Friday, January 16, 2015

Music Impresario Kim Fowley Obit (1939-2015), by Scott Kempner

Text by Scott Kempner / FFanzeen, 2015
Introduction by Robert Barry Francos, 2015

Kim Fowley was an enigma. He’s one of the more important and shadowy, behind-the-scenes figures in rock and roll history, from its birth through its various forms. He was part of the original West Coast doo wop groups, the Hollywood Argyles who rose to fame with the off-beat novelty ditty, “Ally Oop,” and followed up with a number of his own releases as singles and LPs that were genre bending and leaning towards psychedelia and glam. Kim was also known as the contentious manager and Svengali of the original The Runaways.

There was much that had Kim’s presence in the biz. For example, the experience of holding up a lighter in concerts was his brainchild. He had his hand in John and Yoko playing in Toronto (he even emceed the event), did the first recordings with Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, co-wrote a number of songs with major bands such as KISS, Cat Stevens and Alice Cooper, played on Frank Zappa’s Freak Out!, and… Well, if you want a taste of the man, check out the 2003 documentary, The Mayor of Sunset Strip. Born in California in 1939, the 75 year old Fowley died of bladder cancer on January 15, 2015, in West Hollywood.

Bronx-bred Scott Kempner’s career started with the seminal rock punk (as opposed to punk rock) band, The Dictators, who in 1975 was the first of the bands to spring out of CBGBs to release an album; he was known as Top Ten in those days. He moved on to another well-known band, the Del-Lords, before moving out to California. – RBF

Just heard the news that Kim Fowley has passed away. I didn't meet Kim until the mid-‘80s, at one of the first South By Southwest conferences. I never knew what to make of him from afar, and even when I first got to know him a little, I was a little suspicious. I guess it was kind of a NYC-to-LA trans-continental kind of suspicion. But I did get to know him, and hung out bullshitting with him many memorable times, including one especially memorable week when Stevie Van Zandt had his Underground Garage Festival in NYC in 2004, at which the Dictators performed, and Kim was the MC.

Stevie put both Kim and myself at the same hotel for a week. I would see him for breakfast every day, and we would chat for hours, as he held court, regaling all with his endless tales of rock'n'roll heroes and the sometimes even more interesting also-rans. He was hilarious, original, knowledgeable, madly in love with rock'n'roll, and he knew EVERYBODY!!!

It was a tough time for me, as I had been out of the band [Dictators] for two years, and this was gonna be my first show with them in two years. In fact, if not for Stevie, I don't know if I ever would have played with them again. But, Stevie went to bat for me, and I rejoined the band for another five years, and Kim listened to it all, and always had advice or some bit of Kim wisdom that would lift me and get me through the day. He also never once let me pay for breakfast, and always saved a seat next to him each morning so we could pick up where we left off.

Kim was so gracious, and just a great pal and sounding board. The private Kim was very emotional and sweet, and had so much passion for the music and those that played it. He remembered every detail you had spoken to him about. After that week, we were "officially friends," as he told me. That made me very happy and proud.

He was a prime mover on the West Coast, as I am sure you all know. He seems to have a million friends. Kim's name is on dozens and dozens of hits. A true original, a classic hustler - in the best sense - and one of my favorite people out here on the West Coast. I was always thrilled to run into him. He even knew of the Del-Lords, and our guru/hero, Lou Whitney "and his Trans-Am song". His stories were the very best anybody ever told, or anybody ever heard - if people like Dylan, Morrison, The Stones, The Beatles, The Byrds, Ray Charles (remind me to tell you that one), etc., etc., etc., mean anything to you.

It pains me that the days of running into him at a Springsteen show (at which I saw him at least five or six times), or some other rock event are over. I feel like I will still be looking for him towering above the rest of us, and spotting me before I could spot him and calling me over to regale me with yet another tale that I will be repeating to anyone who'll listen for as long as I live.

I am quite sure I am safe in saying we will never see anyone (even remotely) like Kim Fowley again. R.I.P. Kim, I know there are scores of broken hearts around town right now as the news of your passing spreads. I guarantee you, you will never be forgotten. That's a fact. Goodnight, Kim.

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