cherry bomb (noun): a round, red, powerful firecracker
Cherry Bomb was all over men’s magazines in the 1970s and 80s – Cheri, Oui, and countless others – both as a model and as a roving rock reporter. One moment she’d be adorning the pages in teasing pictorials; the next she be reporting backstage from concerts featuring then-up-and-coming rock stars like the Police, Ted Nugent, or the Buzzcocks.
Remarkably, this high-profile dual career was only a small part of Cherry Bomb’s life: she was a regular at Andy Warhol’s Factory, dated musicians like Dennis Wilson and Keith Moon, appeared in the cult X-rated film Chorus Call (1978) as well as several loops, had her own clothing business, and was a stripper.
But perhaps her highest profile came when she joined the cult rock band Thor, one of the great near-miss groups of the 1980s – and married the lead singer.
For the first time, Cherry Bomb tells her eventful life story to The Rialto Report.
1. Cherry Bomb – Early Life
Where are you originally from?
Good question…! All the magazines back in the 1970s said I was from Georgia, but I’m actually from North Carolina.
They said Georgia because I lived in Atlanta before I moved to New York, and it was easy to say I was a Georgia Peach. And I never corrected them because I didn’t want anyone to trace me back to my family in North Carolina… But really, I’m a proud North Carolinian.
What did your parents do for a living?
My father had his own business – a sheet metal company. And my mother worked for him, although they were also musicians on the side. They did little shows for fun. But basically, we lived off his company. And that’s where I got my nickname Rusty.
My dad had a bunch of people who worked for him, and any time I stopped by the company office, they would say I was “cute as a little pumpkin” because of my red hair. I told my parents I didn’t like that because I wasn’t fat like a pumpkin – so they come up with ‘Little Rusty’ instead.
Did you have any siblings?
Yes, a sister – and she had beautiful red hair too.
Did you get your love of music from your parents?
Yes, we used to sing and play together. My mother was in a group called the Johnson Sisters, and they performed at openings, parties and fairs. My father was a good guitarist too.
Did you liked the same music that your parents liked?
Not exactly… when I was a kid I was infatuated with the British invasion. Like everybody else my age, it started with The Beatles. Music was my gateway to everything and everyone. When the British groups started coming to America, I’d do anything to make enough money to buy tickets to see them.
Even though my parents loved music, they didn’t want me to go to shows because I was so young. They’d ask, “Who’s gonna escort you?” But I was like, “Who cares! I’ve gotta see The Kinks. I’ve gotta be there!”
Did you go and see a lot of gigs?
Hundreds… My friend Rio and I were both in high school, and I remember the first time, when we went to Virginia and saw Alice Cooper. The show was at a college campus. I bought their album without ever hearing it or knowing who they were just because I saw a picture of them, and their hair went down to their butts… just like mine. And I thought, “I’ve never seen anybody’s hair go all the way down to their butt. I gotta have this album. I don’t know who they are, I don’t care who they are, but they gotta be cool! They were so good. And we met Alice Cooper too.
And so your career of meeting musicians started…!
Yes! When I was in high school, Led Zeppelin came to America for the first time. I was smart enough to get third row seats and wear a very low-cut top. After the show when we were leaving the venue, their limo pulled up, the door flew open and the band said “It’s you. You’re the girl from the third row. Get in!”
You know I did!
As a pin-up model later on in your life, you were known for being voluptuous. How aware of that were you as a teen?
It wasn’t obvious at first. For most girls, each month when we get our periods, our breasts get a little bigger. With my friends, their breasts would shrink back down when their period was over but that didn’t happen to me. Starting around age 14, mine just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
I actually went to a doctor. He was an older male doctor. I told him about what was happening and asked him if I had some kind of hormone imbalance. And he just said, “What’s your problem? Every woman wishes she had that problem!”
He said that basically I was going to be a big busted lady.
How did you feel about that?
When I was young, I just wanted to be like everybody else. My breasts meant I wasn’t treated the same, and I got too much attention. I was afraid of boys when I went out, so I’d only go out with my best friend. If guys tried to touch me, and they did, she would smack them. She was funny.
I was just too young to deal with what was happening. I used to slouch to try and keep attention off of me. I had another doctor who’d tell me to pull my shoulders back. He’d say, “You must stand up straight so you don’t impair your health. And anyway, you’re lucky to have those breasts. Show them off!”
It took me a while to grow into my body. My body was ahead of my brain’s self-realization. Even when I modeled for the magazines, it took a while to accept myself. But slowly, I came out of my shell, and became braver to the point where I was comfortable approaching pretty much anybody.
By the time I was 16, I knew I had something that nobody else had – and that it could attract men.
