Cherry Vanilla added a bright red flare to Punk. She produced highly original music that stood up against and pushed Punk’s connotations. Cherry Vanilla’s two albums are more punk in concept than sound, and carefully tie together Garage, Pop, Rock, and Honky Tonk. Her Punk pounds punch after punch into all authoritative and mass produced bull shit. Rufus Wainwright called Cherry Vanilla “a state of mind,” but that is too limiting. Cherry Vanilla is everywhere and her overwhelming contributions are channeled everyday by Tastemakers and Scenesters. Against her control, she was the “The First Lady of Punk,” but so be it: She was First and She is the Best.
Cherry Vanilla’s history is long and star-studded. Her perseverance proves she can’t quit, and that something greater than her is compelling her to create much more than pieces of merchandise. Cherry made her entrance in the art world as a performance artist in various “Off-Broadway” plays in New York City. Her biggest and most culturally bending theatrical venture was starring in Andy Warhol’s only play “Pork.” “Pork” was based on recorded conversations and gossip about socialite life between Brigid Berlinn and Warhol himself. Cherry Vanilla played Amanda Pork (Brigid Berlinn), and proved she was destined for the stage. “Pork” was fundamental to the development of Glitter Rock, and had a huge impact on David Bowie’s career. So much so that he later told William S. Burroughs: “I want to get [Pork] on to TV. TV has eaten up everything else, and Warhol films are all that is left, which is fabulous. Pork could become the next I Love Lucy, the great American domestic comedy. It’s about how people really live, not like Lucy, who never touched dishwater. It’s about people living and hustling to survive. That’s what Pork is all about. A smashing of the spectacle.” But David Bowie wasn’t just impressed by “Pork’s” concept of alternative and trashy entertainment, he was impressed by Cherry’s genuine character and stage presence. After “Pork” and up until 1974 she was head of Public Relations and Marketing at MainMan LTD. MainMan was David Bowie’s management company and worked closely with David Bowie’s RCA label mates. Cherry was natural at PR, realizing that both lies and truths can stir up friendly excitement that ultimately boosts record sales. Worth noting is when Cherry was a teenager she worked at a Madison Avenue Advertisement Agency. She did commercials then, and she also did commercials (voice overs) for David Bowie. She had the skills to survive as a woman in the largely male dominated Entertainment Agency. Also in 1974, she released her first book Pop Tart Compositions. Pop Tart Compositions contained photographs, drawings and Cherry’s poetry. Issue#2 of TEENAGE NEWS reprinted an excerpt from Pop Tart Compositions for the first time since its original publishing. [Anyone have an extra copy of the original? Send us one!]
1974 was a big year for Cherry Vanilla. She made her debut as a singer and songwriter. Her performance art background gave her a stage presence that to this day is unmatched. Her first released song was the proto-punk “Shake Your Ashes” recorded by Cherry Vanilla & her Staten Island Band on the Max’s Kansas City album in 1976. Just like the Glitter and Glam elements in “Pork,” Cherry was once again first in the next trend, Punk.
BRASHcore and TEENAGE NEWS are taking it upon themselves to preserve Cherry’s legacy. In 2010 Cherry Vanilla released her tell all autobiography Lick Me. Lick Me shows Cherry Vanilla in yet another light, and begins with her childhood and ends before she signed with RCA UK in 1977. BRASHcore is doing a Three Part Series with the goal of documenting Cherry’s life after Lick Me.
This First Feature in the series elucidates on Cherry’s career in the Music Industry from 1977-1982.
BRASHcore: Do you believe in telepathy?
CHERRY VANILLA: Yes, I do. I have had the usual things where you think of someone and the phone rings, or you open a letter and it’s from them. Sometimes, you know, it’s just coincidence, but I feel that I’ve had things happen too often for them to always be coincidences. Often I know that things are going to happen before they happen. Most of the time I don’t tell people about that, but occasionally, if I have a dream and someone calls the next morning… Just little things that you kinda know a few minutes before. I sometimes think that time is not linear at all, but is circular. Everything we experience, we experience along the way of a circle… Yes, I believe in telepathy.
BRASHcore: Have you ever had an “out of body” experience?
CHERRY VANILLA: Yes… mostly on LSD, but sometimes not on anything at all. It was always an “out of body” experience on LSD… that is one of the things about it; you are out of yourself looking back at yourself. It is as if you inhabit all the space around you. You know the end of that movie “Her” where he says “Where are you?” and she says “Everywhere?” Well, that is the feeling I often had on LSD. It’s like you become part of everything, and were a character in your own world.
I guess a few times I’ve also had it when I was going under anesthesia… I have had that, God knows.
One time, when I was on LSD on the beach at Fire Island I almost got burned to death and blinded because as I was lying on the beach I had my eyes open and was looking at the sun. I did this for I don’t know how long; you don’t know what time is on that drug… I felt myself being absorbed by sunbeams as if I was being lifted up a thousand feet above the beach, lying there. The sunbeams were going right through me, but also were acting like an elevator or something. I could just tilt my head slightly and just hear what everyone was saying on the beach, even though I was a thousand feet above them. That was the most visual, graphic, extreme “out of body” experience I’ve ever had. This was early in the year, maybe Memorial Weekend, and because I was looking at the sun everything swelled up and I had to go to the hospital. My eyes were so swollen, they were like stuck together. Thank God I didn’t go blind. That was my most extreme “out of body” experience.
