Ken Leighton 12:30 p.m., Feb. 21
Sound description: The sound of Kim Fowley is the only sound that matters to Kim Fowley.
RIYL: Kim Fowley
- "Kim Fowley Turns 73, Says He's Preparing For Death" · July 22, 2012
- Jam Session: "Profile: Runaways Mastermind Kim Fowley" · May 17, 2011
- Blurt: "Evil Empire" · April 28, 2010
- Music Feature: "Gone Underground" · Nov. 1, 2007
Influences: Kim Fowley
Born July 21, 1939, Kim Fowley was two when his mom put him in a College Grove foster home. At the age of six, his dad moved him to Malibu, though Kim frequently returned to San Diego to live in a local polio hospital.
He produced his first hit “Alley Oop” -- based on the comic strip and performed by the Hollywood Argyles -- in 1960. He went on to work with Sonny Bono, Kiss, and Phil Spector, among others, before co-creating the all-girl band the Runaways in 1975.
Fowley released his own solo records and toured with his own punk band, often travelling with San Diego scribes Richard Meltzer and Lester Bangs. However, he’s best known for working with everyone from Jimmy Page to Frank Zappa, Blue Oyster Cult, and Jimi Hendrix.
He emceed John Lennon’s Live Peace In Toronto event and worked on records with Alice Cooper, the MC5, Helen Reddy, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, and countless others between 1960 and 2011.
In 1980, he was scouting for bands in San Diego when he began booking local all-girl band the Dinettes at venues in La Costa and San Francisco, as well as auditioning local San Diego singers. “Kim Fowley is seeking groups, solo artists, composers, and lyricists who dream of international stardom,” read the large display ads running in the Reader circa late 1980. Several photos of Fowley accompanied each ad, including one of him with Jimmy Page, along with a request for cassettes, bios, photos, and “a summary of your career goals.”
Thirty-eight years old at the time, Fowley was considering a permanent move from L.A. to San Diego and had already been scouting the city for his next all-girl band for nearly a year. His interest was first piqued by locals the Dinettes, who — á la Josie and the Pussycats — had a black girl in the group, guitarist Joyce Rooks (at least for a while in ’79).
Fowley booked the Dinettes for his Battle of the Girl Bands at the Coo Coo’s Nest in Costa Mesa, expressing interest in signing them to some unspecified label or rep firm. However, that band’s constant lineup shifts and an aggressive fast-talking manager named Gene King led Fowley to instead pine for local Girl Talk singer Lauralei Combs (though they never signed a deal).
“I spent a good portion of my formative years in San Diego,” he told local Kicks magazine in November of 1980. “The kind of music I’m producing now, most of it sells and is released outside of the continental United States. I can record records in, let’s say, San Diego, and get them out all over the world without having my acts go through the psychological rape of playing the horrible L.A. clubs.… Right now, if you’re a San Diego band and want to have an American record out, you have to move to New York, L.A., or Nashville and start all over again at the bottom.”
For Fowley’s local talent search, he said, “I’m looking for people to work with who, in the past, have held back selling themselves to the San Diego rock community, either because they don’t think there is a rock community in San Diego or because they have bigger ambitions than being the most popular thing from National City to Leucadia.
“It’s necessary for a band to have charisma, and it’s necessary for a band to have a Kim Fowley in there someplace. The behind-the-scenes people are as much a part of rock ’n’ roll as the guys onstage.… Kim Fowley is a necessary evil.”
Fowley -- colorfully portrayed by Michael Shannon in the Runaways movie -- ultimately opted to maintain his evil empire near L.A.
When local Ugly Things magazine publisher Mike Stax caught up with Fowley for an interview, he says the loquacious producer provided several hours of insidious insider insight. “He made quite a lot of sexual references and offensive remarks about women being dirty bitches, as you would expect from Kim,” says Stax.
“He claims to have seen P.J. Proby [1965’s “Rockin’ Pneumonia”] and actress Diana Dors making it in the back of Diana’s Lincoln Continental.”
“He also told me about someone called Anna the Potato Girl, who had this gimmick with, um, boiled potatoes. She would do this thing at Proby’s parties where she put potatoes up inside her...It was a matter of how many she could get in there, and then she’d leave, with the potatoes still inside her, and go to her job at a department store. According to Kim, one would occasionally drop out onto the floor while she was ringing up a sale.”
In 2010, Fowley met former Wild Weekend frontwoman Maren Parusel, helping her re-record her song “Ordinary Day.” Another local who came across him is Diana Death, who later said “I met him once and he totally skeeved me out, I wanted to dip my aura, which he said attracted him, in bleach...I think only dudes like him.”
Fowley’s half-brother Dan McAllister, the San Diego County Treasurer, paid tribute to Fowley after he died on January 15, 2015. A tribute concert was staged April 25, 2015 at the Casbah, with the Loons, Schitzophonics, True Stories, and Roni Lee on the bill.