’s and The Bangles. They were called “jailbait rock.” Some critics mocked them. Many fans didn’t know what to think of them. And (un-ironically) they were huge in Japan. I speak, of course, about The Runaways, the band featuring Joan Jett, Lita Ford, and Cherie Currie, the latter of whom plays SLO Brew this Sunday, Aug. 18 (8 p.m.; all ages; $15 presale or $17 at the door).
Currie’s life has been one wild ride. Recruited into the all-girl band The Runaways at the tender age of 15, she was quickly exposed to drugs and sex. A virtual burnout three years later, she quit the band and starred in the cult classic coming of age film, 1980’s Foxes, about a group of wayward valley girls (including Jodie Foster) out for a good time. Some other roles followed, mostly in straight-to-video B-movies, but alcoholism and drug abuse laid waste to Currie, who eventually got help and got sober. She worked for a while as a counselor to drug-addicted youth, started doing art and writing, and eventually became an author. Her 1989 memoir, Neon Angel—originally written as a cautionary tale for the young adult audience—was eventually revised into a graphic tell-all, and became the inspiration for the 2010 film The Runaways, starring Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett, Dakota Fanning as Currie, and Michael Shannon as the band’s svengali-like manager, Kim Fowley. The film’s a great depiction of the band’s short, explosive, and groundbreaking career. But in the strangest twist of all, more than a decade ago, Currie became a chainsaw artist. Seriously! Oh, and she also married and later divorced the actor Robert Hays (Airplane!), with whom she has a musician son named Jake, who plays with her band.
How’d she go from rock star to actress to author to chainsaw artist?
“I don’t know,” she said during a recent phone interview. “One of those flukes. Art has been very good to me. When I was a counselor for drug-addicted teens in the ’80s, I’d sit in sessions and start sketching, and I eventually took the drawings of princesses and things to [publisher] Price Stern Sloan. They asked me how long I’d been drawing, and I said a year, and they asked me how that was possible. So I walked in an artist and walked out an author. After that I started painting and making relief carving, and one day I was driving to the beach and saw these guys by the side of the road doing chainsaw carvings. I didn’t stop, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so a couple weeks later I went back and into their gallery and was amazed. The sculptures weren’t crude; they were beautiful. This voice in my head said, ‘You can do this,’ so I talked to the owner and he let me apprentice there. My first piece, a carving of three sea turtles, was accepted into the Malibu Arts Festival, and they didn’t even take work by the artist I was apprenticing under. Chainsaw carving helped me get over another stage of the fear concept because it’s a dangerous thing to do.”
How did she come to update her memoir Neon Angel—A Memoir of a Runaway?
“I was dating someone in 2000—he was kind of an ass—and the guy read my young adult book and said, ‘Do you ever think what people will think of you?’ You know, I wrote this book to help young people, but I reread it and thought, ‘Oh my god.’ I was embarrassed by the way he took the book. And I thought to myself, ‘You didn’t even tell half the story.’ So I took that judgment he laid on me and decided to turn around and write the real story, not pull any punches. I just told every story that I could and in far more detail, and it’s graphic and heavy, but I had to do that for people who had similar experiences and to warn those who hadn’t how bad it could be. It’s a cautionary tale.”
Apparently, being a rock star isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
- PHOTO COURTESY OF CHERIE CURRIE
- CHERIE OH BABY: Currie was recruited into The Runaways at the age of 15.
“I was a kid. We were all kids, thrown out there with no parental supervision. We didn’t make any money and were basically raped by anyone who was supposed to be taking care of us. Everyone made money but us. Our first tour was 3 1/2 months, and I was only 16 years old. We were growing up very quickly, and there were a lot of drugs in the ’70s—that was normal.”
In three short years, Currie had had enough and quit the band.
“We burned out very quickly. Lita [Ford] said it best to Vicki Blue [another member of The Runaways who was then working on Edgeplay: A Film About the Runaways], and I think this little tidbit ended up on the cutting room floor, but Lita said, ‘We really should have taken a break.’ I would have gone back, but the thing is we didn’t have anyone to mediate. We were children turning into women in front of thousands of people, and we were all very insecure. Also, Kim Fowley liked to pit us against one another. He wanted us all on edge because he thought it made the music better. Had we just been given a rest … but it got to the point that I was so tired and nothing was being resolved. And Lita and Joan and Sandy [West, another Runaways member] were such great musicians. My voice is kind of odd, very deep for a teenager, and I didn’t feel I was worthy. I thought when I quit that they’d be happy.”
Currie felt betrayed by the results of Blue’s documentary Edgeplay, mainly because she says she was promised control over how she would be characterized in the film. Joan Jett reportedly refused to cooperate with Blue at all, and that’s why many of The Runaways’ songs don’t appear in the film.
“To be honest, Vicki—you see, again, I’m not that much into the biz aspect—I worked with Vicki out of the goodness of my heart because I thought we were friends. I had a verbal agreement to allow me to pick and choose what she could use, but she didn’t stick with that … .”
And then there’s the album Currie recorded three years ago with producer Matt Sorum of Velvet Revolver that featured guest artists such as Slash, Billy Corgan, Juliette Lewis, Duff McKagan, and others. Currie said Kenny Laguna, who was executive producer on The Runaways, has refused to release the masters or to give her the masters so she can release them. In fact, because she was under contract, she couldn’t perform live for three years. That contract is now expired. Why did that happen?
“I don’t know why,” said Currie, but it’s one of the reasons she’s decided to go on her current tour. She’s even considering going back in the studio and recording her material and releasing it on her own.
“When I was opening for Joan Jett, one critic in a major newspaper awarded me ‘best live performance,’ but Kenny has my record and has never even mastered it! I decided to go out and play, and hopefully he’ll release the record or the masters to me, but I’m moving forward. I just have a really hard time with 60/40 contracts. Record companies own you! I mean, are you kidding? I’ve always been a person not into authority. I just think it’s a travesty.”
- PHOTO BY MARSHALL FOSTER
- AMERICANA HEROES: El Paso-based Dirty River Boys bring their killer sounds to SLO Brew on Aug. 21.
Clearly Currie still has an edge to her, but she’s also become respectable, and songs like her tune “Believe” are downright uplifting … some might even say sappy. If people come to her show expecting to see the 15-year-old wild child of The Runaways, will they be disappointed?
“No, they won’t be disappointed at all. I’m a fricking chainsaw carver! I’m no pansy-ass. I have a disease that I fight every day. Alcoholism, being clean and sober, that’s a fight too. Especially with my past as a kid hard rocker and drug addict, I’ve always been a bit edgy. I have something to say, even at 53 years old. I’m not sure what it is yet, but that’s why I’m doing it.”
Rusted Stone will open Currie’s show. And also at SLO Brew this week, if you’re not going to see English comedian, actor, and author Russell Brand at the Fremont on Friday, Aug. 16, the second most entertaining thing in town will no doubt be SLO Brew’s Karaoke Contest (8 p.m.; all ages), which is sponsored by Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey. The winner will walk away with $500! If you want to perform, sign up by contacting email@example.com.
And on Wednesday, Aug. 21 (7:30 p.m.; 21-and-older; $12), SLO Brew will be host to The Dirty River Boys, and I have to say, their debut album Science of Flight is a killer collection of Americana. This hard-scrabble group of Texans delivers gritty, infectious, and exhilarating music from the heartland. If you’re in any way a fan of Americana, this is a must-see show! The Bob Lawrence Band opens.
- PHOTO COURTESY OF DARIUS RUCKER
- TRUE BELIEVER: Former Hootie & the Blowfish front man Darius Rucker has been enjoying a second career as a country star, and plays Aug. 15 at Vina Robles Amphitheater.
From Hootie to howdy!
Perhaps no one, not even Darius Rucker himself, could have imagined this former rock star would get a second, bigger career as a Nashville-based country music star.
Rucker, born in South Carolina in 1966, gained his fame as the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of the popular rock act Hootie & the Blowfish, which he founded in 1986 while attending the University of South Carolina. The band released five studio albums while he was a member and charted six Top 40 hits.
After he quit the band, he tried his hand at R&B with the 2002 release Back to Then, but it launched no singles. Six years later, he signed to Capitol Records as a country artist, and his career has again exploded!
His first album, Learn to Live, contained his first country single, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” making him the first African American since Charley Pride in 1983 to have a No. 1 single on the Hot Country Songs chart. Then he did it again, twice, with “It Won’t Be Like This for Long” and “Alright.” He also had a No. 3 with “History in the Making,” all off his country debut!
In 2009, the Country Music Association named him New Artist of the Year, making him only the second African American to ever win any award from the organization. He’s also now a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
- PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRISTOPHER WILLLIAMS
- SINGING FOR A CAUSE: Nashville singer-songwriter Christopher Williams headlines the eighth annual Benefit Concert for Escuela del Rio on Aug. 17 at Castoro Cellars Winery.
His second album, Charleston, SC 1966, came out in 2010 and contained two more No. 1 singles, “Come Back Song” and “This.”
His third album, True Believers, was released last May and has charted three singles so far, “True Believers,” “Wagon Wheel” (a cover by Old Crow Medicine Show), and most recently “Radio.”
You can see Darius Rucker with opening act Ann Marie on Thursday, Aug. 15 (8 p.m.; all ages; $48.50 to $98.50), at Vina Robles Amphitheatre. I just saw Tony Bennett up there, and it was incredible. The venue is amazing! The trick is to not be in any hurry to leave. After the show, we stuck around and drank a couple more beers while listening to a jazz trio performing in the courtyard, and by then the crowd was gone and getting out of the parking lot and onto Hwy. 46 was a breeze. Stay safe out there!
- PHOTO COURTESY OF DULCIE TAYLOR
- BEMUSE: New SLO Country resident and singer-songwriter Dulcie Taylor will open the eighth Annual Benefit Concert for Escuela del Rio on Aug. 17 at Castoro Cellars Winery.
More music …
Don’t miss the eighth annual benefit concert for Escuela del Rio this Saturday, Aug. 17, at Castoro Cellars Winery (7 p.m.; $25) with Nashville singer-songwriter Christopher Williams and new SLO County resident and singer-songwriter Dulcie Taylor opening. Williams’ music features spirited guitar work, a lone African djembe hand drum, and his sweet, soaring voice. If you like honest songwriting and a dynamic live show, check him out. Taylor, Mesa/Bluemoon recording artist, is new to our area but not to the music scene, having shared a stage with the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, John Gorka, Bonnie Raitt, The Doobie Brothers, Dave Mason, Livingston Taylor, Raul Malo, Asleep at the Wheel, and Kathy Mattea. Tickets are available online at castorocellars.com, in the Castoro Cellars tasting room, by calling the venue at 238-0725, and at Escuela del Rio (466-4438). Bring a picnic dinner, but no outside beverages are allowed. Escuela del Rio is a day program for adults with developmental disabilities in North San Luis Obispo County.
Keep up with Glen Starkey via twitter at twitter.com/glenstarkey, friend him at facebook.com/glenstarkey or myspace.com/glenstarkey, or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.