This week in music history commemorates the death of Sandy West, the original drummer and one of the founding members of the original all-girl punk band The Runaways. She was a pioneering musician at a time when males dominated the hard-punk scene. The Runaways was one of the first all-female groups to come out of the 1970’s and achieve wide-spread commercial reach as well as international fame, mainly due to a big following in Japan. Their hit song “Cherry Bomb” peaked as number one of the charts in Japan and Scandinavia, and eventually number 6 in the United States. It was later re-recorded by Joan Jett with her later formed band The Blackhearts, which is probably the recording that you are most familiar with today.
Sandy West, a heavy smoker, died of lung cancer in 2006 at the young age of 47. Even so, she passed away some time after the peak of her career. The Runaways disbanded in 1979, and although West tried to reinstate her career as a drummer (she released a solo album called The Beat is Back and also formed The Sandy West Band), this just did not seem to happen for her. She is remembered as one of the most groundbreaking female drummers and was hailed and loved by her fans, in a time where progress such as hers was quite rare.
At the time, many saw The Runaways as a novelty act formed by Kim Fowley, Joan Jett and Sandy West that attempted to market female musicians in tight leather and lingerie. Although there may have been some truth to this, many of the girls including Sandy West had been playing music long before their lucky encounter with Fowley. As young musicians, they each had their own rock idols like David Bowie and Gene Simmons, who are still highly influential today. The Runaways were never really taken seriously by the music industry, but decades later music journalists often refer to them as one of the most influential female groups. Sandy West and the rest of The Runaways in time grew to be idols of their own.