KIM FOWLEY has been active within pop music for as long as anyone can remember. Currently in his 47th year of activity, the seemingly tireless 64-year-old breezed into London at the end of September 2003 for promotional work for his fine CD 'Impossible But True - The Kim Fowley Story'. The compilation represents the tip of the iceberg of his '60s production and writing work for other artists and groups. Such is the depth of the story, the CD contains the biggest booklet at 36 pages that Ace Records have ever produced. Even then it only scratches the surface of Kim's amazing musical journey.

Beginning in the late '50s with singer/producer Gary Paxton, the first major worldwide hit was 'Alley Oop' by the fictitious Hollywood Argyles, and from then on Kim rode every wave that came his way. He went through doo wop, early '60s instrumentals (including 'Nut Rocker'), sweetie girl groups (the Murmaids' 'Popsicles & Icicles'), garage rock, manic vocals with the Rivingtons, early hippie trippy sounds right up to the B-side of the first Soft Machine single in 1967. Working either as producer, writer, artist, publisher, A&R man, hustler, image-maker, concept designer or simply being there, he has had a hand in countless hit records and yet remained comparatively unknown outside cult circles of the music business. It was Kim who managed to get Lennon & McCartney to Bruce Johnston's suite at the Waldorf for their first joint listening to 'Pet Sounds'. It was Kim who first produced the 'N Betweens before they became Slade, Kim who worked with pre-Traffic Dave Mason and Jim Capaldi as the Hellions, Kim who produced the young Ritchie Blackmore, Kim who was asked by Frank Zappa to join the Mothers Of Invention, and Kim who gave the world the Runaways. Quite simply, all known rules for a curriculum vitae cannot hope to contain the man.

All through his career he has remained close to street level, to where the grass roots music action is. That's simply the way he likes it. When he came to town, I decided to find out what made him tick, what music has excited him over the years and what he is planning to do next. I began by showing him an obscure early vocal group single he co-wrote, 'Late Show' by the Patterns on Chattahoochee Records.


This is very rare, and it's the B-side. They must have stolen it! I've never even seen this. This is very, very rare. They were kids. Maybe they cut it again. You'll have to make a cassette of it and send it to me.

OK, I have to go into the mode of being an intellectual now. I read your book - you're a rock'n'roll intellectual, sir. How come you never became a really big man in a major record company. You've stayed at street level - was that purposeful?

Karl Engerman of Capitol interviewed me, and he said, "Kim, you've never produced a great artist, you just make great records. You've never had a Four Seasons or a Beach Boys. You've had one-offs and studio bands, co-writing, B-sides, producing, album cuts or five strangers pretending to be something else. Wonderful records, but you didn't develop an artist. Plus, you are eccentric, you're not corporate, you'd bring musicians to the offices and you would do music in the offices, and you'd disturb the secretaries. We can't have that. We can't have music in a music company, now can we!" That was it. This was being rejected with a No 1 record in the United States, co-owning the company and having seven chart records. I had all kinds of things happening. There I was at 24. I wore a sports jacket. I didn't have long hair. I didn't do drugs. I didn't do alcohol. I was a really church-going young Bruce Johnston-classmate guy, and after that I became an asshole.

Was it a major A&R position that you would have really wanted, though?

I have the intellect, and I have the talent, to exist in any corporate structure and make a lot of money. I had sold over two million records at that time, so I had proved it. Right now I have a co-writing credit with Kiss. So here I am at age 64, 45 years later, still charting. I have five movies, I have three box sets, I have three TVs and two books coming, and I don't know too many 23-year-old A&R guys who can say that. So, Jesus did not design a digestible corporate presence. I actually make music. I actually make records, write them, create them. On my website there is a whole page that says Kim Fowley Is For Sale. It tells all the things I do. I don't have a girlfriend or a dog, and I don't lie. Because a girlfriend couldn't handle this kind of life. The dog would bite the girlfriend and make a mess on the floor, and that would be the end of them!

Is it the variety that appeals to you, or is there one aspect of the business that you prefer?

