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Kim Fowley

With a career spanning over half a century, Svengali singer/songwriter/poet/producer/promoter/manager KIM FOWLEY was best known as the pilot of 70s all-girl punk band The RUNAWAYS. Famous also for launching many a novelty pop act into the charts (initially helped one-hit-wonders the Hollywood Argyles), FOWLEY wrote a raft of songs for 60s stars, while production work came at a rapid speed combined to fit in with an illustrious, if not fruitful, solo calling.
Born Kim Vincent Fowley July 21, 1939 in Los Angeles, California (despite early journals depicting Manila in the Philippines, 1942), Kim was the son of suave actor Douglas Fowley and actress Shelby Payne; his grandfather was Rudolf Frimi. Buoyed by the advent of rock’n’roll and doo-wop, FOWLEY began his sojourn to cult status in the late 50s by managing local act The Sleepwalkers, whose ranks included drummer SANDY NELSON, singer BRUCE JOHNSTON and, from time to time, future entrepreneur PHIL SPECTOR.
Not short of a few bob or two having worked for a brief time in the sex industry, music finally took hold when he was taken under the guidance of Alan Freed and Berry Gordy, hoping that his first production duty (for that of `Charge’ by The Renegades) would hit a home run. Unfortunately, the semi-instrumental track was trampled underfoot by competitors JOHNNY & THE HURRICANES, LINK WRAY, et al. Nevertheless, guided by his new-found promotion skills, friends SKIP & FLIP (Clyde Battin and Gary Paxton) registered two major hits in `It Was I’ and `Cherry Pie’. This in turn led to Kim’s co-production involvement with Paxton’s aforementioned faux project, Hollywood Argyles, who scaled the charts in summer 1960 with Dallas Frazier’s `Alley-Oop’ (the title stemming from a 1930s cartoon strip).
From then on in, Kim’s Midas touch gave rise to PAUL REVERE AND THE RAIDERS (`Like, Long Hair’), B. BUMBLE AND THE STINGERS (`Nut Rocker’), The RIVINGTONS (`Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow’) – the latter as talent scout – and for local girl-group trio The MURMAIDS (`Popsicles And Icicles’); solo excursions included the B. Bumble-like `Daybreaker’ (as Kim And The Skippers), `Astrology’ and the UK-only collaboration with Andrew Oldham, `Young Love’ (as Bo And Peep).
During the onset of The BEATLES and the British Invasion, Kim lent support (as Master of Ceremonies) to Houston-born “bad boy” P.J. PROBY on his mission to re-address the balance for America. Back on home-soil, FOWLEY’s proto-psych solo singles `American Dream’, `The Trip’, `Mr. Responsibility’, `Underground Lady’ and `Gypsy Canyon’, were weirdly, before their time. Kim’s ill-conceived decision to interpret his own take of NAPOLEON XIV (Jerry Samuels’) Top 3 `They’re Coming To Take Me Away Ha Haa!’, proved fruitless, as was subsequent production work with The Belfast Gypsies (aka THEM’s Pat and Jackie McAuley), The N’Betweens (soon to be SLADE), The Farinas (pre: FAMILY) and SOFT MACHINE (on debut B-side `Feelin’ Reelin’ Squeelin’); he also played hypophone on The MOTHERS OF INVENTION’s `Freak Out’ debut double set.
Psychedelia now in full swing, FOWLEY’s solo career was properly underway with a debut LP, LOVE IS ALIVE AND WELL (1967) {*6}. Augmented by 18 year-old arranger/engineer/performer Michael Lloyd (of The WEST COAST POP ART EXPERIMENTAL BAND), the dedicated follower of flashy fashion rattled off self-descriptive tracks like `Flower City’, `Flower Drum Drum’, `Super Flower’ and the flop title track. The pair would duly work together again on St. John Green’s eponymous album of ’68.
Proclaiming that “Straight people are crazy” and “I am a mind of a monster in the body of a boy…”, on the flipside of the biker-girl cover shot of BORN TO BE WILD (1968) {*6}, the LP was rather tame in its Moog-versus-guitar-and-sticks instrumental renditions of hits-of-the-day `Pictures Of Matchstick Men’, `Hello I Love You’, `Sunshine Of Your Love’, the title track, etc., etc.
Early 1969’s OUTRAGEOUS {*8} was a different metal kettle of fish, courting controversy with every inch of his mind, body and soul. Breeching the Top 200 for a single week (his only ever entry), FOWLEY was a man possessed, sounding off sexual screams and shouts as if caged with IGGY POP and JIM MORRISON. The fact that STEPPENWOLF’s Mars Bonfire played guitar alongside other guests was essential to its rock credentials. Why it was dismissed by critics at the time was baffling. In proto-punk semi-classics `Animal Man’, `Bubble Gum’, `Night Rider’ and the mind-blowing 15-minute medley of `Up’, `Caught In The Middle’ and `Down’, the set’s claim-to-fame was that it was issued several months prior to THE STOOGES debut.