BRASHcore: Did you think Punk was political?
CHERRY VANILLA: Well, I thought music was political when I heard “Bang a Gong” in the U.S., and saw Marc Bolan with a feather boa and eyeliner… I was hardly considering this Punk then, it was more Glitter Rock… but, I thought Glitter Rock was going to be a big political statement as far as sexuality, transgender rights, and drag… I liked that music, and I thought it could open doors and change some thinking.
In New York the Punk Attitude, at least how I saw it, wasn’t political like government political but rather about fighting disco. I didn’t like Disco music, and I had been a DJ and I didn’t like machine-made beats. I didn’t like it! I wasn’t a coke head, and I thought that music was for people who did poppers and coke. I didn’t want to make that music because I thought it was mindless. The only political thing I saw about Punk in the New York Days was that it was fighting against Disco, overproduced records, and fake stuff. I wanted it all back to basic Rock and Roll, stripped down Rock and Roll. Rock was music for poor people who worked and couldn’t afford a year in the studio and sound effects. Punk was a chance for the little guy in a garage to just get it out there without spending a lot of money and signing a big record contract. I saw it that way, but when I got to England I realized how political the lyrics were and their stance was. They were having bigger trouble than we were in the States. They were having higher unemployment, and everyone was on strike. It was a complete mess in England at this time.
I then saw when we got there that the English kids had a whole other fight on their hands. It wasn’t just about taking down Disco or recognizing Gay Rights. In America we always felt we could rise up from nothingness and be a star or the President or rich and famous… whatever you wanted. The English kids had more desperation; they didn’t have hope or an American Dream. They didn’t think they could rise up from the position they were born into. The government didn’t give them a chance to do that, so Punk was a way they could become a Rock Star. The funny thing was that what they were protesting against they eventually became. The Sex Pistols took a big money contact with a big record company. At the same time that they were fighting it, when the opportunity came they took the money and completely changed their life. “No More Canaries” is a bit political when you dissect the lyrics.
BRASHcore: What is “No More Canaries” about?
CHERRY VANILLA: It’s about the Punks in England. It’s about ecology, and the Punks being small-minded. Actually not really being small-minded, but not being able to see the big picture and the bigger threat. They were worried about their position in life, and how to make a living and pay taxes. What I was saying was, “We don’t even have a prayer anymore…” The idea about canaries goes back to how they put canaries in a coal mine and if they hit gas the canaries would die. That’s how they tested for gas in the coal mines. In fact later, the Police wrote a song about that… They had performed “No More Canaries” with me, and wrote a song called “Canary in a Coal Mine” after they performed with me. I guess what I was trying to say to them was: “Yeah… you Punks, you are fighting this but at the same time you will take the money when you can get it. You might as well live it up because there are much bigger problems than what you are shouting about.”
“No More Canaries:”
BRASHcore: On a more depressing note… Do you think the American Dream is dead?
CHERRY VANILLA: Yeah, unfortunately I do. It takes a Middle Class to make an American Dream. Obama had it right when he came into office and said, “We are all in this together.” (Now, it’s not like this can’t happen… someone puts something on the web and it catches fire. Or you can invent a new app or Facebook, especially if the Internet is what gives you the chance to do that). But as far as people climbing the ladder, getting an entry-level job, and working their way up to the Middle Class… It was the American Dream to send your kids to college. I think that’s very difficult now. It is difficult for parents and for everybody. It is certain a percent that is getting wealthier and wealthier, and greedier and greedier and the rest of us are all serfs, doing what we can do to survive. I know it’s depressing, but unfortunately it’s…
I pray for miracles (I don’t pray in a religious way), but I pray for miracles and I believe in magic. So, I am still keeping my fingers crossed for that, but when I look practically into the future and base everything on the way it is going now… it’s “Mad Max.” We are almost already out of water here [in California], and I don’t know what is going to happen when the day comes that there isn’t going to be any coming out of our taps. It’s going to be panic. Unfortunately, the practical and methodological side of my thinking brain sees a very bleak future. And yet, the hopeful and magical and believing in miracles side says something can save us and something will. Maybe a lot of people will die, but there will be something newborn. As far as the American Dream of the past, I don’t think things can happen like that because most people will be poor and a few will be rich, very rich. It’s sad…
BRASHcore: Hmmm, I don’t know how to follow that up… Magic… Do you practice an organized form of it or through spiritualism?
CHERRY VANILLA: It’s just spiritualism, you know, Creative Individualization. I put out good things. You asked me that last question so I answered you, but I try to not let my mind go there most of the time. I try to keep my own mind in a positive and hopeful state. The fact we haven’t been wiped out by Nuclear Weapons already is a miracle to me. It’s been a miracle for the past 50 years. I think if enough people– what I am about to say is very Hippy– can keep their thoughts high and positive it’s a form of protection. When I find my mind going to the dark places, I try to get it out of there, and smoke some pot or do something that makes my mind think more positively. I try to find the beauty that is still in the world. I hope and like they say “If you aren’t dead there is always hope.” So, I try to keep my mind there and see.
BRASHcore: When did you move to London?
