The RUNAWAYS bassist and author Jackie Fox talks to LRI about the Queens of Noise, Barack Obama and Runaways movies
Here at LRI we are dedicating the rest of our red hot summer to the greatest all-female rock band, The Runaways. Jackie Fox was the original bassist of the groundbreaking 1970’s hard rock band. If you’re a serious vintage rock and roller you probably already KNEW that much. She was the high energy, unbelievably cute, all-american girl next door that held down the rhythm section along with the band’s founder and drummer, the late Sandy West. Jackie doesn’t give too many interviews so we were honored to talk to her about her time in the band, our feelings on the Lita and Jackie-less movie, her upcoming novel and what it’s like going to law school with Barack Obama. Read on….
This interview (as well as all of our Runaways-related interviews) is dedicated to the memory of drummer Sandy West.
Legendary Rock Interviews: We have an upcoming interview with Victory Tischler Blue a.k.a. Vicki Blue (film director and the bassist who followed Jackie in The Runaways) and we told her that not only did we love EDGEPLAY, the documentary on The Runaways that you two produced but also that it helped wash the taste of the “Hollywood” movie, THE RUNAWAYS out of our mouth. It told the real story of the band. Looking back on the hoopla around the theatrical film starring Dakota Fanning, do you still feel as strongly about your decision to not be involved?
Jackie Fox: Honestly the decision was pretty much made for me. I didn’t license my rights to the producers ( of the dramatic movie) when they first requested them because they wanted exclusive rights for not a lot of money and they said the project was going to focus on Joan and Cherie. So I told them to come back to me when they had a script. Later on I had nice discussions with both Art Linson (the producer) and Floria Sigismondi (the director), and after they changed some things that Lita and I objected to we offered to license them our life story rights. But they jerked us around and then decided just to do the movie without our rights.
LRI: You were part of the production team on EDGEPLAY and your interviews only confirmed why you were always my favorite member of the band. You looked fantastic and spoke with passion about your time in the band which is all we, as fans, wanted. Was it a challenge or personal mission of yours to see the film to completion and help correct some of the myths that have snowballed as the years have passed?
JF: Originally I didn’t even want to do Edgeplay, but once I got on board Vicki and I became friends and I offered to help out. It wasn’t exactly a mission, but it was definitely a huge challenge, after Joan decided she didn’t want there to be any Runaways music in the film. Losing “Cherry Bomb” was especially hard. But Vicki’s original cut of the picture had a running time of almost 3 hours, too long for a documentary about a band, and in a way it actually became a bit easier to edit the film and find a good through story after we lost the music. It would have been a better project with more of the band’s music, especially so that people could get a sense of the difference between the two main line-ups of the band, but at least with almost complete live versions of “Wild Thing” and “Rock and Roll” you get a pretty good idea of what the band was about. As for the myths – there are still plenty left to tell, as well as a lot of personal stories.
LRI: You’ve mentioned that there was a point in time where it wasn’t very “cool” to be a former RUNAWAY. In recent years, it’s hard to imagine anything more “cool” than being a former Runaway. Do you think the increased attention and respect from fans, musical peers and media in general could lead to other projects we can get excited about? We heard you have a book forthcoming, are there any plans to remaster the albums or do a proper compilation or the Runaways Tribute album?
JF: My book, “Shattered,” is a novel set in late 14th and early 15th century France. It’s got everything you could want in historical fiction – sex, love, murder, warfare, family strife… a monkey. I’ve been researching it for years including a lot of it in French, talk about a challenge! I’m almost done with the second draft after over a year of full-time writing. Soon it will go out to agents and publishers and if I’m lucky 3 people will read it, though hopefully someone will want to make it into a series, ala The Tudors. I understand now why most authors are married. Writing is quite isolating and time-consuming.