Did you date a lot in your teenage years?
I was dating, but I wasn’t sexually active. I was going out with guys older than me, and they scared me a bit. And I always liked athletic guys.
I met this hockey player when I was still in high school, and we started going out. I told my mother, “I’m going out with this guy, and he’s gonna teach me how to skate because he’s on this ice hockey team.”
Then she saw his picture in the newspaper and she said, “He’s not just on the team, he’s the captain of the entire North Carolina ice hockey team!”
I knew he wanted to have sex with me, but he also knew I was younger so he was very careful. He didn’t want to get into trouble either.
What were your career aspirations when you were in high school?
I told my parents that as soon as I graduated from high school, I was going to England. They told me not to expect them to pay for it, and I said don’t worry – I’d pay my own way.
I said, “If I make the money, can I go?” And they answered, “Oh yeah, if you make the money, you can go.”
You gotta know, I made the money!
How did you make the money?
I had a little cottage business making clothes. I’d finally found sweaters and things that stretched enough to fit me, but it still wasn’t easy to find things that fit me properly – and that’s in part why I started making my own clothes.
I began to buy fabric, and I cut and sewed them into items I could wear. I’d see clothes that people were wearing in magazines, and I started making them for myself.
So how did that turn into your own business?
People liked the clothes I made, and they started asking me where I got them… so I started making them for other people.
And you made copies of popular fashions…
It started there. But then I began designing my own stuff, not just copying what I saw. And I started selling them to local boutiques. Eventually I was brave enough to approach department stores and meet with their buyers. They’d take a few pieces and tell me, “If it sells, we’ll get back to you.” A week or so later, I’d get a call and they’d say, “We sold out immediately, and now we’d like to buy some pieces for all of our stores. How fast can you get them to us?”
What clothing were you making, and how were you producing it?
I had different things I was doing. At first, it was tapestry belts, purses, accessories and things. Then I learned how to cut patterns and I hired sewers to finish the items. Later on, I had a partner to help.
We were smart about it. We’d go and buy left-over upholstery – fabrics that were cheap to buy in bulk. We’d pay the sewers by the piece – not by the hour – so we could manage labor costs. These were mostly ladies sewing at home.
All of this was while I was still in high school. I had no experience whatsoever. I was even written up in the local newspapers for it.
2. Rusty in London
So all this clothing business was to enable you to raise enough money to go to London?
Yes! Eventually I made enough money to go and I stayed for a full summer.
My friend from home, Rio, and I rented a flat, and we became members of the Speak-Easy, a private late-night club where all the musicians used to hang out. You had to know somebody to be able to join, and I think it was Jeff Beck, who’d been the guitarist for the Yardbirds, who got us the membership.
When you first got to London that summer, what neighborhood did you live in?
It was called Willesden Green. We met these guys that were chefs, and that was the best thing that you could ever have happen to us.
To meet chefs?!
Yes, they were really good-looking, looked like rock guys, but they were chefs, and they were going to culinary school. These guys said, “If we give you a list and you buy the food, we’ll make dinner every night so we can practice our cooking on you.” So we thought, “Oh yeah!”
Plus we were right by Morgan Recording Studios where Rod Stewart recorded, also in Willesden Green.
How did you meet all these famous musicians, like Jeff Beck, when you stayed in London?
I think I stood out, partly because of the clothes that I made. They were unique and I looked different than everyone else. I had a thing about me, and I didn’t look like just the average girl. I got to know a lot of rock stars because of the fashions I’d wear.
I’d go to a show, and someone on stage would see me and say, “I wanna meet that girl.” So the musicians would send somebody to meet me. That’s how I met the Beach Boys, and I started going out with Dennis Wilson.
You dated Dennis Wilson?
Oh yeah. Oh, God, we went back and forth for years. I met him when I was that young girl, and he picked me out and had the roadies come and get me. I ended up in the back seat of the limo with him, and I did do a little stuff with him. Nothing completely X-rated, just almost…
Later, Dennis and I wanted to put out a magazine together. He had the money and we had some great ideas. We were going to focus it on the lifestyles of rock and roll stars – like what Robin Leach did, but rock style. But we could never make it happen… in part because of his drug use.
I actually have pictures of him and me later in New York City right before he went back to Los Angeles and died. He was so drugged up by then, and I warned him he was overdoing it.
Did you ever take drugs to excess?
I partied sometimes but I never went too far. Dennis was over the line, and he couldn’t stop.
So you were mixing with musicians and chefs in London?
Yes, people joked that when I was a kid, I went out with all the drummers. I never planned it, but I guess it just ended up that way. That’s who I was attracted to. They liked me; I liked them.