CHERRY VANILLA: I moved there to do “Pork” in the Summer of 1971. We did “Pork,” and I think the play opened in like July or August, and we were there a month or two before to do rehearsals. The play only lasted a month, and then we all left broken-hearted!
“Pork” was based on transcriptions of telephone conversations between Brigid Polk and Warhol. Patti Hagget, who was the secretary at the Factory, transcribed it all. Because Andy loved Tony Ingrassia’s plays (a few of which I had done for the New York Theater Ensemble) he asked Tony to edit the transcriptions down into a play. Tony Ingrassia conceived the whole play from the actual transcriptions. This man named Ira Gale came to New York and made a deal to bring the play to London. It had already been performed at Café La Mama in New York. I don’t know where I was during this time, but I wasn’t there. I tried to find all this in my diaries, and I don’t know if I was at Fire Island or in Puerto Rico. Regardless, I wasn’t around when they were doing “Pork” at Café La Mama. I didn’t try for it or anything. Ira Gale and Andy Warhol, of course, had seen it. They loved it, and Ira offered to produce it at the Round House in London for a month. The idea was that it could be taken to the West End after that run. Andy said, “Okay” to moving to London, but Tony had to cast a different girl to play the part of Pork because he didn’t think the girl playing the part of Pork was right. That’s how I got the opportunity to audition for Andy; Tony picked me. I did the audition for Andy, and was off to London a few days after that.
BRASHcore: Did Andy Warhol go with you to London?
CHERRY VANILLA: Oh yes, he came… He came to rehearsal, and he came to opening night. We had a party, and we had a press conference together that afternoon. Yeah, he was there. He was very proud of it. He had an exhibition opening in some gallery, so we were great publicity for his gallery opening. We got a lot of publicity, the whole troupe of us. He was happy with everything and loved it all.
BRASHcore: Did you ever write any plays?
CHERRY VANILLA: Uh… I did. I wrote one where I did a little, private reading. It was about my sister and her lovers. I never did anything with that. I wrote my own cabaret shows that were like little plays. I never really wrote a play with a whole cast that got produced.
BRASHcore: When did you move to London for the second time? Would anything have kept you in New York City?
CHERRY VANILLA: That was February of 1977, and it wasn’t really the second time I went to London because the second time that I went to London was many times when I was doing publicity for Bowie. Those were just short visits in hotel rooms and stuff. I went in 1977 to have a Rock band, and have the Police play with me. I was just open to new experiences. I had sold everything in my apartment, and I had nothing to go back to really. I was just taking a big chance that we were going to get a record deal. I thought we would, and that we would be successful so we could go back to New York and get an apartment; blah blah blah. I signed specifically with RCA, and not a smaller Punk label, because it was going to be a worldwide release. I wanted that because I wanted it to be released in the States, of course. RCA totally screwed me, and never did release it in the States. After that, I lost all faith in them. I realized that I would be going home, and I would be going home broke. Right before I went home I signed a publishing deal with Interscope. I had a little money so I could sublet an apartment for a while. I had to start all over with nothing, again.
BRASHcore: Were the Police supposed to record with you?
CHERRY VANILLA: We never talked about that, no. I don’t think I ever had any intention of that. I liked my guys back in the States better than them, [laughs]. The Police had an attitude about playing with me. They were doing it to get gigs; they couldn’t get them without me. They kinda saw themselves above me, and while they respected my musicians, they saw me as a novelty and themselves as maestros. I didn’t want to record with anyone that had that attitude. I would wait to get my guys over.
We recorded both sides of the single “Bad Girl” and “Foxy Bitch” with fabulous studio musicians; they really showed me respect. I don’t know if they were pretending, but they seemed to be having a really great time. They played a gig with me because we had to do a gig for the RCA Sales Force in London. The studio guys performed with Louie, Zecca, and me. They were great… I had promised my old band in New York that when I got a contract I would bring them over. I don’t think I ever intended to record with the Police, and I didn’t ask them.
BRASHcore: How long did it take to record “Bad Girl?”
CHERRY VANILLA: Oh, it was pretty short. It was done in stages. “The Punk” was done with those couple of studio musicians. We did “The Punk” and two other tracks, I believe. After this I brought the guys from New York to do the rest of the album. We did them at Air Studios in London. It was low-budget and Air London was a leading studio, so I think we wrapped the whole thing up in two weeks.
BRASHcore: Did you record it live in the studio? Were any songs written in the studio?
CHERRY VANILLA: We would do the songs live, and then they would always have me overdub a vocal. I would do a vocal with the boys when they were playing their tracks, but I would do it just as a throwaway, not trying too hard. It was like practice for me. They would put down the boys’ tracks, and do my vocals separately and mix that in. They would often do some overdubs (background singing, guitar, solos, piano, and sometimes more percussion). It was produced like a normal record of the time, and there weren’t any tricks. There was a little echo and delay, but there weren’t any real tricks. They didn’t have the tricks to make my notes perfect or affect my voice that much. They have this stuff now, but even if they had them then –which they might have had for people who had the money and know-how– Andrew who produced our record wanted it to be as raw as possible. We wanted it this way too. There weren’t many overdubs and there weren’t many tricks. A couple of the songs are basically live, except maybe for a guitar solo or my vocals. I always did my best vocals on the first take because it was fresh and real. They would torture me about my pitch and have me do it again, many more times but it would never come out as good as the first time so we would often use the first one. [Laughs]. Some songs, it’s funny… because I didn’t really learn how to sing them until after they were recorded! [Laughs]. For instance, “Liverpool” was, for some reason, a difficult song for me to sing. I don’t know why, but when I would make the transition from verse to chorus, I would just have trouble. On “Liverpool” the engineer Phil McDonald (he was an engineer for the Beatles) pieced it together from like four different takes. He took the best lines from each take and put it together. When I heard myself singing the songs correctly, and singing the song properly then I could sing it live without a problem. Once I heard myself do the right notes, I could do them. It’s almost like I should have had a girl singer who was a great singer with me and have her sing the songs. It was like I never sang them until I heard them. I never really heard a girl or someone in my key before… It’s funny because suddenly “Liverpool” was the perfect song.
