As one of the two founding members of the still-influential all-female rock band the Runaways (opposite Joan Jett), Sandy West rode a very brief wave of popularity during the group's four-year existence (1975-1979). Like her bandmates, however, West fell prey to the chauvinistic and exploitative marketing tactics of the group's manager, Kim Fowley, who heavily promoted the members as "jailbait" and promulgated their skimpy costumes (which included having Cherie Currie parade around the stage in her lingerie). This, together with the group's raw and unpolished sound, imparted some notoriety to the Runaways, but also withheld the band from the airwaves and prevented it from achieving the mainstream popularity it sought (and deserved). Years later, however, in the wake of Jett's success as a solo rock star and the concomitant appeal of such acts as the Bangles and the Go-Go's, the Runaways received a tremendous amount of critical re-estimation -- suggesting that the group's abilities and cultural contributions ran far deeper than many initially assumed.
Born in 1959 and raised in Huntington Beach, CA, West spent much of her girlhood skiing and surfing, but soon turned to music instead, growing proficient on the drums. In 1975, the 16-year-old West and Joan Jett (born Joan Larkin) decided to co-establish an all-female band, at about the same time that Kim Fowley devised the same concept. The three met through lyricist Kari Krome; a quintet ultimately formed, comprised of West, Jett, Currie, Jackie Fox, and Lita Ford. The group issued a succession of albums under Fowley's aegis (and at least one without him), but just as the Runaways began to attain popularity (particularly in Japan), inner differences tore them apart. After the Runaways disbanded, West and Ford briefly founded their own rock act; West then founded the Sandy West Band, with which she continued to perform and tour.
West contracted lung cancer in the early 2000s, and died in San Dimas, CA, on October 21, 2006. West sustained a far more limited film career than her contemporaries Jett and Currie, but she did appear in two releases: as an interviewee in Jason Cacioppo's 2004 documentary Squeezebox: The Movie (about the short-lived NYC punk/drag party, "SqueezeBox") and as a participant in fellow Runaway Vicki Blue's 2004 documentary Edgeplay: A Film About the Runaways, which traces the history of the seminal band but suffers dramatically from Jett's unwillingness to let Blue use the band's music or to involve herself in the project.