As for the “cool” factor, I think time makes a lot of things cool. Take the Monkees for instance. I was a HUGE fan growing up. I was a member of their fan club, I wrote them letters, I couldn’t wait to grow up and be able to wear Yardley Slickers lipstick… my friends and I even used to hold pretend weddings to various members of the Monkees in the backyard. But by the time I was 16, I was embarrassed at having been a fan, and so when Davy Jones showed up to the “Queens of Noise” listening party I didn’t even want to meet him. And then I grew up and realized just how great their music really was, and as soon as their albums became available for download I got them for my iPod. I was even going to name one of my cats Mr. Bob Dobalena, only they’re both female.
I’m not sure how many new Runaways projects we’ll see. As of the date of this interview, this is a band still not at peace, although we’re working on it. And the bass players are really the wrong people to ask, since the rest of the band doesn’t seem to want to have anything to do with us. At some point I may write my memoirs since I’ve been writing down and recording my memories for a while. Being the one in the band who didn’t do drugs was also isolating in its own way, but the up side is that I had a different experience than the other band members and I actually remember quite a bit of it.
LRI: The LIVE IN JAPAN album is a favorite of many fans and bandmembers. The adoration of the Japanese fanbase towards American bands has been well documented. You’re a smart lady….were you expecting such a reaction and have you been back to Japan or stayed in touch with some of the fans that made some of the super cool drawings or dolls of you guys?
JF: None of us expected the Runaways mania that greeted us in Japan in 1977. Live in Japan is my favorite album, too, not just because of the fans, though they were amazing, but because it’s the truest representation of us. Our manager didn’t trust us on the first album and he left us to our own devices on the second, not a good idea since the drug use had begun in earnest by then. But we almost always got it together on stage, and our Japan shows meant a lot to us.
I visited Japan a couple of years ago and one of my friends, Keiko Ginger Suzuki, who lives in Tokyo and has long had a friendship with the band, arranged a meet and greet for me on the night before I left. I thought maybe 3 people would show up, but it was more like 50, all of whom gave me gifts, including a very cool poster, which everybody signed. And enough Hello Kitty stuff to last a lifetime. The Japanese love cats as much as I do. It was a great trip. When we were there in 1977 we were so busy doing shows and interviews and t.v. appearances that we didn’t really get to see that much. This time I got to go to Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, Miyajima Island and a bunch of other places, and Keiko and I saw the Who at Buddokan, which was really fun.
LRI: The famous story was that Kim Fowley used Nigel from Blondie on the debut RUNAWAYS album and there was friction and resentment that followed over that decision. Did you feel any measure of freedom or comfort during the “QUEENS OF NOISE” sessions or was the studio just an all around drag compared to the live gigs?
JF: I loved making records. It was a bit of magic really. You’d walk into a studio with nothing more than your instruments and some blank tape and in a few hours you’d have a song. A few weeks later you’d walk out with an album. Bands in the 70’s had to deliver 2 albums a year to the record company, so there wasn’t time for a lot of experimenting or messing around. You just went in and did it. The recording budget for our albums was really low, and even though I could play just fine when we did the first album, I hadn’t been with the band very long and neither had Cherie. Kim used to complain that Cherie’s voice wasn’t rock and roll enough, not true, by the way, and I think he got nervous about the possibility of having to spend extra time with both of us. So he decided it would be better to devote most of that time to the vocals, because it’s much easier to get someone who sounds like the bass player than like the singer. By the second album he was no longer worried about either of us, or more likely he was already fed up with us. I was definitely hurt at the time that he wouldn’t let me play on the first album, though. Worse, it didn’t sound like me. I played with a pick, with a heavy emphasis on the down beat, and Nigel plays with his fingers and a much lighter style. That said, however, I think the first album is a better album, so what do I know?
LRI: Being from Illinois, it’s pretty awesome that you have toured with our hometown heros from Rockford, Illinois CHEAP TRICK and went to Law School with our former Senator and current President. Both must have been interesting in totally different ways. You famously stated on Huffington Post that during law school you wouldn’t have voted for Barack to do anything but “shut up” and that he was quite the orator. The burning question is who talked more, Rick Nielsen or Barack Obama?