I knew that I was learning in public, I did the best I could, and I had fun with it. It was also tortured because it wasn’t easy for me. I was used to performing stoned on grass, and they didn’t really have that in London. They had hash, but they put it with tobacco and I hated that. I suddenly was facing the reality of being straight and hearing myself… You are much more critical when you are straight! That was tough, but all in all it was a great experience and I’m glad I did it.
BRASHcore: Were you involved in the mixing “Bad Girl?”
CHERRY VANILLA: Oh yeah, we all were. It was fight after fight after fight because we all wanted a say… and Andrew was the producer and Louie was my boyfriend. Louie would get me in bed at night and say, “I don’t like the way Andrew is doing this…” Blah blah blah! I always wanted my voice more mixed into the tracks like John Lennon used to mix his voice with the music more up. Everyone else wanted my voice up more. Of course, Louie wanted his guitar up, Zecca wanted his piano up, Manny wanted his drums up, and Howie wanted his bass up! The usual… In the end, Andrew was the producer and Phil made all his suggestions. On some tracks, I never really got what I wanted. I wanted my voice mixed in more. I guess this all stemmed from my insecurity about my voice. I thought if it was mixed in deeper into the tracks, it would sound better. “People have to hear your voice to hear the words…” We all had a say.
BRASHcore: Before you recorded “Bad Girl,” David Bowie wanted to produce an “Electric Beatnik” album by you… Were you interested in that genre, and why did you pursue Punk-Rock-Pop?
CHERRY VANILLA: Well I was already doing Rock and Roll, and I loved Rock and Roll. I thought we could have a hit and make a living with Rock and Roll. At this time it was pre-Rap, so while there were Rap Poets who had done albums (very few) I would’ve been one of the first. I thought of what Bowie wanted to do as more of an art project. I thought it would be fabulous, and artistic, maybe beautiful, and far out! I didn’t think it would be a money-making album, or something we could really tour with or play live. I thought it would be hard to do as a live recording. I didn’t think I could keep a band together doing it, and plus I wanted to go out and play Rock in Roll on stage. I had done a lot of poetry with music and stuff in my cabaret act. That was usually with a piano player or something, it was not a full Rock and Roll band. Now that I had a full band, I wanted to play and record. I thought I could do both, and that was my intention. I was going to do one with Bowie, Electronic-Beatnik-Artistic music (and maybe would get some recognition through him and because it was artsy fartsy), and do one that was Rock and Roll that would give us a way to make a living. That’s what I thought about it but Bowie never came through.
BRASHcore: David Bowie was still on RCA while you were recording your RCA album. Did you have any contact with Bowie during this time? Do you think he knew you were pursuing a solo career too?
CHERRY VANILLA: Oh yeah. Well I was supposed to make an album with him, and we had talked about it. That never came to pass… He knew I wasn’t gonna sit around and wait for him. I had introduced him to Michael Kamen and he made the “David Live” album with David. I also recorded one of the songs Michael Kamen wrote with me, “Little Red Rooster,” which was about Bowie. So… I wasn’t in touch directly with David Bowie in those days, but Michael Kamen was. He knew what we were doing…
BRASHcore: Did you like any books by the Beats?
CHERRY VANILLA: Well, I was a little young. I was born in 1943, and most of the Beat Movement happened in the 1950’s. Even though I was still pretty young, I adored them. That’s what I wanted to be, a Beatnik. Naturally, if you think about it, by 1953 I was ten. I was just starting to look around at the world, adults, poetry, and seeing what I wanted to be. I lived in New York, and I got familiar with Greenwich Village. Their whole style… I loved the fashion; I loved what seemed like their elevation of women. When I was growing up, men didn’t recognize women too much intellectually. You just had to be pretty and sweet. It seemed to me, and I recognized this pretty early on –maybe by the time I was 10/11/12 years old when I saw the coffee shops in the Village– that the men seemed to be in these deep conversations with women. It seemed that they had more of an intellectual respect for women, then the kind of people I grew up with…
I was 17 in 1961, and went to work for an Advertising Agency in New York City. The Beat Era was changing to the Rock and Roll Era. That’s why I went head on into the Rock and Roll Era, but yeah I loved them. Not only William S. Burroughs, but I liked the Doors of Perception. I liked the writers who were like philosophers, prophets, and spiritualist. Like how you opened the conversation about telepathy, I liked reading about all this metaphysical stuff going on. When Be Here Now came out, that was my Bible. I believed totally in it. That was all Beatnik Culture, but it quickly melted into Rock and Roll Culture. By the time I was 18 in 1962, I was full-out in love with Rock and Roll, and there weren’t’ many Beatnik Bars around. When you think about Max’s Kansas City [New York City club], that was a great transitional space. It was like a Beatnik Bar in the Front-Room (where all the artists hung out, and writers too). Eventually, the writers started writing about Rock and Roll, or started making Rock and Roll. Max’s was a place where you could see and be inspired by the Beatnik Era– there were still remnants of it the Front-Room– but then you go to the Back-Room and it was a place that was totally transitioning artists from Beatnik to Rockers. That was a special and important place…
BRASHcore: Your single “Liverpool” was huge in Holland. Did RCA target Holland more than other countries?
