RUNAWAYS DRUMMER REMEMBERED BY FRIENDS AND FANS
June 26, 2009
Sandy West is memorialized with a statue in Dana Point.
Peter Larsen of www.ocregister.com reports that to those who came to remember and celebrate her, Sandy West was a daughter or a best friend, a sister or a rock star.
In a ceremony in Dana Point on Friday, the former drummer for the Runaways was honored with the dedication of chainsaw-sculpted statue of a mermaid playing an electric guitar and a monument inlaid with a pair of her drumsticks, both pieces created by Runaways singer Cherie Currie.
“When I think of the word friend, no one that I’ve known owns that word like Sandy,” Currie told a crowd of a hundred or so gathered outside Kenny’s Music Store, which commissioned the work.
“Sandy was an example of human greatness,” she said, pausing as she fought back tears. “And I’m honored that I had her in my life.”
Following Currie to speak was Jeri Williams, West’s mother, who came from her home in Palm Desert and was joined by other daughters and relatives at the ceremony.
“It’s been hard,” she told the crowd of losing her daughter to cancer that spread from the lungs to the brain. “I miss her every day.”
Moments later, when the tarps covering the sculpture and monument were removed, Williams gasped and put her hand to her mouth, moved by the beauty of the scene.
“She suffered so much,” Williams said after the ceremony ended. “Cancer is so awful, as we all know. But she’s in a better place now. She was a believer, so that helped.”
Williams remembered how when West reached the age her older sisters had taken up string instruments she signed her up to learn the violin at her elementary school in Long Beach.
“Well, she took it for two weeks and then she said, ‘Mom, that’s not for me, but I found out I could be the first female drummer in elementary school!'” Williams said.
And that was that. West played the drums all throughout school, including the marching band at Edison High School in Huntington Beach, with which she played the cymbals in the Rose Parade one year, her mother said.
When the Runways took off (the teenage all-girl band is set to be the subject of a movie starring Dakota Fanning as Currie and Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett), Williams said she knew it was a big deal, but she really didn’t understand how good her daughter was until after she died.
“I knew she played the drums, and played them well,” Williams said. “But I have a scrapbook now filled with letters I received from all kinds of different people after she died, telling how wonderful she was as a drummer.”
Currie said after the ceremony she was pleased that so many had come to honor her friend, turning a sadness into something joyful for the day.
“The feeling of loses comes, but the joy of having known her is a blessing,” Currie said. “And I do believe she’s here with me.”
Peggy Foster, who played bass for the Runaways in one of their earliest lineups, came from her home in Palos Verdes to the ceremony, paying tribute to the friend with whom she reconnected for the last two years of West’s life.
“Sandy spent a lot of time with me the last few years of her life,” Foster said. “I was at the NAMM show (in Anaheim) and somebody told me the Runaways were looking for me, so Sandy got in touch with me and we were like twins after that.
“She’d come over to my house to hang out and gossip, or we’d go on road trips to see Joanie (Jett) play,” she said. “We rehearsed in my garage, too. She wanted to get the Runaways back together.”
Among the fans in the crowd was Sunao Tobaru, a 47-year-old from Berkeley who saw a notice on Currie’s MySpace page and traveled down to the ceremony on Friday.
As a 16-year-old growing up in Japan, he says he fell for the Runaways as soon as their first album reached Okinawa where he lived.
“The first album, all the songs were so simple, but easy to relate to, even for people who don’t know American music that well,” Tobaru said. “The most attractive thing was they were all-female, young, and with a bad-looking attitude.”
And West, most of all, seemed to him the ideal of an American dream girl.
“Sandy had that typical, healthy California surfer image,” Tobaru said. “I fell in love with Sandy’s smile.”
After the ceremony ended, the crowd migrated down the block to La Plaza Park, where Kenny and Kimberly Williams, owners of Kenny’s Music Store, had also organized a concert as a benefit for a friend’s son who is fighting leukemia.
That, too, greatly pleased Williams, she said.
“I’m very touched by that,” Williams said. “It would make Sandy very happy, and it makes me very happy, too, because we’ve got to conquer this terrible disease.”