JF: I think I talked more than either of them! And I’m funnier than Obama, although no one is as funny as Rick Nielson. I met Cheap Trick in 1976 when they played at a bowling alley in Waukegan, Illinois. They might just be the nicest guys in rock. And I saw them a couple of years ago doing their live version of Sgt. Pepper in Vegas. They’re still great!
LRI: I can’t imagine the amount of schoolwork involved in becoming a lawyer as I am finishing a B.A. and overwhelmed with kids, writing and life in general. I had heard that you were considering being a math major back in the day and was wondering what gave you the stamina and passion to follow a career in law. Did the past run ins and industry demons the Runaways faced influence your decision to get into your current work?
JF: Math is a career path for the very young, and I lost nine years of study time between being in the Runaways and working in the music industry afterwards. So by the time I went back to school math was out. Language and languages are passions of mine, though, and I studied linguistics. But the average amount of graduate study at the time for a Ph.D. in linguistics was 5 years, and jobs in linguistics are few and far between, especially in L.A. So for the heck of it I took the LSAT and applied to law schools, figuring that I’d have more flexibility with a law degree. The problem is that after 7 years of higher education, you end up with a lot of loans to pay off, and interest rates were over 10% when I went. So I had to work as a lawyer just to get out of debt. Entertainment law was a natural, since I’d worked in the industry for so long. Having been a party to some of the worst contracts ever has most definitely helped me in my work, although sadly not with matters Runaways. It’s hard to get unscrewed.
LRI: You’ve been involved with all sorts of contracts as an artist and now as a lawyer. Is there is any ONE thing you could advise a current filmmaker/writer/artist in terms of how the average person could attempt to interpret contracts or offers from prospective management or entertainment companies?
JF: If you believe in yourself as an artist, you have to get the best lawyer that will take you on. The piece of paper the other side will present to you will never be in your favor and will rarely ever be even a little bit balanced. If you live in L.A. and probably New York as well you can take classes in industry business for example through UCLA Extension or go to talks at the DGA or WGA sometimes. There’s also a ton of stuff on the internet and plenty of books written by entertainment attorneys. Otherwise, it’s almost impossible to interpret contracts on your own. I couldn’t do it after 3 years of law school. It takes about 2 years of full-time experience as an entertainment attorney to have a clue about what you’re doing. At the very least, ask tons of questions.
LRI: Cheap Trick and KISS are my all time favorite bands and I know that you were at least partially inspired by Gene Simmons. You’re a business and entertainment expert. What was it about KISS or Gene that really impressed you and are you at all still impressed with his business acumen or longevity?
JF: I loved the theatricality of KISS, which in the mid-70’s was still fresh and new. Both KISS and Cheap Trick were, believe it or not, pretty edgy when they first came out. I’d be more impressed with Gene’s business acumen if it didn’t seem to arise from such a pathological place of need. Getting rich is, like, an obsession for him. Although I will say that he and Shannon Tweed seem to be surprisingly good parents, which impresses me a lot more than a big house.
LRI: Thank you for taking the time to respond to one of the slobbering fanboys who was blown away by your music, turned on enough by your moxy and inspired enough by your story to want to keep chasin rock and roll dreams, if only as a writer. Is there anything you would like to say in closing to the legion of people who still feel the same way about your music all these years later or have recently discovered just how badass you are?
JF: I love being thought of as a badass as I sit here in my bathrobe with a cat on my lap. Makes me want to drive 30 in a 25 MPH zone! No, seriously, I love that I get mail from 50 years olds who remember the band and 15 years olds who are just discovering it. The fact that people are still listening to the rock of the Runaways after 35 years never ceases to amaze me. Can you imagine listening to big band music in the 70’s? Runaways fans make up for all the crap we took for daring to play rock at a time when it was truly a man’s world. I have a tremendous place in my heart for you all.
Jackie’s FB fan page
Sites That Link to this Post
- Legendary Runaways Interviews | Populism | August 21, 2012