Phast Phreddie Interview (July 2010)
Phast Phreddie is a notable figure in the history and promotion of music in 1970s Los Angeles. Perhaps best known for his founding of the influential fanzine Back Door Man, he was also a scenester with numerous contacts within the scene. His house in Torrance, CA, paid host to the very first Runaways concert. He continues to regularly work as a DJ under the name Boogaloo Omnibus.
PP: Phast Preddie:
RIS: How did you and Michael first meet–prior to the Runaways?
PP: I met Michael the first time I went to see The Runaways rehearse, at the invitation of Kim Fowley. They rehearsed in a studio above a drugstore on Santa Monica Blvd and San Vicente Blvd. in West Hollywood–not a trailer in the Valley as in the movie!! (I saw the movie twice, and it pissed me off both times. NOTHING is factual in it.)
RIS:What were your impressions of Michael as a person and musician?
PP: This is a very hard question to answer like this. It would require a book about her. The impression I got of Michael Steele as a person, when I knew her back in the mid seventies, then again in the mid eighties was this: She was a complicated and sensitive person interested in truth and beauty. When I met her as a Runaway she was young and pretty and talented and perhaps naive, or at least new to the games that Hollywood tends to play on people. Ten years later, she was still young, even more pretty, even more talented but she showed signs of having been snake-bitten, so to speak. My impression was that she had gained quite a bit of life-experience in between–some of it not very positive. She wasn’t as bubbly and she no longer seemed to trust people she didn’t know.
As for musically, she was a very fine bass player when she was in The Runaways–and would have been the group’s best if it had worked out that way. She was most definitely much better as a Bangle. Ten years’ experience has a way of doing that. Plus, I really enjoyed the songs she wrote for The Bangles, although they don’t really seem like Bangles-like songs. I always hoped she could have made a solo record where these kinds of songs could really shine on their own.
RIS: I find the description ‘a complicated and sensitive person interested in truth and beauty’ quite interesting. It reminds me.. not that I know her, but from interviews and what other people have said about her I’ve always got the impression she’s highly intelligent. What’d you think of her intellect?
PP: I don’t know if I’m qualified to discuss her intellect. She certainly seemed intelligent to me. That, plus her talent, charm and beauty was very attractive to me at the time.
Phrast Phreddie’s House: Venue for the first Runaways concert, August 12 1975.
RIS: What are your memories of the first Runaways gig? (what the setup was, what songs were played, how the night was, any amusing stories etc:),
PP:: The first Runaways gig was in my parents’ living room in Torrance, of course. I really don’t remember a lot about the gig. I think I got rather drunk that night. This is one gig I have tried to remember for a long time, but it just won’t come back. There’s a photo somewhere of me introducing the band in my living room, so it must have happened. The group was a trio, Lita Ford having joined, then quit (as I remember, some time after the performance in my living room, the group played two weekends in a row at the Whisky A’ Go-Go. After the first one, Lita was back in the band). I remember seeing Michael in the band when The Runaways played crappy little bars and discos in Orange County and San Fernando Valley. One was a movie theater opening for some local heavy metal band. She was the lead singer and bass player, of course, and a damn fine one. I hated to see the group get watered down with Cherri Curry–a good pop singer, but not really a rock’n’roll singer–just because she was blond (well, thee were other mitigating circumstances, too, of course, but that’s another story). In those days, Michael could sing the rock’n’roll stuff quite well.
RIS: Did she ever mention what music she was really into back in the Runaways days? What she was listening to, what influenced her etc:
PP: I can’t recall anything other than the usual: Beatles and Stones. She seemed to like muchof the stuff that was popular in the late sixties and early seventies.
Runways concert poster, September 28, 1975.
RIS: Did you ever see any of the many bands (Slow Children, Elton Duck, Snakefinger, Nadia Kapiche, Boys Ranch, Toni & The Movers, Greg Best, Bird Mountain Larry etc:) Michael played in between the Runaways and the Bangles? If so, any memories?