Like John Bonham from Led Zeppelin. I dated him, too. Robert Plant got mad because he liked me, and he wanted me. But I liked John. They flew me and my friends in on their jet, and I stayed at the Waldorf Astoria with him. Actually, I’d already met them on their first American tour, when I was still in high school.
I was so enamored with all of the British guys. I went crazy for them. Led Zeppelin. The Who. I went out with Keith Moon for a while. I used to drag him around to parties because he was the funniest guy you ever met in your life.
Was England as amazing as I imagine in the 1970s?
It was rock and roll heaven. I was just a kid – 18 years old – but I felt like I knew everyone.
Did you make any money while you were there?
I continued making clothes. I started doing costuming for some of the musical groups. I’d go to a show and just give things to people. That generated word of mouth and interest, and then orders would follow. For example, I made some clothes for Peter Gabriel.
Then I started writing about the music shows I was seeing. I didn’t know if I could sell the reviews or not, but I wrote them anyway.
Were you ever interested in getting into a band yourself?
Initially I was a bit too shy. I didn’t think I was talented enough to be on stage, so I just wrote about musicians instead. But eventually I went in and recorded a few things with different people. Later when I was living in New York, I sang a few times with Neon Leon. It was mostly small stuff here and there, but it gave me more confidence.
3. Cherry Bomb in New York
What happened when the summer in England ended?
My best friend, Rio, and I began a clothing business together in Atlanta. It was Rio and Rusty and it lasted for two years. Clothing and accessories. We were selling items to department stores, and they were all made from tapestry fabric or velvet – things we bought from North Carolina’s textile industry. We’d go and buy what was left over and make all of our goods from that.
What was your company name?
We had two names. At first, it was called ‘Street Thing’. And we had a store in Atlanta, on the Atlanta strip, called ‘Psych and Soma’, which meant Mind and Body.
So when you came back from the U.K., you set up in Georgia?
Yes. Then Rio and I went to New York.
What year did you arrive in New York?
1974. I was 22. I lived on Thompson Street where I had a three-level apartment. It was amazing, a brand-new building with a gymnasium. It was great.
I went to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).
Were you living with Rio in New York?
Yes. She was my business partner and my best buddy. But then she got religious in the weirdest way. We both started going out with these two guys who were Buddhist. I didn’t really like it – it wasn’t my thing – but she stayed and eventually went to L.A.
Then I was alone, but that was a good thing because that’s when I had to figure out what to do with my life.
What was New York like when you arrived?
It was amazing. And of course, I immediately got into the music scene. I’d go to rock clubs and after-hours clubs – and I met people like Neon Leon at Max’s Kansas City.
I also became part of the Andy Warhol scene, and hung out a lot at The Factory.
What was your relationship with Andy Warhol like?
We argued a lot! When I saw how he didn’t do his own artwork, it just made me angry because I was working so hard in art and fashion school. But he liked me because I’d tell him the truth about what I thought, so he kept me around. The only issue was that my honesty meant I didn’t get invited to everything with him.
Did Andy ever use you for any of his art?
Yes, he photographed me. What he used to do was… he would take Polaroids of you. He’d take hundreds and hundreds of Polaroids. And they’d sit on the floor and his assistants would pick them up. He’d take a picture of the top of your head, or of an eye ball. Hundreds, hundreds of them. He said I was unusual so he wanted to use me.
But the only way he paid people was by giving token handouts. And so even though I didn’t have much money, I said, “I’m not doing it, Andy. That isn’t how I wanna make it in my own life.
Did you know any of Andy’s other people?
I already knew Holly Woodlawn from Atlanta, way before Andy. She came into our store because she wanted some of our clothes because they were unusual. That’s how I knew Jackie Curtis too.
When I moved to New York, and while I was at FIT, Rio and I were in this drag theater group because. First, it was ‘The San Francisco Cockettes’, then it became ‘The Angels of Light’, and then the one in New York City was called Hot Peaches – which is the troupe I was in. I was singing and dancing with them, and we performed at the Mercer Arts Center, which was huge at the time.
Wasn’t Marsha P. Johnson part of Hot Peaches?
Yes, Marsha was my friend. She wasn’t famous when I knew her, but she was later on the cover of Time magazine.
Did you date much when you got to New York?
I went out with a musician named Eric Emerson. Eric Emerson was this beautiful, blond, little guy – an amazing ballet performer who had this rock group called The Magic Tramps. They were really good.
Eric had been with the Stilettos singer Elda Gentile. After I’d been with Eric a while, I realized he was dating Jane Forth at the same time and that she was his girlfriend – she was a famous member of Warhol’s Factory. He was sneaking around and seeing me on the side.