No. Whenever I hear something worth recording, I record it. Regardless of what it is, or where it is, or who it is. I record it because it is there to be recorded. The way Alan Lomax had to go to the cotton fields, pull the car over and say, "That's interesting". An archivist. I'm a lot like the record collector mentality, except I actually don't collect music, I create music. The more obscure the better, the more isolated the better. Yes, I've had commercial mainstream, but as Jerome Kern said, "Folk music of today is the popular music of tomorrow" - dialogue in Showboat - so what's underground now is mainstream in a couple of years from now. Pink Floyd were once underground and are now mainstream. Sometimes you wish you had produced the Tradewinds, but you didn't, but if you ever run into the next Tradewinds you say, "OK, now I get to make my Tradewinds record with these Portuguese guys!" You run in there and you do it.

I'll go back now and make two more albums! The next Venus & the Razorbaldes reunion album and finish up the second Sand album which features Chris Darrow, and the Back Yard Ramblers which is John York of the Byrds - he's surfacing again, if you remember him. So that's what I'm doing when I go home. One day archaeologists will find out that my total life's work is really remarkable. It's a shame I didn't do it all in one genre, as I would have had more recognition. But then I made a lot of money anyway, I had a good time and I was able to occupy myself.

Going back to what you say about not settling on one genre, is there a thread that does run through your music?

No. Joe Smith, who was president of Warner Electra, once said to me that my stiffs even sound like records. Even my failures sound like real records! It's like ER, Casualty over here - anything that comes in they deal with. Anything that's good I deal with.

That's a good analogy because Casualty very much reflects what's happening on the streets.

Yeah, so if I'm not allowed in the boardroom, I'll be in the gutter looking for good sounds.

Do you prefer to be there?

No. I'd prefer to be in a whorehouse, having a good dinner, before…

When you find artists, what do you first look for? What do you want to recognise?

I want to hear that radio voice. I want to hear that radio hook in the music. And with the band I want to hear a tonality, a way of tuning. If it's a soloist I want to hear a teardrop in the voice. If it's fast I want to see teenagers hurling themselves through the air. Manchester yobbos kicking heads against the curb. A trademark sound. I want a record that's gonna change my life. I want something miraculous. I want the next Beatles, the next Elvis, the next Abba, the next Easybeats - these are all my favourites, of course - the next Skyliners, the next Trashmen, the next Wilson Pickett.

The best thing that I've heard here in the UK that I've had nothing to do with is the Broken Family Band, from Oxford, genius! Oh, Jesus, it was so good. I wanted to call them up and try to grab it. It was that good - like the Modern Lovers, fronted by Dennis Wilson and Lou Reed's child singing music from an Earls Court bedsit. Here I am plugging something… I've heard hundreds of things, but hardly anything's real - but that was real. And then there's Tenshi. They're a UK Dixie Chicks, doing a thinking man's Bananarama. Steve T, the lead singer of Venus & the Razorblades, came up after twenty years of being institutionalised, doing soul stuff by Wilson Pickett - I didn't know he could do that! The only other person who has even done that, like being out on the sidewalk, was Seymour Stein from Sire Records. We'd meet and ask each other, "What've you got?" If you have magic with confidence, then I'm a fan!

Are you still a singles man?

It's down to the song. It's now going to be the 60p download thing that Richard Branson is starting. Here's what I predict: someone in their bedroom makes four songs, puts up one at a time (on the net), someone notices all the hits, and then they're on the website and contact the band who are given money to do the rest of the album. They're given money to get their college friends to bring over the equipment and do the visuals, and then when a kid wants the album he can even go to a traditional record store, asks for the album and gets a DVD. That is the future, and the good news about that is there won't be traditional A&R anymore, because if they can get 10,000 people to download the singles, that's 40,000 sales out of your bedroom. And then someone's going to come in to pay you to finish it.

Will everybody have the ability to work that way?

