KIM FOWLEY NEVER stopped. Only a few months ago, while undergoing painful treatment for bladder cancer, he was in discussion with a brace of MOJO journalists about a possible life-spanning feature. At the same time he was completing the second instalment of Lord Of Garbage, his two-part biography intended to be released after his death, and recording his SiriusXM Radio show on Little Steven Van Zandt's Underground Garage. In November he made an appearance in Beyoncé’s Haunted video. Self-promotion, right up to the end. It’s what he would have wanted. Fowley was born in Los Angeles in 1939. The son of Singin’ In The Rain actor Douglas Fowley and ’40s noir actress Shelby Paine, Kim Fowley arrived into a world of performance, attending Los Angeles’ University High School with Ryan O’Neal, James Brolin, Sandra Dee, Nancy Sinatra and Jan & Dean. He started out as a survivor, and continued in like style: diagnosed with polio at the age of 18, he would check himself out of hospital to become the manager of a local rock band, The Sleepwalkers.
“Kim Fowley is a big loss to me. A good friend. One of a kind. He’d been everywhere, done everything, knew everybody.”
Steve Van Zandt
Fowley charmed, hustled and beguiled his way into the LA studio scene as a producer, promoter, publisher and songwriter. He was still a teenager when, in 1960, he co-produced the Number 1 novelty doo-wop hit Alley Oop for The Hollywood Argyles. He also wrote the novelty number Nut Rocker for B. Bumble And The Stingers, discovered Bread’s David Gates while hitchhiking through California and worked publicity for P.J. Proby’s controversial trouser-splitting British career in the mid-’60s. Instrumental in the nascent careers of Slade, Soft Machine and Ritchie Blackmore, Fowley saw out the ’60s producing Gene Vincent and Warren Zevon, and writing for The Byrds with his friend Skip Battin.
Although his own recording career was regarded by many as a joke footnote to his management skills, Fowley’s sinister psych-pop recordings such as The Trip, Night Of The Hunter, Wildfire and Animal Man later became cult collectables, with Sonic Youth covering Bubble Gum on their 1986 LP, Evol.
However, it was on the Sunset Strip in the mid-’70s that Fowley’s career came into its own. Production work continued with Kiss, Alice Cooper and an early incarnation of The Modern Lovers. Then, in 1974, Fowley placed an advert in Greg Shaw’s Who Put The Bomp fanzine to find female performers for an all-girl group. There were no takers, but Fowley’s Sunset Strip recruitment policy led to a meeting between Joan Jett and Sandy West, and with the addition of Cherie Currie, Lita Ford and Jackie Fox, the birth of The Runaways. Fowley managed the band and co-wrote their biggest hit, Cherry Bomb. Although Fowley’s management paperwork led to a series of legal tussles with the band down the years, in 2008 Fowley and Cherie Currie buried the hatchet and last August Currie moved Fowley into her LA home to help with his care.
There were a few other attempts at Runaways-style projects in later years, but if Fowley largely faded from the pop foreground he continued to make friends in the background, extending his myth by way of his own word-of-mouth. MOJO regularly received letters and compilation CDs in the post from Fowley, introducing us to new bands and new songs and we would occasionally be on the other end of long-distance phonecalls, one-way conversations detailing Fowley’s ongoing pop philosophy, delivered in that inimitable style that hovered somewhere between the charming and the sinister.
On her Facebook page yesterday Cherie Currie wrote, "Just before 8am this morning, January 15, 2015, Kim Fowley passed away at his home with his wife, Kara Wright, by his side after a long and hard battle with cancer. He was 75 years old. I am so blessed that I got to get to know you again Kim… really get to know you on a personal level and that we became friends. Mostly that you spent time here at my home. It's a time I will never forget. The last record you made is in good hands and I am so glad that record is mine. It was a pleasure. Thank you for starting my career when I was a just a child. You were instrumental in so many getting started in this crazy world of music. You are a genius… you are loved. You will be so missed."
Bandmate Lita Ford tweeted: “My first manager, my start in the music industry, my first band put together by Kim. Sometimes I wonder if there would ever have been a Lita Ford without Kim Fowley.”
“Kim Fowley is a big loss to me,” said Steve Van Zandt. “A good friend. One of a kind. He’d been everywhere, done everything, knew everybody. He was working in the Underground Garage until last week. We should all have as full a life. I wanted DJs that could tell stories first person. He was the ultimate realization of that concept. Rock Gypsy DNA. Reinventing himself whenever he felt restless. Which was always. One of the great characters of all time. Irreplaceable.”
Ariel Pink, who Fowley collaborated with on 2014’s Pom Pom tweeted, “RIP Kim Fowley. no words. prayers go out to his wife, kara. his music, life, and spirit will continue to be an inspiration.”
Watch Kim Fowley below discussing New Wave on Tomorrow With Tom Snyder in 1977.
For more information about his career, head to www.kimfowley.net.
PHOTO: Getty Images/ Alamy