His final breaths for Imperial Records, GOOD CLEAN FUN (1969) {*6} stretched psychedelia to breaking point, FOWLEY and poetry going hand in hand on several talkie songs that were closer to old mucker FRANK ZAPPA. Experimental, comic, but nauseating at times (`Energy’ and phone-in `The Great Telephone Robbery’ for example), Kim also went all-out country on `Baby Rocked Her Dolly’, SPIRIT-esque on `Kangaroo’ and pastiche for `I’m Not Young Anymore’.
After working a revived GENE VINCENT on his `I’m Back And I’m Proud’ comeback LP, FOWLEY hopped over to Sweden to record THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1970) {*7}. Fusing freaky folk and scented with candles of country-psychedelia, the FOWLEY footprints were all over `Night Of The Hunter’, `Is America Dead?’ and a cover of `Cadillac’.
While glam rock belonged to Britain, the genre was borrowed by West Coast 30-something kid, KIM FOWLEY, albeit with a touch of proto-punk and fuzzed-up blues on 1972’s I’M BAD {*6}. Capitol Records had taken a gamble on the man, but with hot stuff `Queen Of Stars’, `Let It Loose’ and the title track, he might’ve been a contender. Impersonating LOU REED (a la lipstick, make-up, ruffled hair n’ all) or even the mighty MOTT THE HOOPLE, INTERNATIONAL HEROES (1973) {*6} followed its loss-leader to the dumpster – undeservedly so; check out `E.S.P. Reader’, `King Of Love’ and `I Hate You’.
Working within the fringes of rock’n’roll by producing FLASH CADILLAC & THE CONTINENTAL KIDS for their three cameo spots (as Herbie And The Heartbeats) in the coming-of-age movie American Graffiti (1973), Kim also spared studio time for The MODERN LOVERS; but these demo recordings went unheard for several years. In the meantime, his pen spun some magic for BLUE CHEER (`America Nights’ and `Fighting Star’), ALICE COOPER (Welcome To My Nightmare: `Escape’) and KISS (`King Of The Night Time World’ and `Do You Love Me?’).
Inspired by the burgeoning punk-rock scene from the East Coast, Kim spread the word that he was looking to produce a West Coast equivalent with a twist – they’d be an all-girl band – and teenagers, unlike L.A.’s other female hard-rock act, FANNY. For a year or so, his idea proved fruitless, until a meeting in ‘75 with rhythm guitarist Joan Jett, and, in turn, drummer Sandy West, led to the recruitment of others (bassist Jackie Fox, lead guitarist Lita Ford, plus reluctant singer Cherie Currie). The RUNAWAYS were now born. Conducting and choreographing his “girls” from a customised trailer park mobile home, the feisty quintet went on to release three albums (`The Runaways’, `Queens Of Noise’ and the CURRIE-less `Waitin’ For The Night’) under Kim’s management/production, until the inevitable parting of the waves late in ’77; note that Jackie had been replaced by Vicki Blue and future solo star JOAN JETT was now lead singer. During these heady times, Kim was also behind two other L.A. acts, The HOLLYWOOD STARS (in answer to the NEW YORK DOLLS) and The Orchids.
Street-cred won or lost by way of his work on HELEN REDDY’s 1977 `Ear Candy’ set, the producer-cum-oldest punk in town turned in a comeback solo set, LIVING IN THE STREETS (1978) {*6}. Branded “The Dorian Gray of Rock’n’Roll” by Sounds journalist Sandy Robertson, the punk icon helped launch VENUS & THE RAZORBLADES, The WEIRDOS and The GERMS, among many others; this should’ve been the time for Kim to shine. Full of panache and pastiche, the man of the moment revived two old A-side/B-side numbers in `Born To Make You Cry’ and `Thunder Road’, although self-indulgence, poetry and mimicry (bar the excellent glam re-vamp of `Motor Boat’ and `Big Bad Cadillac’) stunted the album’s growth.
Hot on its heels, SUNSET BOULEVARD (1979) {*6} and SNAKE DOCUMENT MASQUERADE (1979) {*6}, only just passed the 40-year-old’s lax quality control. While the first dealt with coke-fuelled impersonations of in-vogue idols (good examples, `Rubber Rainbow’ and `Teenage Death Girl’), the second was a sci-fi concept looking to every year in the forthcoming 80s decade that would envisage an impending pop music apocalypse; highlights included `1988: Searching For The Human In Tight Blue Jeans’ (very “Warm Leatherette”) and `1989: Waiting Around For The Next Ten Years’.