CHERRY VANILLA: Well, you know, you only had to sell 10,000 records to be a big hit in Holland. I forget how many we sold, now, but we made the charts. Let’s put it that way. We weren’t Number 2, or 3, maybe we were Number 30 or something. We made the charts in Holland for a week or two, and that made it a kinda hit… I don’t think they targeted Holland; we just had a sound that they liked in Holland. “Liverpool” has that sorta football cheer to it, and sports fans in Holland might have liked that. It is a small country, and we played the Paradiso. We were very well received there, so they just liked our song. Maybe RCA targeted Holland more, but I don’t know…
BRASHcore: In an interview with Zecca he said you used to “double time” the ending of “Liverpool” when you performed it live. Why didn’t you do this on the album?
CHERRY VANILLA: Zecca said we double timed it at the end? Maybe he is talking about the instrumental part, after the singing starts. There is even a long fade out instrumentally on the album, and when we did it live we didn’t do that… We would do “Liverpool” as much as we could get away with, and I would stop singing and they would do more instrumental parts. I think that’s what he is talking about; I don’t think we ever double timed the singing part.
BRASHcore: How did you get the drum sound on “No Canaries?”
CHERRY VANILLA: [Laughs]. That was one of the last things we recorded for the album… There were wooden steps somewhere in the studio. The drums never sounded heavy enough to me, and since that was the fastest, Punkiest song we ever had done I wanted it to have really heavy percussion. No matter what they did, the drums never sounded heavy enough to me. I think it was my idea, and Phil McDonald encouraged it, or maybe Phil said something like, “You can always go stomp on the stairs.” I said, “Yeah, let’s do that!” There were a couple of steps on the stairway made out of unfinished plywood and we all went in there, the whole band (and I think Andrew and Ian), and just all stomped on the steps to get that sound. It turned out exactly how I wanted it, [laughs]. That’s a great memory because we had a ball doing that. It was so much fun. That’s how we got it, stomping on the steps!
BRASHcore: Where did you tour to promote the album “Bad Girl?”
CHERRY VANILLA: We did Paris, a few places in Sweden, Scotland, all of the UK (but never Ireland), Germany, I don’t think we did Italy. I know an Italian magazine photographed us, but I think they came to a show in Germany or France. We also did Scandinavia, Amsterdam, Holland, and Brussels, Belgium. Oh, one forgets where one has been.
BRASHcore: What happened with the show where they had a model covered in meat advertising your show rather than you? Did you end up wearing her meat costume? Were the fans expecting you?
CHERRY VANILLA: [Laughs]. That was in Brussels, Belgium. It was a fabulous audience and club. A few years’ earlier I had written articles called “Diary of a Pop Tart” for Penthouse Magazine. Penthouse had the right to reproduce it after it was published in America. I didn’t know they were reproducing it… actually, I think I did find out eventually because they had to pay me something if they reproduced it. When I got to Brussels, there were posters all over the place with pictures of a very young, naked 17 or 18-year-old. She was stretching a piece of meat in her hands, and she had a meat skirt. It was well before Lady Gaga’s meat dress… I remember she was pulling this steak, and stretching it in her hands. For the poster they changed the title to “Diary of a Punk Tart,” and it was the same article. They also said on the poster “Cherry Vanilla, The Naked Punk” with the cover or title page from the magazine issue. They used that picture, and I freaked out! I thought, “Oh my God, they are expecting an 18-year-old naked girl!” The girl wasn’t even me. When I show up they’ll be disappointed! Oh my God, I called the record company and Penthouse. I wasn’t gonna go on stage, and I wanted to cancel the gig… The club was packed, and it turned out to be a fantastic audience. I think Brussels, Belgium had one of the best audiences we ever had. Luckily the poster didn’t turn out to matter, but I was furious when I saw it! False advertising…
BRASHcore: How did RCA promote you? Did you agree with being called “The First Lady of Punk?”
CHERRY VANILLA: Oh I hated the way they promoted me, it was so stupid. I tried to convince them, from early on, that we were a Pop band and my song “The Punk” was a Pop song like Blondie and the other bands from New York that weren’t Punk like the Ramones or the English bands like the Stranglers. RCA were jumping on a bandwagon, so yeah I didn’t like being called that because I didn’t feel like it was really true. Maybe Poly Styrene was the First Lady of Punk. Even the Pretenders were Pop with their sweet melodies. But I swallowed hard… I was also under the impression that they knew what they were doing, but in the end I don’t think they did. When the second album came out, I had written some lines for ads that were done in newspapers and stuff; but RCA did this one that I hated. The single was “Moonlight” and they did an ad that said, “Moonlight becomes her, it goes with her hair.” They hid all these things from me and I didn’t see it until I read the paper. I could have vomited on that, it was that terrible. On one hand they are presenting me as Punk, and on the other hand they are saying “Moonlight becomes her, it goes with her hair.” I wasn’t thrilled, and they didn’t spend a lot of money.