Remember where we were pre-Elvis…or maybe pre- Beatles…after 1957 - '57 was the best year I think in rock'n'roll, the year that I turned 18. We had the best stuff then. Back then we just had five big labels with the majority of the market. We found a guy who gave us some money and we made 'Alley Oop', the first No I hit that I co-produced, by the Hollywood Argyles (Kim, Gary Paxton, Sandy Nelson and friends). We pressed up 500 copies at first and soon it became a No 1 record in the world. Alan Freed, my mentor, once said, "You can't hurt a hit, but you can't cover up a miss." We made that for $82. Later, "Popsicles And Icicles" by the Murmaids, $108 to make. I have a shirt now that cost $108, the price of a shirt paid for a No 1 hit record on the Record World chart that the Beatles knocked off in 1963! It's easy, if someone has a piece of equipment and someone can make a noise on it… Like the girls taking baths on the internet!

Picking up on '57 as your best year, what do you see as key songs and records through the decades that you have enjoyed?

In no particular order, 'Whispering Bells' by the Del Vikings is the joy of life, 'High School Confidential' by Jerry Lee Lewis is the darkness of life, 'Book Of Love' by the Monotones, 'Tonite Tonite' by the Mello-Kings, 'The Joker' by Billy Myles - the pathos when you've been rejected by the pretty girl. You can feel that music and not feel so bad. 'Earth Angel' - wow, I kissed my first girl, with a brace, to that record, and the food particles were in each other's mouths, and the lettuce and tomato was right there! Later in the '50s… Elvis didn't mean that much to me till 'Don't Be Cruel'. I didn't hear the earlier stuff till later. The Sun stuff didn't get distributed so much in California, so I didn't hear it. It was all the stuff that Dick Clark was playing… 'Get A Job' by the Silhouettes - you could drive and run into another car, feel good about hurting people with all those fast living doo wop songs, Dale Hawkins' 'Susie Q', Gene Vincent's 'Be-Bop-A-Lula'.

It was either for me songs to fight and thieve with or it was songs to feel less in pain with. I suffered with polio then. I was crippled in the late summer of '57, so my great summer ended as a cripple, so it was time for me to get serious about my career and I realised that I had to get out my wheelchair and crutches and canes. My father didn't want to be seen with a cripple, so I was abandoned at the polio hospital. Later, the police dumped me in the army for some minor crimes I had perpetrated. I didn't even have a record player, but I bought the records just to have them. God…astounding! Woah! Then I heard Duane Eddy, Al Casey…then I came back… Thomas Wayne singing 'Tragedy'. Wow! Heading down the freeway in a $10 car, and hearing that! Then we had 'Alley Oop'. And the Skyliners, the early stuff on Calico, and then Phil Spector producing his records that were great. Allen Toussaint doing all the stuff for Minit Records, with Chris Kenner - astounding records - you get to meet girls to that music. Slim Harpo, some Jimmy Reed, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley. My first marijuana cigarette in the 9th grade - I was Catholic, so we had to do it behind a Jewish temple to 'Bo Diddley' by Bo Diddley! In hindsight, Elvis didn't get through to us in California. In every part of America there's different radio, and for some reason it didn't get through. 'Once In A While' (the Chimes) and 'Over The Mountain' (Johnnie & Joe) were the ones that meant something. And the great lost guy, Jimmy Williams, he was more deadly than anyone on Sun Records. Period!

We're now around '61/'62. Of course, the Four Seasons. Bob Crewe's a great producer. And all that Brill Building stuff. Bert Berns - a genius. The Jarmels' 'A Little Bit Of Soap'. The Flamingos were tremendous, but I didn't like the Dells. Eddie Cochran was God. He let me hang out in the studio and watch him produce … he was a record collector. He made me sit, almost at gun point and listen to every track of Jackie Wilson's 'You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet' album. Eddie produced himself, and Jerry Capehart banged on a suitcase. He produced that great record 'Opportunity' by Jewel & Eddie, who were like a black Everly Brothers. (Jewel was Jewel Akens of 'Birds & Bees' fame). He discovered the singer Glen Campbell and produced 'Turn Around Look At Me'. Hey, you've got me sounding like a record collector now! We're doing 'Return of The Ink Spots' where the youngest guy is 78, and there's one in there who is 90, and they still sound good!