Weird and wonderful, the eccentric glam punk-oid returned in 1981 (as Kim Fowley Jr) for SON OF FRANKENSTEIN {*6}. A sleeve photo-shot taken of him some two decades prior, the schizoid LP was split two ways: one “alcoholic side” and the flip “psychedelic side”. From the fuzzed-up `Face On The Factory Floor’ to `World ‘99’, the record underwent a little surgery when released on CD under the title of one of its other treasures, `Bad News From The Underworld’.
Wanting desperately to kick-start a group that would be as big as The BEATLES or more glam than ABBA, his search took him to Australia, where he turned power-pop band Beathoven into The INNOCENTS. Returning to the States, he worked with rock acts CANDY and STEEL BREEZE, although an ill-fated attempt to cash-in with “fresh Runaways” on the solo success of JOAN JETT and LITA FORD, was better left unspoken.
But for a limited release of his pseudonymous FRANKENSTEIN AND THE ALL STAR MONSTER BAND (1984) {*5} effort – a sort of “Monster Mash” for lovers of Halloween songs – FOWLEY’s better days looked to be behind him as another of his proteges Shanghai failed to shine. A subsequent production link-up with Sweden’s industrial-goth team The LEATHER NUN resulted in `International Heroes’ (1990) – yes, the title was familiar but the songs were not KF covers.
Taking up a semi-reclusive “Howard Hughes”-type lifestyle in Berlin during the early 90s, only to re-appear from time to time on the odd CD (notably with The FLAMIN’ GROOVIES’ Chris Wilson and his Dawg Guitar on the live set, WHITE NEGROES IN DEUTSCHLAND (1993) {*5}), the ageing FOWLEY looked all but forgotten. Then, in a spate of several sporadic releases that spanned the mid-to-late 90s (which included the 1994-recorded WORMCULTURE (1996) {*6}, co-billed with The Rubbertown Freaks), the cult of Kim was back on song, starting with KINGS OF SATURDAY NIGHT (1995) {*6}, alongside multi-instrumentalist BEN VAUGHN.
At home in Britain as much as in L.A., further evidence that KIM FOWLEY was back was with LET THE MADNESS IN (also 1995) {*5}, HIDDEN AGENDA AT THE 13th NOTE (1997) {*6} – live in Jul ’95 with Glasgow-based The BMX BANDITS – and MICHIGAN BABYLON (1998) {*5}.
Of the latter set, FOWLEY was supported in strength by Matthew Smith, Troy Gregory and John Nash, while Deb Agoli (of OUTRAGEOUS CHERRY) performed a duet on opener `We’re Not Having A Good Time’. Further Scottish connections came courtesy of TEENAGE FANCLUB’s Norman Blake and FUTURE PILOT AKA’s Sushil Dade, when they contributing respective pieces on 1998’s drum ‘n’ bass/house set, THE TRIP OF A LIFETIME {*6}; SEX, CARS & GOD (1999) {*5} rounded off the decade.
Twilight home to the likes of their idols ALEX CHILTON, BEN VAUGHN and now KIM FOWLEY, Glasgow’s Shoeshine Records (run by producer Francis Macdonald) fermented one heck of a set from the man. Verging on garage-glam or greased-back genres not yet invented, FANTASY WORLD (2003) {*6} had that distinctive twee-pop feel that had belonged to C-86 since way back; `22nd Century Boy’, `School Girl X’ and the title track gelling well.
On the back of a cameo appearance in the documentary flick Mayor Of The Sunset Strip (depicting the life of disc-jockey Rodney Bingenheimer), FOWLEY was back on a string of sets, namely ADVENTURES IN DREAMLAND (2004) {*5}, STRANGE PLANTATIONS (2007) {*5} – recorded 2003 with Buzzy Beano – and with friend from The BYRDS and multi-instrumentalist John York: WEST COAST REVELATION (2011) {*6}.
Reverting to experimental rock’n’roll (with a twist of punk poetry, etc.), the FOWLEY effect continued on the spaced-out sets 21st CENTURY YOUTH (2012) {*6} and DEATH CITY (2012) {*6}, while his final LP – as Kim Fowley’s Psychedelic Dogs – DETROIT INVASION (2014) {*6}, was the man at his controversial best. Sadly, at the age of 75, the FOWLEY phenomenon was halted when the eccentric entertainer died of bladder cancer on January 15, 2015.
© MC Strong 1997-2003/GPD/GA&ID // rev-up MCS Jan2015

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