The worst part was that they didn’t release my records in America. When Robert Stigwood wanted to release my single “The Punk” and possibly the album after that they delayed everything. They just screwed around and said, “No, RCA is going to release it America”… That was the worst part for me…
BRASHcore: Why weren’t your album released in America? How long did you fight to get them in American stores, and do you remember what RCA’s excuse was?
CHERRY VANILLA: Well the contract said it would be released worldwide, which is why I signed it. But the contract also said that RCA had the first right to release it worldwide, and if RCA in that country didn’t want to release it they would let it be released by another label in that country. But, ultimately, RCA had the first right to release it… It was guaranteed they would release it with somebody else if RCA didn’t want it. This was the case with Stigwood… We fought this for months on end until Stigwood wasn’t even interested in it anymore. The moment had passed, and the song had been out too long. The moment had passed, and they fucked around for months and months saying, “RCA will release it.” They kept scheduling the release date for the following month, and after kept pushing back the release date for whatever reason. I couldn’t really fight them on it because they had me over a barrel. I didn’t sign a very good contract, and I needed a lawyer to negotiate my side. This lawyer, Nick Canera, who I used was somebody who often worked for RCA… Ahh! I had Max who was my road manager, but he was a movie director and made commercials, so he was also learning the business end of this all too. So, I wasn’t in the best hands or anything.
It was also emotional when I signed with RCA because I had adored Elvis Presley and David Bowie and they were on RCA. I wanted to follow the tradition and I felt stupid, sentimental stuff that shouldn’t enter business decisions. But I probably shouldn’t have been making the business decisions, I should’ve had a smart manager…but, it’s okay. Whatever. [Laughs].
BRASHcore: Stiff Records released your single “The Punk” backed by an Ian Dury song in 1977 in Italy. How did this happen since you were on RCA?
CHERRY VANILLA: Gee, I never knew this! RCA must have leased it to Stiff. They did this because they had the right to release it on the RCA label worldwide, but they could negotiate with other labels in other countries. So it might have been released through Stiff in Italy. I don’t know how it could have happened if it wasn’t leased, unless it wasn’t the studio recording and they took a live recording. I think the likely scenario was that RCA leased it to Stiff in Italy.
BRASHcore: Who is David Stratten? What was his contribution to your albums?
CHERRY VANILLA: Okay, when Andrew and Ian were together they produced a couple of demos. Andrew Hoy and David Stratten were partners in their productions. I had heard their demos, and that’s why when I got signed to RCA I wanted Andrew to produce my album even though he hadn’t produced any albums. I loved the sound of the demos; it was raw but had a big sound to it. It wasn’t hokey or overproduced. At that time David was his partner. David mostly added to the arrangement area, with horns, strings and overdubs he put his two cents in. That was his field and expertise. Part way through the album we didn’t like what he was doing, and we didn’t want a lot of strings or horns (it was okay here and there)… Eventually, he and Andrew kinda split up. Andrew realized too that he didn’t need David. We didn’t need arranged overdubs, and if we did Louie knew how to do those arrangements anyway. On the second album, he had no part in it.
BRASHcore: Did you meet Phil McDonald from your times with John Lennon and Ringo Starr?
CHERRY VANILLA: Andrew Hoy knew him. Andrew was my A&R Man and producer at RCA. Andrew knew Phil from other artists that were on RCA, and, of course, I knew of his reputation with the Beatles (with George Martin at Air London). He was the best, and he was a prize for us to get because we were just a fledgling band. He was a great engineer… In those days, I don’t know if he is anymore (I don’t even know if he’s alive anymore), he drank a lot. He got very drunk, and that was a problem in the studio. He had a wicked sense of humor, sometimes I didn’t know if he was making fun of me or laughing with me. Sometimes I felt intimidated by him because he could have been ridiculing me. He worked with the best in the business, and now he’s working with me! I felt a little insecure, but he was a darling guy and knew what he was doing at the board.
BRASHcore: How did you assemble your band for your “Venus D’Vinyl” album?
CHERRY VANILLA: That was my band from New York. We went up to Chipping Norton Studio, where you live, sleep, and record. That album was fun! It had the same musicians as most of the first album, except for the songs I did with the studio musicians.
BRASHcore: Did you have a goal with the “Bad Girl” album?
CHERRY VANILLA: Yeah, I just wanted a hit with “The Punk.” I always thought “The Punk” could be a hit; I just wanted one hit record. I didn’t care if I was a one hit wonder because that would have been enough. I just wanted one hit record, and the little royalties that came every six months. I wanted to be continuously played on the radio. I also wanted to go out and play with the boys, to supply a living to them and to all of us. I just wanted to make a living, have a hit, and maybe keep on writing. I didn’t think much beyond that. I don’t think I ever saw myself doing this for the rest of my life; rather it was like another form of creation. Another phase I was trying. I have tried a lot of things, and like trying things for a first time and seeing how they work and what they truly feel like. I don’t know if I ever saw myself doing it forever, but I did want one hit record! I never got it, but that’s okay, [laughs]. But hey, I’m not dead yet! There is a German group and an Italian group that have recorded my songs. I have heard this stuff on YouTube. Maybe someone will have a hit with it someday.
