2006 – Sandy West, drummer for influential ’70s band the Runaways, dies after a long battle with lung cancer. He is 47.
Sandy West (July 10, 1959 – October 21, 2006) was an American musician, singer, songwriter, and drummer. She was hailed by fans and critics alike to be one of the most groundbreaking drummers in rock and roll history. She was the first female drummer to garner widespread popularity in the rock music arena and one of the founding members of The Runaways, a groundbreaking teenage all-girl band who performed proto-punk and Rock and Roll in the 1970s.
Sandy was born in Long Beach and raised in Huntington Beach, California, and was the quintessential ‘California girl’, splitting her time equally between surfing and skiing. When she was 9 years old, her grandfather bought her a drum kit, and being an avid fan of rock and roll acts of the 1960s and 1970s, she began practicing rock music immediately and regularly. She proved to have a natural talent and quickly became a proficient drummer.
Driven by her ambition to play professionally, she sought out fellow musicians and other industry contacts in southern California with the idea of forming an all girl rock band. In 1975 she met producer Kim Fowley, who gave her the phone number of another young musician in the area, guitarist Joan Jett. When Joan and Sandy met shortly thereafter (Joan took a bus to Sandy’s home to play through some songs) there was a palpable synergy between them, and the inception of the eventual Runaways arguably took place that day. The girls subsequently played for Fowley, who agreed to help them find other female musicians to round out the band, most notably Lita Ford and Cherie Currie.
After four short years of recording and touring the world, The Runaways disbanded in 1979. Unfortunately, as is often the case in the recording industry, the musicians, including Sandy, were not left with much in terms of the revenue produced during the band’s tenure. Sandy made varied attempts at continuing her career as a professional musician, playing with other acts in southern California, releasing a solo album “The Beat is Back”, and also forming The Sandy West Band. None of these ventures produced significant income, so Sandy was forced to spend most of her post-Runaways years working in the private sector.
Sandy appeared in the film “Edgeplay”, a documentary about The Runaways produced and directed by the band’s former bassist Victory Tischler-Blue, providing some of the more poignant interview segments, describing the things she needed to do post-Runaways for money. She worked mostly in construction, and spent a small amount of time as a bartender and a veterinary assistant. In other parts of the Edgeplay interviews, she alludes to the fact that she regretably engaged in criminal, or at least seamy activity in order to make ends meet (e.g., she describes how she had to break someone’s arm for money they owed). She wraps up the interview nearly in tears, still confused as to why The Runaways just couldn’t get back together and keep playing. The Runaways represented the manifestation of Sandy’s most deep-seated dreams, and was in fact her brainchild when she and Joan Jett started the group with the help of Fowley. By her own admission in 2004, she never got over the band’s demise and spent the rest of her life dealing with the profound effects of this disappointment.
In 2005, Sandy was diagnosed with lung cancer, which later progressed to a brain tumor, and she died on October 21, 2006 at the age of 47. Joan Jett said in a statement, “We shared the dream of girls playing rock and roll. Sandy was an exuberant and powerful drummer,” adding, “I am overcome from the loss of my friend. I always told her we changed the world.” Cherie Currie, the initial lead singer of The Runaways, said, “Sandy West was by far, the greatest female drummer in the history of rock and roll. No one could compete or even come close to her, but the most important was her heart. Sandy West loved her fans, her friends and family almost to a fault. She would do absolutely anything for the people she loved. It will never be the same for me again to step on a stage, because Sandy West was the best and I will miss her forever.”
The Runaways, (1976)
Queens of Noise, (1977)
Waitin’ for the Night, (1977)
Live in Japan, (1977)
And Now… The Runaways (international release title), (1978)
Flaming Schoolgirls (“odds-and-sods” compilation), (1980)
Little Lost Girls, (re-sequenced U.S. version of “And Now… The Runaways”), (1981)
Born to be Bad (early demos compilation), (1993)
7″ – F-13
4 song tape
The Beat is Back ??