I didn’t know he was with Jane, but when you’re young, you don’t ask a lot of questions. I figured if he was going out with me, he didn’t have a girlfriend. When I found out, I thought, “This isn’t good. I don’t want anybody mad at me for trying to stealing their boyfriend.”
4. Cheri magazine – Modeling
How did you come across the adult film scene and the men’s magazines in New York?
I met Sharon Mitchell on the music scene. We became fast friends, and I fell in with this cross-section that consisted of people from the music world and people from the porn business. I’d hang out with Marc Stevens, Elda Stiletto, Jean Silver – even Debbie Harry, who was forming Blondie, was in the group for a little while.
It was a fabulous time for music and art in New York.
How did you start modeling?
While I was going to FIT, Sharon was doing the XXX stuff. To make money I’d book little gigs for myself like shoe or hand modeling – stupid stuff like that. I was interested in doing more modeling, and Sharon was always around these photographers. I didn’t want to do any XXX stuff, but she gave me some photographers’ names to call. She helped me get started.
Is that what led you to Cheri magazine?
Yes, one of the photographers that Sharon knew said to me, “There’s this new magazine, and I’m friendly with the people that started it. They’ve already gained some popularity. And they’ve drawn this mascot that… looks a lot like you. I want you to copy the poses so we can send the photos to the publisher.”
Do you remember when this was?
It was around 1976. The magazine was Cheri and it was in its first year.
So what happened to those shots you took?
The photographer sent them to the Cheri editor, Peter Wolff, and a few days later he called me and said, “I love you, and I want you to come over right away.”
The next thing I knew I was at Sardi’s with Peter, and he was hysterical that I was the girl he’d been looking for. He told me he wanted a mascot for the publication and he had this idea of a girl in his head. He got one of his art directors to draw it up based on his description. And it turned out that drawing looked a lot like me… it was this little skinny red-headed girl with big boobs.
How did Peter persuade you to work for Cheri?
He brought some issues of Cheri to show me and to make sure I knew what I was getting into. He said, “We’re not Penthouse or Playboy. We’re controversial – a little on the wilder side. We don’t know if we’re gonna make it. But if you want to take a chance, you gotta be willing to do all of it.”
What was your reaction?
I was like, “Hell yeah – I love all this, I love being naked and celebrating nudity.”
I knew Peter and I were going to get along great.
Had you seen Cheri magazine before you met Peter?
I think I had. In New York at the time, there were newsstands everywhere, and they had men’s magazines stacked up on the floor. They had titles like Penthouse, Playboy, Club, High Society and, yes, Cheri. These magazines were huge because it was all so new, and people were fascinated. Men would get a newspaper or a Time Magazine, then slip one of these men’s magazine underneath.
What was Peter Wolff like?
I loved him. Peter and I got along absolutely great right from the get-go. That first night he said, “Get your lawyer, get whoever you need, and come down, because we wanna sign you up right now.” It happened that fast.
The next thing I know, I’m signed up and I’m on the road as ‘Cherry Bomb’.
Where did the name Cherry Bomb come from?
Peter and I came up with it together. I’d been friends with Kim Fowley, the producer of The Runaways. He told me he wrote the song ‘Cherry Bomb’ with Joan Jett about me.
I said, “I know you’re lying Kim.” He always lied to try to get in everybody’s pants! And he was always after us young girls – and we were really young.
As soon as you started working for Cheri, you were all over the pages of the magazine…
Peter wanted to make it seem that I had been with Cheri from Day One, even though I wasn’t. I was there in the first year, but not in the very first months. But once I started work, I did so much for Cheri, both as a model and behind the scenes.
Did you like the modeling?
Mostly I did. If I had a photographer who liked working with me, I responded well. But there were some photographers who I didn’t jive with and they made me feel uncomfortable.
If a photographer made me feel comfortable and I felt good about myself, it showed in the photos.
You were such a prolific model for Cheri, did you realize that you were so popular back at the time?
No, no, I was always shocked and amazed.
It was just my shape. I was a thin girl with big boobs. I was shocked when anybody wanted to take photos of me.
Do you remember seeing yourself on the cover of Cheri?
There were two monthly issues that were hard to sell. One was Christmas, and I forget the other one, but it was in June or something. The publishers, the guys who owned Cheri magazine, made sure I was on every Christmas cover, because if I was on the cover, they knew they were gonna sell out. And when that happened, I was always shocked. But I had a lot of success at Cheri – and we were selling two and half million copies every time I was on the cover.
I always felt like I was privileged to work there. I thought, “Thank God I have found this great outlet.”