Or… in the movie about me, we will use it in the soundtrack and the soundtrack will be a hit because it will have David Bowie and Sting songs next to mine. It will go Platinum because it has a Sting song and Bowie song on it. Who knows!
This stuff was so important at that time; it was the center of my life and everything. Now, it all seems so unimportant. It seems like, “That was a little project I did, now onto the next!” It has lost its great importance, but then again music has lost its great importance to me. It’s not the center of my life anymore. I still get off on hearing fabulous songs, but I don’t listen to music like I did. I don’t read up on bands anymore, or hear every new underground sound that comes out. Also though, music isn’t the center of anyone’s life anymore. Technology is the new center, and music is just an adjunct to technology. It was the center of our lives, but it isn’t anymore. Everyone is more into apps and Apple Watches than any music, the way I see it.
BRASHcore: What was RCA’s response to your new sound on “Venus D’Vinyl?”
CHERRY VANILLA: Their response was… silence. I knew they were never going to put that album out before I did it. I had gone to England and begged to the President of RCA to be let off the label. I didn’t even want to do that second album for them, and since they had the right to an album and insisted I made it, I rebelled by making the album that I did. This is why I put love songs that were almost like hymns. They had a disco-y feel, and things we knew were too unique. We just knew they weren’t gonna do anything with it; it was a waste of our energies and creativity. Their attitude was that they didn’t like it, didn’t do anything to promote it, and, again, they didn’t release it in America.
BRASHcore: So, their involvement was less than their involvement with the first record?
CHERRY VANILLA: Yes, and also Andrew Hoy had left RCA by then so I had no A&R man really. They assigned us one, but he didn’t care because he didn’t sign us. Andrew had gone with Vangelis to Polygram. Even though I had Andrew produce the second album, we didn’t have anyone to fight for us. He wasn’t at the company to protect us and help us.
BRASHcore: Were they mad that Andrew produced it?
CHERRY VANILLA: I don’t think they cared one way or another… I think they just had me do the album so I wouldn’t go to another record company and make a better album than the first album, or make an album that another record company would have a hit with that would show them up. Honest to God, I think that’s why they went through with it to keep me busy for another six months or a year. They didn’t want to be shown up!
BRASHcore: I read online that original artwork for “Venus D’Vinyl” was going to be a “disembodied head.” Is this true?
CHERRY VANILLA: Oh I wish I still had that picture! RCA kept the photo, and I haven’t seen it since. Louie Lepore had a friend named Vincent Feraldi, and he was an artist I really admired. I asked him to do the cover of “Venus D’Vinyl,” and he did this cover that was so beautiful. It was a drawing of me, and it looked just like me. There was a record stylus spinning on a vinyl record, but the stylus was actually a razor blade so in the drawing as the record would have been spinning, the razor blade was slicing it into bits of vinyl that were flying and swirling. It wasn’t really a “disembodied head” or anything; it was the vinyl that was getting cut up. Around the edge of the album, as a frame… he made it with a double-edged razor blade so the sharp part was facing into the drawing and the metal part made the outside of the frame. I was thrilled with it! I took it to RCA, and they hated it. They claimed it couldn’t be photographed well because the light sent back flashes from the metal of the razor blades on the edges. Now, I had been in advertising and I knew about this stuff. I said, “You can spray it! You can spray things are too shiny, so they don’t shine back in the light.” They went, “No, we’ve tried that and it doesn’t work.” They gave me every excuse possible, but even if there was a flash of light in the cover that would be cool! What would be wrong with that? But they were like “No, no, no… It hasn’t been done before.” I just think they didn’t like the whole concept at all, and they wanted a photograph of me and time was short because we waited and waited for Vincent to finish this drawing. Instead of doing another photo session, they just used a photo from a session I had done for publicity pictures. It was never meant to be an album cover… I had done a photo session with Willy Something for RCA publicity, and he had a Harley Davidson in his studio. He rode it… For fun at the end of the session I just got on his Harley and he snapped a few pictures. RCA decided they wanted to use that as the cover… “Time is short, and if you want us to keep the release date you have to use this photo because we don’t have time.” It has to go to the press right now. They manipulate you… I was very sad, I wanted the beautiful and unique Vincent Feraldi cover, but what could I do? I liked the picture, it was cool, and it reminded me of Marianne Faithfull… a girl on a motorcycle. I liked that my face was half-obscured by a headlight or something; it was a little bit odd. It looked Rock and Roll… I think they got inspired from the razor blades when they made the lettering on the cover. They look like they are steel. That is the story of that, and of course I begged for the original artwork back, but they couldn’t find it. This guy Ian, who worked at RCA, supposedly had it but he died! I would love to have it because it was beautiful.
BRASHcore: Were any of your old colleagues from your David Bowie RCA days still working for RCA when you were pursuing your solo act?