PP: I saw Slow Children and Elton Duck, but I think before she was in the respective bands. I did see Nadia Kapiche and Toni and the Movers with Michael. I especially liked Toni & the Movers and was saddened when I saw that Toni Childs cut her solo record without Michael. Nadia Kapiche didn’t seem to me to be a very serious effort, although I thought Toni & the Movers was quite good–much better than the Toni Childs solo record. Toni has an incredible voice and I thought it suited the more rock-oriented music of The Movers better than the over-produced pop of her solo record (that’s how I remember it, but I haven’t heard the solo record in a REALLY long time).
RIS: What else do you remember about those Toni & The Movers gigs? Was Michael singing much (I know she sings on the chorus of ‘Africa’) then or focusing more on her basswork?
PP: I really don’t remember a lot about it. The performance I remember most was at the Cathay De Grande–a dark and dingy little club in Hollywood. The main things I remember about it is that Toni had a great voice and Michael was in the band.
RIS: As someone who had the perspective of seeing her play in both groups, what did you think of her growth as a musician between the Runaways and the Bangles?
PP: Michael was most definitely a better bass player by the time she joined The Bangles. There’s a story I heard that the producer for The Bangles records often used session musicians to play the other women’s instrumental parts, but that he could not find a bass player to play the parts as well as Michael. I believe this. She was that good.
RIS: Do you remember seeing/hearing Michael play any instruments besides bass? I’ve heard in addition to her basswork she’s also a pretty accomplished guitar player, so more info would be great.
PP: I vaguely remember her strumming an acoustic guitar at a party or something, but that would be it. She seemed like a real musician to me. I don’t remember having seen her play another instrument in a serious manner.
RIS: Also, I found that tidbit about El Pollo Loco quite cool, so I thought I’d ask a little about that too. -Do you remember more of the story behind it? I’m especially curious if it was based on a true story (so to speak) or had a particular inspiration.
PP: It’s all very true. Michael’s spoken word piece is rather explicit, but this is what I remember of it. Michael had just joined The Bangles and she and I had recently reconnected when I saw her play with the band. I saw her at parties and such and we would chat. We got to be friendly and I asked her out to see a very hip band called The Crawdaddys. I always had a crush on her and I was hoping that this date would go well. The show was somewhere near downtown. On the way, Michael said she was hungry so we stopped for a bite to eat at a place called El Pollo Loco (Spanish for The Crazy Chicken–I thought it was a basic Mexican restaurant but it turned out to be a sort of Mexican style chicken place).
In the parking lot of this fine establishment we were approached by a late middle-aged, weather-worn Hispanic man who asked for money so he could by some food. He said he was hungry. I didn’t want to give him money, but if he was hungry I thought I should help him out. I invited him into El Pollo Loco to buy him some food.
The idea was for him to get a meal and be gone. I did not think he would sit with us, but he did. He sat across the table from us. At first it wasn’t that big of a deal. Then he started saying he was a good man. He pulled up his shirt and showed us some scars on his stomach and on his arms where he had been tortured in El Salvador, where he was from.
Michael Steele is a very sensitive person and this really upset her–well, it was an upsetting turn of events, that’s for sure. Needless to say, we never saw The Crawdaddys. Michael asked that I take her home and I did. I didn’t realize it had such an affect on her until I heard her piece “El Pollo Loco.”
RIS: El Pollo Loco also strikes me as a very well-written piece. Do you recall if Michael was writing other prose pieces or songs at that time?
PP: If she did, I was not aware of them or do not remember them. My guess is that she did because the music thing–as talented as she is–didn’t always seem to be a good outlet for her, mostly due to circumstances beyond her control. My guess is there may be a box–or there was a box–of excellent writing somewhere that I hope sees the light of day some how.
RIS: How will you remember Michael?
PP: I will always remember her as a wonderful example of a human being.
I’ll end with a little story that I just remembered: Around the time The Bangles put out their first album–it may not have even been released yet–Michael and I attended a party for The Motels in the San Fernando Valley. Marty and Jeff Jourard–members of The Motels at the time–are good friends of mine. The Jourard brothers are from Gainsville, FL–same as Tom Petty and his band, who were also at the party. I came with Michael Steele. At this party, she was introduced to Tom Petty. I’ll never forget, because we briefly discussed it on the way home afterward, that she was very excited that Tom Petty knew who she was and spoke with her as if she were an equal. It may have been the first time someone she admired and respected looked upon her as a fellow musician. He wished her luck and sort of welcomed her to the fold.