Cherry Bomb (right), with Fanne Foxxe
Did being a sex symbol pin-up model change your life? For example, were you approached more by men?
A little bit. There were people who were intimidated by me, which was good. It helped save me because I still was a little insecure in my own skin.
It took me a long time to get used to what was happening in my life. I really didn’t even understand it for a long time, I just went along with it, so I couldn’t understand why people were excited to see me. I didn’t get it. It really took me a long time.
Given the people you mixed with, you must have been offered roles in pornographic films?
I did a couple of loops but I didn’t like it.
What didn’t you like about it?
It was the filmmakers. They didn’t seem to like me. And it wasn’t that I wasn’t doing what they wanted me to do, they didn’t like that I had big boobs.
That’s hysterical! Your signature assets.
I remember this one guy who actually said that he was disgusted that I had big breasts.
It’s strange because having large breasts wasn’t always seen as a positive attribute in the 1970s. That changed later. I remember meeting Hyapatia Lee at events like Naked City, and we did shoots together for the magazines. She had small breasts. Years later she called me, very excited. She said, “I’m finally like you!” I didn’t know what she meant – I thought maybe she’s started working for a magazine or something. But she went on to say, “I had my boobs made big like yours.”
I was like, “Oh God, okay. Er, thank you.”
So you didn’t do any more loops after that?
No, I didn’t want to do it anymore. It made me really shy again for a while. I was upset. I liked being sexy, naked. I liked just wearing a G string and being topless and looking cute and doing stuff and being in contests – things like that. That was really my thing. I really didn’t want to do sex scenes in movies.
But the experience making loops was probably the best thing that ever happened to me: if they’d said that they loved me, I might’ve stayed and done more. But it might have not been my best choice for me personally.
But you did one X-rated movie, Chorus Call (1978).
Yes, though I didn’t do anything X-rated in it. I played a stripper, who was young and naïve, so that was really me. Kay Parker, who also had a large chest, and was older than me, was the star.
I had scenes with Bobby Astyr. We actually sang, although it wasn’t really me singing which is a shame because I can sing. We had this song called ‘Six Tits in a Row’.
Did you become friendly with the New York adult film stars?
Yes. I hung out with a lot of the X-rated characters of the time, like Marc Stevens. He was one of my best buddies. God, I loved Marc. It broke my heart what happened to him. I once signed my name on his arm and he had it made into a permanent tattoo. He was really special.
I got to know Jamie Gillis a bit. And I knew Ron Jeremy reasonably well because I was writing his column for some magazine for a while. He was supposed to sit next to me in the office, but he’d come stand behind me and try to rub my neck. I’d say, “Can you sit in your chair? Just sit over there and tell me what you did, and I’ll write it up.”
I remember going to X-rated movie premieres, and Ron would often sit behind me and shake me, saying things like, “That guy onscreen couldn’t perform, so that’s my dick!”
And I’d say, “Okay. That’s good, you can always get it up. That’s why you’re so popular.”
Ron was a funny guy but I tried to keep a good few feet away. Like they say now, I’d try and social distance from him.
Ron Jeremy, with Marilyn Gee
I assume you’ve heard about all the trouble he’s in…
No, I don’t know. What’s going on with him?
He’s been in jail accused of sexually assaulting women.
Oh my. He was so used to everybody just wanting to do it with him. I guess he just couldn’t get past that. He was one of those guys that when a girl said no, he’d say, “Yeah, but you really mean yes because it’s me.” He was a squirmy little guy.
But I gotta say this, he was always really nice to me. He was never not nice. And I never had any real trouble with him. It was just that he always trying to touch me and I didn’t like that.
The only porn star I ever got really huggy with was Mark Stevens – and that’s because I wanted to.
Did you ever work with Gloria Leonard?
5. Cheri magazine – Writing
How quickly did you go from being a model for Cheri to becoming a writer and reporter?
It was immediate – it was part of my contract.
Was Peter Wolff supportive of your writing?
He absolutely was a cheerleader from the day I met him. I told him, “I’m not a great writer but I write at least as well as the articles you’re already running. And I’ve been published a little bit already.”
He responded, “You’ll be fine, and if you have any trouble, we’ll get someone to help you.”
It turned out I never had any trouble with the writing.
How did you start covering the music scene?
When I first met Peter, he wanted to find a niche for me. I said, “I already have a niche.” I’d been writing music reviews for papers and magazines – not really getting paid. I was used to getting on guest lists and having access, and I’d write about them even if my pieces weren’t published. I didn’t care.
Peter used to write music reviews himself, but he wasn’t really into rock and roll. He covered country music, and he created liners and album covers for various artists.