By now it's early '60s - the Tradewinds were God, the Easybeats were always God, the Swingin' Blue Jeans - I like them; I know it's stupid. The Trashmen were really stupid. 'Little Girl' by the Syndicate Of Sound. I thought '98.6' by Keith was genius, and the Four Tops. Creedence was great. Tony Joe White did a concert with Booker T & the MGs as his backing group - he was Elvis that night. The Jackpots in Sweden, and Abba later. Del Shannon was wonderful early on and later with Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty - someone should cover that stuff. Alvin Stardust, Suzy Quatro and Mud - those are all brilliant records - makes you feel stupid in a nice kind of trendy way. ZZ Top, till they found synthesisers, were amazing - shame on you guys!

Then by about '75 I stared making records that I just wasn't hearing - the Runaways, Blue Oyster Cult, Helen Reddy, which was my Doris Day period recycled. Of course I lived in different places, so I wasn't hearing American music. I was getting hits in places like Denmark, with people like Burnin' Red Ivanhoe.

What about the punk period?

I liked that song 'English Wipe Out' (999), and 'Peaches' by the Stranglers. I never got the Clash - I got the concept, but not the music until later. I got it then with 'London Calling'. Sex Pistols were God.

Where were you working when this was happening?

I was doing the Runaways, which was a bit later - we didn't get the Sex Pistols and Clash until later in California - we were behind, remember. I had the Runaways and Venus & the Razorblades. We charted twice during the Summer of Hate in Record Retailer with 'Punk-A-Rama' and 'I Wanna Be Where The Boys Are'. None of the others, the Ramones or the Runaways sold as well. America didn't have punk till way later with Black Flag and Minuteman - that was California punk which wasn't the same as punk was in the UK. In New York, Punk was all CBGB's stuff with Wayne County. Even Mink De Ville was lumped in there. The Ramones of course were God. The first album was tremendous. 'Sheena Is a Punk Rocker' was good. The Eddie and the Hot Rods EP was great.

Do you see any difference between working on the New York scene and the LA scene?

I just turned up and made good records - anywhere, anytime. I made between 3,000 and 5,000 records. Either I wrote it, I published it, I produced it, I sang it or I brokered it. I don't even remember that record you just showed me (the Patterns). I think I produced the original song and they either pirated it or re-recorded it. I never saw that record before.

The '80s and '90s?

Oh, what went on there…not much. I had two hits. One was Steel Breeze's 'You Don't Want Me Any More'. One was top 20 and one No 17. Oh, I don't remember. We were on MTV and Billboard for a while. I started doing TV and went to Australia and became a DJ. Did the Byrds special for Discovery Network - John York reminded me of that - me interviewing Rick Danko. Wow, there was a nice guy. And then…Poison, Motley Crue, Guns'n''s all on my website. Glam and metal combined, glitter and metal - they called it Glam. Big hair bands now. Then some gospel…and then in between I produced Leather Nun, the sweetest guys, the Lou Reed of Sweden. I lived in Austin then and I did Mexican music for grandmas and nine-year-olds, and I wrote a book about baseball! Strange trip that was! Then Teenage Fan Club in '95, and a hit in the UK Indie charts with 'Superstar' by the Bombers. I tried to combine Blur and Oasis but nobody got it past the single. By then in '96 I lived in New Orleans, looking for the black music of the '20s, but couldn't find it.

Then at age 62, I dragged my crippled body back to Redlands where I am living in an 1890s house right by the Californian desert and I'm in the studio with Jimmy Stewart's second cousin with the drummer from the Misunderstood. He's the next Earle Mankey, the next Gary Paxton. I've always done well with co-producers. We're making a lot of modern stuff, some retro stuff, some of the best records of my career. Like the one that is available now in the UK called Sand, featuring Kim Fowley. We have experimental stuff, jazz, pop, phoney groups, 11-year-old kids and their uncles and nephews and mothers recording now on an Archies level. I'm happy because I get to make records again. It's my own choice. We're 75 minutes away from LA, so we're undercutting the LA studios. Lots of people are coming out for Europe and all over. And the next stop is the graveyard. Why not? Might as well die - that'll be an interesting project.

If you had to stick with just one type of record, which would it be?

Phoney group every time! I hate bands, because they're all assholes.

