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 years of recording and touring the world, The Runaways disbanded in 1979. As is often the case in the recording industry, the musicians, including Sandy, were not left with much of the revenue produced during the band's tenure. Sandy made varied attempts to continue her career as a professional musician, playing with other acts in southern California, releasing a solo album "The Beat is Back", and 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 outside music.
Sandy appeared in Edgeplay: A film about The Runaways, 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 engaged in criminal 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 couldn't get back together and keep playing. By her own admission in 2004, she never got over the band's demise.
In 2005, Sandy was diagnosed with lung cancer, which later spread to her brain, 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."
Sandy West was portrayed by actress Stella Maeve in the 2010 film The Runaways. The film also featured Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, and Scout Taylor-Compton, who portrayed Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, and Lita Ford, respectively.
The UK press had this to say upon Sandy's passing:
Garth Cartwright writing for The Guardian, Wednesday 25 October 2006
The drumming of Sandy West, who has died of lung cancer aged 47, powered the mid-1970s female rock group, the Runaways. They achieved international notoriety with a self-titled debut album in 1976 as women in a then almost totally male-dominated rock world. That they were in their mid-teens, possessed a photogenic singer and were managed by a Svengali figure attracted media attention. Yet beyond the hype, and often sexist critical dismissals, existed a young band whose vision has proved highly influential.
West grew up in Long Beach, California, possessing great enthusiasm for surfing and skiing, animals and music. Her grandfather bought her a drum kit, and by the age of 13 she was the only girl in local bands who played at teenage parties. At 15, she met Kim Fowley, a notorious hustler/producer. Fowley put West in touch with 15-year-old guitarist Joan Jett. They jammed and agreed to form a band (briefly including Michael Steele, later of the Bangles). Guitarist Lita Ford, bassist Jackie Fox and vocalist Cherie Currie were recruited. Fowley named them the Runaways, co-wrote songs with West, Jett and Currie, and signed them to Mercury Records in February 1976.
Being so young and musically raw - West was the best musician - lent an edge to the group. Yet Fowley was known for hyping gimmicky acts, and his outspoken pronouncements meant many in the music industry dismissed the album. There was also the stage image of a lingerie-clad Currie, confirming suspicions that the band were being marketed as "jailbait on the run".
Yet the songs told something else: Cherry Bomb, Is it Day or Night, You Drive Me Wild are hard rocking, melodic and memorably direct. Young women singing of adolescent desire and alienation, getting high and casual sex, shocked many, and US radio stations refused to play them. Male critics dismissed the band with misogynistic loathing. "These bitches suck," declared Creem, while the liberal Village Voice dismissed them as "bimbos".
If the US sneered at the Runaways, in Europe they were welcomed by the nascent UK punk movement - Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons championed the band in the New Musical Express and in their musical manifesto, The Boy Looked at Johnny, as pioneers of what now could be called "girl power". In Japan they became huge stars, scoring No 1 hits, every album selling gold, playing stadiums.
In 1977 the band released their second album, Queens of Noise, and then a Live in Japan album. Yet the pressures surrounding five, unchaperoned young women, all attempting to live the rock lifestyle, were such that Currie and Fox left. Jett took over vocals and Vikki Blue was brought in on bass. The new line-up released a third album, Waiting for the Night, in late 1977 and continued to tour relentlessly.
When the group broke with Fowley, he claimed they were "guests in my concept". In the 1990s, the musicians sued him over financial discrepancies. "I owe him my introduction to the music business but he's also the reason I'm broke now," West said.
The band released album four, And Now ... the Runaways, in late 1978, but by early the next year they had disbanded. West was 19 and unemployed. Initially, she and Ford tried to carry on, but Ford embarked on a lucrative solo career managed by Sharon Osbourne and Jett became a big star of early-80s pop-rock.
West began working in construction while leading the Sandy West Band, which never achieved success. She appeared unable to escape the shadow of the Runaways and performed occasionally with Currie. The band influenced the LA hard rock and punk scene and inspiring women musicians to rock as hard as the boys. In the 1990s, all-women groups, such as L7, Shonen Knife and Bikini Kill, acknowledged the debt.
In 2004 the documentary Edgeplay: A Film about the Runaways told a sometimes disturbing story. "Even the rough times were good," said West. "How many teenage girls get to do what we did in a lifetime?"
She is survived by her mother, stepfather and six sisters.
· Sandy West, musician, born October 7 1959; died October 21 2006
The Drum Dungeon says "Thank You Sandy for all your contributions!" ~DD