So Peter suggested I start covering the rock and roll music scene for Cheri, and it became popular. I starting bringing a photographer with me, and my coverage helped sell more copies of the magazine every month.
How did you decide what to write about?
I’d be up all night coming up with an interesting angle that was also sexy and hot. But I didn’t want it to be too explicit because I wanted to use the articles as a calling card for writing about more gigs.
People wanted to hear the rock and roll behind-stage secrets. They wanted to read about all the rumored stuff going on – bands having their roadies go out, pick all the pretty girls and send them backstage or to a suite for the guys. I was the first one that wrote about things like that on a regular basis.
How did you get access to all those musicians?
It was hard to convince the record companies to allow me access to do interviews. The record companies didn’t want me to interview the bands because it was for a porno mag. I said, “Are you kidding me? Bands like the Scorpions have album covers with topless girls!” I told them that was ridiculous.
I had to be tenacious – just pushy, relentless. Beat them down.
But you were successful…
Yeah. I had so many groups in the magazine.
But I also had a lot of people turn me down even after I chased and chased them. And with some of them, I would just go behind the record company’s back. I didn’t really care. I don’t need your permission if the group and the management give me the thumbs up.
I’d go to after-hours clubs, and I would be out until 3:00 in the morning, and then still go to work the next day.
I remember sometimes people in the Cheri office would complain. They’d say, “Why does she get to come in so late?” I shot back, “Were you out at a night club until 2 o’clock in the morning and making cover lines for this magazine? I don’t think so, you left at 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon!”
Did you enjoy the writing?
Oh, yeah. And I loved interviewing people. I just loved getting people to tell me stuff they never told anybody else.
I’m sure they were more likely to spill the beans with you than with most other journalists…
I’d get them really drunk and they’d do drugs – back then, everybody did coke – and they’d tell me everything!
Sometimes when someone would tell me something salacious, I’d say, “Aren’t you married?” And they’d say, “Yes.” I’d reply, “Then you don’t really wanna be telling me this! I don’t want you to lose your wife when this magazine comes out in three months. Somebody’s gonna read this and say, ‘Oh, really?! Every concert you had a new girl… every one?’ Wives don’t like that.”
Sometimes I’d focus on guys in the group that were unmarried just so I wouldn’t get anyone in trouble!
How did you protect yourself from lawsuits?
We’d tape the interviews, and I’d tell people, “You do know you are being taped, right?” I’d say my name, the date, where we were located, and they’d have to sign something too.
The lawyers told us we always had to do that so when people claimed they didn’t say something, we’d have it on tape in their voice. But even having it on tape wasn’t a guarantee that we could print it. There were a few times the publishers and lawyers told me not to run with something. Or before I’d do an interview, they’d ask me not to ask certain things.
I was very kind to a lot of people that I could have been not so kind to. I’m not ruthless.
It’s amazing the access you had to some of the biggest musicians.
Oh, for a time I got almost everyone who passed through the New York rock and roll scene.
Tell me more about your relationship with Peter
Peter was an awesome guy, and we became the bestest of buddies. We hung out all the time. He was the most mischievous character. He reminded me of a classic rock ’n’ roll guy, wild and crazy.
We used to be up all night and out all the time. It was always what’s next? What’s new? He was like that. He would invite the most bizarre people out to these fabulous restaurants in New York. They’d show up in crazy attire that even I was shocked at – outrageous, see-through dresses. I’d think, “Oh my god, this place will never let us come back.”
But Peter would say, “I can’t dictate to people how to dress. They’re trying to impress us because they wanna be in Cheri magazine.”
It got to the point where I’d say to these women, “Okay, I hate to be conservative but can you wear something over your dress? Then if we go to a club later you can rip it off. You can wear anything in a club, but in the restaurant, you need to be semi-appropriate. Sexy is good, naked is not.” And that was me saying that!
I heard that Cheri was a particularly collaborative place to work.
Absolutely – especially with Peter. We’d have meetings where we would go over everything, and he’d value everyone’s opinion.
Peter would share his thoughts on what he wanted. He’d see the star of a TV show like Dynasty, and say, “Get that girl, I want her!”
I’d say, “They’re not gonna be in our magazine!” But he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
He’d say, “Make ’em. It’s the Playboy angle, they’ll do it. I want Cherry to get them. Only Cherry can get them. She has a way of doing things.”
And he was right!
Well, I did land a lot of people for the magazine. I got the woman from Dynasty, Pamela Sue Anderson, and then I got Morgan Fairchild.
I even got Demi Moore to pose for us. She was trying to leave the soap operas and promote her career, and she agreed that if it was tasteful, and if I was going to be on set with her, she would do it. And she did.
How did Peter compensate you?
I was a salaried office worker. I also had an expense account, and was paid separately for my photo layouts as a model and for my column. I had a pretty good thing going with all those activities.
And I even helped start some other magazines.
Which magazines did you help start?
One was called Purple. It didn’t last very long and I haven’t seen it since I worked on it. Its tagline was: ‘For the People in Pink… Purple.’
Then I helped start a rock magazine called New Wave Rock with some of the people who were in the X-rated business. We convinced some men’s magazine publishers that we could make them a lot of money with a rock magazine, so we started one.
Was the New Wave Rock magazine successful?
We did well for a while. I had to leave because I had other things going on. I was working for Cheri and moonlighting doing all these other punk rock things.
I was also traveling to Europe to do music work. I would go to England for example for the magazines. I loved traveling to England. The U.K. was so much fun then. I would go see Johnny Rotten and hang out with that crew. I saw the Buzzcocks before they were discovered. I also covered British banks coming to the States. I profiled the Police when they first came and played the Peppermint Lounge. I’d seen them in England and I told them, “If y’all make it to America, get in touch.”
And they did.
Did you work exclusively for Cheri?
I quickly branched out to other magazines. As soon as the door to men’s magazines opened, I started working for a lot of different publications because I needed the money. I was working an awful lot but it wasn’t really hard for me at the time – I was very hyper.
I was living in an apartment on 5th Avenue and it was expensive!
Was it a conflict of interest to work for other magazines in addition to Cheri?
I’d write under different names so as not to get into trouble with Peter! When you worked for a magazine, the publishers usually wanted you to be exclusive.
But I needed the money; I couldn’t care less back then about the credit. I didn’t realize until later how important getting a credit is. At the time it just didn’t mean that much to me. I could knock things out quickly, so I did – whoever I was working for.
I remember using my sister’s name one time. I said to her, “I’ll give you a percent – you cash the check, keep that fee, and send the rest to me.”
And sometimes I didn’t want to use my name if I was publishing something controversial. I didn’t want anybody to be mad at me.
Do you remember Dian Hanson who was also on the magazine scene at the time in New York?
Yes. We were friends for many years and I even worked for Dian a bit. She was a bodybuilder and would pick up and hug me each day to show how strong she was. We collaborated on all these really fun projects together.
Later on, Peter Wolff, Dian Hanson, and I worked for Oui magazine, which was published by Playboy Enterprises. I remember one feature Dian and I did for Oui where we created a Christmas gift guide and companies sent us these amazing gadgets to try. If we reviewed them in the magazine, we got to keep them. So Dian and I would fight over who would review what.
She and I decided we’d put girls in elf costumes, and take pictures of them holding the gadgets. I knew two little people so I suggested we use them in the pictures too. It turned out they were the dirtiest little horny toads on planet Earth… I mean they really were! They got drunk before the photo shoot, and spent the whole time pulling the girls’ skirts up and Donald Trump-style pussy-grabbing. It was a disaster, but the elves loved it. And the pictures turned out cute.
You stayed on at Cheri for a while…
Yes. And I ended up running Cheri for a while after Peter left – at one time I was editor-in-chief.
What was your parent’s reaction to your success?
I remember some people went over to my mom and dad’s property once, and they saw pictures of me in the house, and they said, “Why do you have these pictures of that girl?”
My mother said, “Because that’s my daughter.”
They said, “But that’s Cherry Bomb!” My mother said, “You know who my daughter is?!”
They replied, “Everybody knows who Cherry Bomb is!”
So my mother called me and had me talk to these guys on the phone. And that’s when she realized I was famous. She said, “I had no idea.” And then they were so impressed with me.
Were you dating throughout these years?
I had one boyfriend that I was really crazy about.
His name was Michael Kirk, and he was in this group called The Hits. They were this amazing group just like The Cars. They were so good, and cute too! They should’ve been huge. I managed them for a while, but I eventually realized that Michael and I weren’t destined to be together, so we broke up.
But I hooked him up with this beautiful ex-Penthouse girl. I thought, “What girlfriend would do that for you? She’s so beautiful and pretty.” But she was no Rusty…
I loved him. I still love him. I haven’t talked to him in years. I talk to people who talk to him, but somehow, he doesn’t get back to me.
6. Cherry Bomb… and Thor
How did you meet the rock musician, Thor, real name is Jon, for the first time?
I was at a music convention as a journalist and a writer. I had a female photographer from NYU with me, who was my good friend. She’d done a lot of stuff like photographing The Dead Boys at CBGBs.