CHERRY VANILLA: Andrew Hoy had been in the press office when I worked with Bowie. He was my A&R man and producer, and Andrew Hoy’s boss was there from my Bowie days too. The man Ian, who ended up with that artwork had been there too during the Bowie period. There were a few left around. Andrew was the one I did everything with when I worked for Bowie. I did everything through RCA UK with Andrew; he was my cohort over there. The guys from RCA America in New York, I naturally never got to work with them on my record because they never put it out. I kinda tortured them when I worked for Bowie…
BRASHcore: When was your last show with the Cherry Vanilla Band?
CHERRY VANILLA: Oh boy, I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t think we did any gigs promoting the second album. Well maybe we did because I remember performing “Amanda” live. [Laughs]. Sometime around 1979, I guess! We did some reunion gigs in New York ten years and twenty years later. That was with the same band: Louie, Zecca, Manny, and Howie. Rufus Wainwright and Tim Burton came to a gig because I didn’t know these people when I had the band in the 1970’s. Don Hill’s was the club…
BRASHcore: The world is dying to know… will you ever perform live again?
CHERRY VANILLA: Well, I never say never! I had a promoter call me up last year about playing in Cherry Grove on Fire Island. It got too late in the season, and I couldn’t make the gig, but I would have played with my band out there. He said he would call me about playing this year, but it’s already June and I don’t think it’ll work out. I kinda lack the desire. Rufus has played out here in a little club out in the desert called “Pappi and Harriet’s.” He said next time he plays that club he wants me to organize a little twenty-minute opening act for him. I am thinking that maybe I would do that. It would be me with a piano rather than with a Rock band. I guess it would be a little more poetry/cabaret/comedy. I might just do that because it would be really fun to be his opening act. Sometimes, I don’t think I have the desire to do any performing at all.
I suppose the thing I want most of all, and I’ve had a few meetings with producers… (You know these things in Hollywood can take years, and still nothing happens). I had a meeting about a month ago in Hollywood. They were thinking of a Six Part Series based off of Lick Me. I would be a consultant, of course. That would be the biggest thrill and hope I could have right now. I would love to see that made into a movie or a series. The first thing they are worried about is getting the rights to the music. I would have the young actors that played Bowie, Sting, Kristofferson, and Iggy sing their own songs. That’s my taste, but if we could get the publishing to do the original songs of that era, it would make a fabulous movie. When you meet with producers they are always thinking bottom line, so if they could get a license for the original recordings it would save money and sell more copies of the soundtrack… But would what the actors do lip-sync? Those are the compromises you find yourself in when you get deep into contracts. It’s better to say yes than not get it done at all… Blah blah blah. Who knows!
As far as performing, I don’t know. I love doing interview events on stage with an interviewer who asks really great questions. The interview I just did at an author event in Idyllwild, the guy could be a TV host. He was like Johnny Carson in the way that he would ask good questions. I would give a funny answer, get a big laugh, and he always had a really inspired line that he could throw in to get even more laughs. He knew how to work an audience, and I love doing that kind of stuff. I like book readings.
Although I probably am getting much too old to contemplate it, I still would love to do a play… somebody else’s play. I would love to do Broadway or Off-Broadway. I love the comradery of actors, and learning a part and rehearsing it. It’s a wonderful thing.
BRASHcore: What was the last play you saw? What was the last play you performed in?
CHERRY VANILLA: Probably the last play I saw was “The Book of Mormon.” It was hysterically funny. The last play I performed in was probably “Sheila,” a Tony Ingrassia play I did in Berlin, Germany. That was 1980 or something like that. I love the feeling of being on stage with actors, and the whole process. But do I have the energy anymore? Something happens when you get to a certain age…
Every day I write, and I will have these ideas that are brilliant… I’ll think of a title or a concept and want to develop it into something, but then the next day I look at it and go off to the next idea. I hardly ever go back to the original idea and develop it further. You reach a certain age, and your ambitions change. You start thinking: is this going to be worth all the fights, efforts, and frustration I have to go through to get it to the market place and make it commercial? I don’t want to go through all that again. Vangelis [Cherry helps with his U.S. management] is so like this, and I have fought him for years always saying “Come on, you make all this fabulous music every day.” He would say, “Who am I going to give it to? A record company? They don’t know what to do with it!” A lot of artists when they reach a certain age think, “Do I wanna bother with this or is it just enough that I write these thoughts down every day?” Maybe someday someone will discover my diaries and put them in a college library or a museum. Actually, Tim Burton has promised to archive my stuff for me after I die. It’s like I really don’t care about taking this stuff to the marketplace because I right away think of the struggle, and, at my age, I don’t wanna struggle or fight that hard for anything. How many years do I have left, five? Nobody in my family ever made it past 72, except my sister Mary who is 5 years older than I am. She’s 76 now, and that’s the longest anyone in my family has made it. And thinking realistically, if it’s ten years, now I know how fast ten years goes! I just want to have the pleasures that are left in my life, and spread love and good feelings to my friends that are still alive. The value of things changes. The values of artistic accomplishment mean less when you are older, just the doing of it is great. Appreciation of nature and beauty is great. Even the appreciation of youth, and what they are doing. When you are in your 70’s you don’t know how much work you wanna put into it. People will criticize and not promote it properly, so your mind and values change. I just want to stay healthy and happy, and I don’t really care if my creative things get anywhere besides my notebooks at home.
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