Let's talk about another producer you worked with…Phil Spector

He produced me, but I didn't get royalties! ('Give It To Me', to be found on the LP 'Phil Spector '74-'79'). He is a guy who took Leonard Bernstein, Dimitri Tiomkin, and Richard Wagner and the lyrics of True Confessions mass magazines. He threw them all together, and made sure that they people who usually sang them were black and didn't demand huge contracts. He sat there and had great singers, songs and studio musicians. He made great sounding records. There's a documentary coming out about him that includes the latest problems.

When Phil Spector and I exchanged bitter words in '92, he said, "Fuck you, I'm a better producer than you!" I said, "You were, but you quit! I continued and you didn't continue and that's the difference. I did other things. I was a writer, a publisher; you didn't have Kiss, or do "Stars On 45", or Joan Jett. Nirvana didn't cover your songs. You haven't done anything since "Black Pearl" (Checkmates Ltd) and "End Of The Century" (Ramones) and something no-one ever heard from Celine Dion. You don't count, but you do have a good catalogue." That shut him up! He walked away.

Would you have wished to have produced some of the things he did?

The only thing would have been the Christmas album. That was remarkable. Why didn't I think of that?

You also spent some time over here with Joe Meek at his Holloway Road studio.

He didn't approach me! He was very good at doing what he did. He was very courteous. I remember his skin, very pale, like a turkey under glass, almost like porcelain.

From your own productions, can you pick one single that you are really proud of?

I don't have one. I was never that impressed with anything I ever did.

Not one?

No, I haven't made that record yet. I know I will make a record that remarkable one day - remember the date - September 18th 2003. Between now and the day I die, I will make a record that you will love. It will probably be that record. It will be unexpected and appreciated by me. More impact that anything I did when I was younger. I'm like a plodding journeyman, and I make these records the best I can, doing the twelve different jobs outlined on the Kim Fowley Is For Sale section on my website. I don't think about it too much.

Has you wide breadth of activity taken away from the chance to produce the really fine records?

I think in my life even the hideous and the dumb things I did were fascinating. I'm not really interested in other people's opinion of me. I don't have an opinion of me. There's one fact: I was not Lennon & McCartney, or George Gershwin, or Leiber & Stoller, or George Martin. Sorry! But…I made some interesting recordings in my time, certainly better than most of the people who bring me demos today. I'm not a major talent, I'm a major presence. When you look at the duration, it was a major effort with minor results.

When you look on your website, there are lots of references pointing to all the things you have done. Is that a sort of insecurity?

There are people who would take credit for other people's work. That's my way of saying "I did this". Other people think you are lying about it, think you couldn't have done it all. I'm not gracious about my hit records. I use bad taste in promoting myself. No one promotes me, so I have to do it myself. I over-document. I'm not a household name, so that's why I do it.

What's your greatest achievement in the music business?

Never grabbing a day job. I never did it part-time; I always did it full-time.

And you always stayed at street level, with the rock'n'roll pulse, rather than going to corporate companies.

Right, I'm never invited to any of them. I just do what comes along. I operate on reflex. My idea of fun is to you to drive me to some English town, drop me off, and then come back after three or four days, and I would have found something that sounds good.

How do you keep that very active, positive approach?

Because I'm an asshole. I'm also immature emotionally. I don't have a personal life. I define everything by the obscure activities I do. You have to understand this: I was abandoned by my mother in a foster home one- year-old, and I was raised by nine and ten-year-olds till I was six. I was a polio guy and a cancer guy and a pneumonia guy, and I was abandoned again by my dad. I was left outside the door, out in the rain, out in the darkness. I'll die alone, by myself, which is my destiny, my pattern. If you're left alone by the whole human race, in the most crucial parts of your life and development, you have a lot of time to develop your musical identity and skills. You can't wait to go out in public and show off. I am trained to make magnificent records whenever possible. For whatever reason, I just do it. It's better than watching the news. What else am I going to do? Work at a fish and chip shop? "Hi, do you want cod?" God! No, no, I'm one of the great ones.

(Interview conducted September 18th, 2003, Hampstead Britannia Hotel, Primrose Hill, London)


Kim Fowley website:


'Impossible But True: The Kim Fowley Story" CD
Track list:


Other Kim Fowley CDs are available: