One of the most colorful characters in the annals of rock & roll, Kim Fowley was, over the course of his decades-long career, a true jack-of-all-trades: singer, songwriter, producer, manager, disc jockey, and published poet. He was also the catalyst behind much of the music to emerge from the Los Angeles area during the 1960s and '70s, guiding his associates and protégés to fame and fortune while remaining himself a shadowy cult figure well outside the margins of the mainstream.
The son of actor Douglas Fowley (Singin' in the Rain), he was born July 27, 1942, in L.A., and made his first recordings with drummer Sandy Nelson during the late '50s. After working with a number of short-lived groups including the Paradons and the Innocents, Fowley found his first taste of success by producing the Top 20 hit "Cherry Pie" for schoolmates Gary S. Paxton and Skip Battin, who performed under the name Skip & Flip. With Battin, Fowley next created the group the Hollywood Argyles, who topped the charts in 1960 with the novelty smash "Alley Oop." The duo subsequently masterminded Paul Revere & the Raiders' first hit, "Long Hair," and in 1962 launched the Rivingtons, scoring with the classic "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow." Another novelty hit, B. Bumble & the Stingers' "Nut Rocker," reached number one in the U.K., and in 1964 Fowley even began handling promotion chores for singer P.J. Proby.
In the mid-'60s, Fowley became immersed in the Los Angeles counterculture, befriending Frank Zappa and his band the Mothers of Invention, and later appearing on their Freak Out! LP. A prolific songwriter, he also composed material for the Byrds, the Beach Boys, Soft Machine, Cat Stevens, and Them, and produced the likes of Gene Vincent, Warren Zevon, and Helen Reddy. Finally, in 1967 Fowley issued his own solo debut, Love Is Alive and Well, a record that found him closely aligned with the flower power movement. A series of solo records followed, including 1968's Born to Be Wild, 1970's The Day the Earth Stood Still, and 1973's International Heroes, but none garnered the commercial success of so many of his other projects.
In 1975, after completing the LP Animal God of the Streets, Fowley returned to his Svengali role by assembling the notorious Runaways, a teenage hard rock girl group featuring a young Joan Jett, Lita Ford, and Cherie Currie. Designed as a manufactured novelty, the scheme was entirely successful, and after the original group splintered, Fowley even launched another Runaways in the '80s. (Another girl group, the Orchids, was his idea as well.) Still, his standing within the musical community greatly diminished over the course of the following decades; although he continued recording, most notably with 1980's Hollywood Confidential, 1993's Hotel Insomnia, and 1995's Kings of Saturday Night (a collaboration with Ben Vaughn), his music remained primarily of interest to his die-hard cult following. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi