RIP Sandy West

Sandy West - RIP

RIP Sandy West – The Runaways drummer – 1959 – 2006

When a man reaches 50, his thoughts naturally turn to the brevity of life and to his mortality. In such a frame, it has been my habit to trawl through the ‘Recent Deaths’ section of Wikipedia. Mostly populated with Australian cabinet ministers or American NFL players of ancient vintage, names I’d never heard of, occasionally I find an actor from a 60s sit-com, tenth on the bill after Hugh Lloyd.

On 21st October this year, however, I very sadly found the name of Sandy West. Although I write for trakMARX I don’t keep up with ‘the scene’. Consequently, I didn’t know Sandy had even been ill.

One of the few bands of the punk-age I rated up there with the best: a band to transcend the shackles imposed by some polit-bureau punkers on musicianship, and couple it with drive and energy that blew away the recent, turgid past was The Runaways. Paradox: a group of West-coast American girls showing the spitting and gurning British boys what true punk energy was, and, more pertinently, how to ally the spirit to good tunes.

I don’t remember when I first heard ‘School Days’, but the second I did I loved it and bought the 45. I found out more about the group and like a 24-year-old (really!!!) puppy-dog, developed a crush on Sandy West, the drummer. Cherie Currie, the lead singer, had left the band by the time I picked up on them; the others were too pudgy, too plain or too butch. Sandy was the quintessential California girl: long, blonde hair, svelte, pretty. In any other time, she would have been a surfer-dude’s girlfriend, or riding with Dennis Wilson in a souped-up Chevy. In 76 she was a kick-ass drummer in a rock ‘n’ roll band.

When they toured England, I got tickets to see them at Birmingham. I was at Stafford Poly at the time, so cadged a lift with an acquaintance. The cinema was only a quarter full. Their star had already reached its zenith, but perhaps they were simply ahead of their time. Once their manager’s, the legendary Kim Fowley’s, crass promotion of them as jailbait had been sussed, maybe the Brits just lost interest.

The gig was ok – I can’t pretend it was The Pistols or Johnny Thunders, but white girls could play punk – live.

I wrote Sandy a couple of letters to The Runaways’ California-based agency. No reply. Thank God! A stalker before the term had even been coined?

The Runaways split. Lita Ford, the lead guitarist, and Joan Jett, carved out sizeable careers for themselves in music. Sandy? Not a lot. With the internet, I picked up she’d not been entirely successful post-Runaways. The Wikipedia entry on her, updated since her death, mentions construction and crime!

Anyway, she died, too, too young, of lung cancer at 47. May God have mercy on her soul.

JBrian Williams – tMx 27 – 11/06
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