A late Happy Mother’s Day to my late mother Shelby Payne. I was her first born. I was the first child she gave away. I inherited her writing skills which have helped me all my life. She is probably the reason I date women with black hair. I wish she would have been nicer to me, but then I inherited that bad side too. I’m sure all you enemies will agree on that one. I was a difficult child and now I’m a difficult overgrown child. Hey Shelby, thank you for unleashing me upon the unsuspecting world. You are featured heavily in my current book “Lord Of Garbage” (Kicks Books). I’m hopefully going into the hospital Wednesday. If I die on the operating table, I’ll be seeing you Wednesday night Cali time. Keep a lookout for me. I may be more interesting to talk to than you ever knew. If not, say a prayer for me. All I ever wanted from you was your love and belief in my greatness and magic.
I was saddened to learn recently (via a YouTube clip) that Kim Fowley, the self proclaimed ‘Original Mayor of Sunset Strip’ and ‘Animal God of The Streets’ is seriously ill with, among other things, bowel cancer. In rock ‘n’ roll circles the term ‘legendary’ is tossed around like confetti at a wedding, but in Fowley’s case, it actually goes a long way to describing his status as a prime mover and shaker on the LA music scene since the late 1950’s. In short, Kim Fowley was present at the birth of popular teenage music, and he’s been playing the role of midwife ever since.
Kim Fowley was born on July 21st 1939 in Los Angeles, the son of ‘B’ movie actor Douglas Fowley and some time model Shelby Payne. His early childhood was somewhat fractured, and he had been institutionalised from a very early age. In 1946, at the age of seven, he was re-united with his parents, both of who were caught up in the trappings of seedy Hollywood lifestyles, battling addictions to alcohol and drugs which would ultimately lead to mental breakdowns and repeated spells in what were then known as Mental Asylums.
I had been in a semi-foster home and there was this big welcome home party. My father saw me for the first time and he took me to this house and I went upstairs to my room, the first room I ever had. There was John Garfield in my bed and there was a chick putting cocaine on his cock. It was my first bedroom and it was a big moment for me and, seeing this idiot having cocaine put on the tip of his cock, I said, ‘What are you doing?’ and Garfield said, ‘I’m living up to my image’.
It was this idea of living up to an image that would become the driving force in Fowley’s life. Educated at University High School, his classmates included future pop stars Jan Berry, Dean Torrence, Nancy Sinatra and Beach Boy Bruce Johnson, along with soon to be screen stars Ryan O’Neal, James Brolin and Sandra Dee. Upon graduation, Fowley was dispatched to Military School before finding a job working in the then burgeoning LA sex industry. This early schooling in the fine art of hustling saw him gravitate towards the music industry and the rest, as they say, is history.
I think in my life even the hideous and the dumb things I did were fascinating. I’m not really interested in other people’s opinion of me. I don’t have an opinion of me. There’s one fact: I was not Lennon & McCartney, or George Gershwin, or Leiber & Stoller, or George Martin. Sorry! But…I made some interesting recordings in my time, certainly better than most of the people who bring me demos today. I’m not a major talent, I’m a major presence. When you look at the duration, it was a major effort with minor results.
In the late 50’s Fowley was involved in a string of one off teen-pop classics (including ‘Alley-Oop’ by The Hollywood Argyles and B.Bumble & The Stingers ‘Nut Rocker’), often working with the then unknown Phil Spector, before hooking up as road manager to the legendary rock ‘n roller Gene Vincent (now somewhat down on his luck), a move which saw him re-locate to England during the mid – ‘60’s. During this period he worked with a diverse range of artists, including then session musicians Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, Donovan, The Soft Machine, Them, and a young band from Wolverhampton called The ‘N Betweens, who were later to find fame as Slade. Upon his return to the States, Fowley, who always had a keen eye for the main chance, totally immersed himself in the burgeoning West Coast hippie scene, releasing a psychedelic 45 called ‘The Trip’ (a quickie cash in on the back of a schlock movie of the same name), appeared on ‘Freak Out’, the debut album by The Mothers Of Invention, as well as co-writing and producing a string of one-off’s for a bunch of then total unknowns, including Helen Reddy and Warren Zevon.
Karl Engerman of Capitol interviewed me, and he said, “Kim, you’ve never produced a great artist, you just make great records. You’ve never had a Four Seasons or a Beach Boys. You’ve had one-offs and studio bands, co-writing, B-sides, producing, album cuts or five strangers pretending to be something else. Wonderful records, but you didn’t develop an artist. Plus, you are eccentric, you’re not corporate, you’d bring musicians to the offices and you would do music in the offices, and you’d disturb the secretaries. We can’t have that. We can’t have music in a music company, now can we!” That was it. This was being rejected with a No 1 record in the United States, co-owning the company and having seven chart records. I had all kinds of things happening. There I was at 24. I wore a sports jacket. I didn’t have long hair. I didn’t do drugs. I didn’t do alcohol. I was a really church-going young Bruce Johnston-classmate guy, and after that I became an asshole.
But it was during the early ‘70’s that Fowley really found his groove, co-writing for the likes of Kiss and Alice Cooper, producing early demo’s for the soon to be seminal Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers, and managing all girl band The Runaways, the first home of future rock star Joan Jett.
Kim Fowley was the first ‘Mayor Of Sunset Strip’ in 1968. I used it as a promo device / nickname to get into Sunset Strip clubs and meet new female arrivals in Psychedelic Tinsel Town.
Now crowned ‘The Reptile Prince of Hollywood Trash’ by the LA music press, Fowley reveled in his new found role of manager / Svengali to a bunch of rock ‘n’ roll wannabees, the majority of who would find a modicum of fame through association, although little, if any commercial success. Indeed, if one thing characterises Fowley’s modus operandi, it would appear to be the recognition of talent way before the talent had ever recognised itself. In short, many acts discovered by Fowley went on to achieve global success, but most long after they had severed all associations with him.
I just turned up and made good records – anywhere, anytime. I made between 3,000 and 5,000 records. Either I wrote it, I published it, I produced it, I sang it or I brokered it.
Constantly re-inventing himself (while essentially remaining the same), Fowley has travelled the world, writing, recording, and releasing a string of hard to find but amazingly eclectic albums. At the turn of the millennium he began dabbling in the underground movie scene, carving out something of a niche for himself as an experimental filmmaker and winning a string of awards, as well as hosting a weekly radio show via Steven Van Zant’s internet streamed ‘Underground Garage’. Despite fading somewhat from the public consciousness, I believe Fowley was, and will always remain, a true rock ‘n’ roll visionary; a one-off, a total original, and I for one will be deeply saddened when he eventually departs this mortal coil.
Kim Fowley is still a functioning human being in the most surprising categories and areas. Of course I have X-ray vision. I can read minds. And my big sensitive hands give two clues to what is remarkably still possible. Miracles happen to those who are magical.