I was going around to the booths from all over the world where they had live performances. I got to the Canadian pavilion where they showcased new Canadian groups who hadn’t had a record release yet. Guys like Bryan Adams, who I’d never heard of before, and Loverboy.
And then there was Jon Thor, who was the only one with an album out on RCA Records, and it had already gone gold in Canada. I saw this big poster of him, and I was blown away. I thought, “Oh, my God, that’s the best-looking man I’ve ever seen in my life. Who is that? Who is that man!?”
Was he in his full Thor regalia in that poster?
Yeah. I’ll never forget it. My photographer friend said, “Yeah, I knew you’d like him.”
All I could think was, “Well, who wouldn’t like him!?”
Until then, I had gone out with skinny rock guys like Stiv Bators of the Dead Boys. But all of a sudden, my hormones jumped in and I wanted to know more about him.
The people in the pavilion said, “Would you like to meet him?” I said, “Yeah, is he here!?”
They told me, “No, but he’s coming in a few weeks,” so I just said “Well, put me on the list!”
So when did you actually meet him?
A few weeks later, Thor turned up playing at this club called Gildersleeves in New York City, a block down the street from CBGB. Gildersleeves was a nice, big club, with a good stage. I went there with The Hits, Michael’s band that I was still managing. I said to them, “Let’s go see this band, Thor.” And they took one look at his picture in the newspaper and saw that he was a big strong guy, so they figured he was gonna be stupid and awful. They all said, “Oh yeah, we’ll come with you and make fun of him.”
What was their reaction when they saw him in person?
We were all sitting in this private room in the back bar of the club. And one by one, each of them went to the front of the stage, and came back saying, “I thought this guy was gonna suck, but he’s really good.” They’d never do that. They were a band; they were normally too busy being cool.
I was on the guest list, so people told Thor I was there. He knew who I was because he’d heard of Cherry Bomb, and he said, “Have her come back to see me.” I had my photographer with me, Mark Weiss, who later became a famous rock photographer. So I went backstage, and Jon/Thor said hello, and he was glad to see me.
Mark said, “I wanna get some pictures of you two together.” He asked Jon to pick me and then he took a picture. And that picture was in Jon’s wallet for 20 years after that.
So there was mutual attraction when you met in person…?
From the minute we met. I knew the minute I saw him. I think he did too. I think he was attracted to me from before then, when he first saw my pictures. I’ve never had that happen ever again in my life. It was romantic.
I had never seen anybody that looked like him. Before you know it, we were an item. I was with him after that. I started helping him with the group.
How did you start performing with Thor?
I collaborated with him on soundtracks for movies, and I did television commercials too.
The when Thor lost one of his background vocalists, he said I should step in and sing. So I recorded with them in the studio.
Then when the band’s management company heard me sing, they said I should join the group on tour. They knew what I looked like and they knew I was already helping with Thor’s career so it seemed an obvious thing to do.
What did you do in the band?
Well, they wanted me in the group onstage, but they were also nervous that I was already well-known, or I just had this presence that would overshadow him. So at first, I needed to be kept in the background.
They didn’t want you competing with him.
In my opinion, that could never happen… To me, Thor was amazing. I was like a background singer, and when he went to change clothes, I’d sing a song or two, and then he could come back out and be Thor.
On most of the Thor albums, I wrote most of the songs with him. I used to play guitar when we’d write songs together.
Didn’t you have an onstage character in the band?
Yes, I couldn’t be Cherry Bomb any more. I just wanted to be Rusty. That’s all I wanted. But in England, our management told us that what they wanted a counterpart to Thor of some sort. So I became Queen Pantera. I came up with the name from a book I read, so I said, “I’ll just be Pantera.”
To be honest, I didn’t wanna be a ‘Queen’ or anything like that. It was just what management asked us to do. I never asked for that. And then I turned into Evil Pantera. I never asked for that either.
So we were billed as Thor and Pantera, and we had comic books written about us.
Were you excited to be in a successful up-and-coming band?
Yes. When I got together with Thor, I really was convinced it would happen. I thought we were gonna be big stars. Everyone who managed Thor thought so too.
For those years that you were active with Thor, did you stop working at the men’s magazines?
No, I was back and forth as much as I possibly could. It wasn’t easy, but I was doing both things for many years, wherever I could fit it in – whoever paid me the most, wherever I could be, that’s where I was.
How successful was Thor when you joined?
He was an amazing performer so audiences always loved him, and it looked like he was in the road to stardom. But we had a lot of trouble with management – people just kept screwing us over, fighting for money that hadn’t even been earned yet. We had a really hard time dealing with that.
Who was managing Thor at the time?
He had a company that wasn’t doing much for him, and I felt that he’d be better off with a theatrical manager. First, I approached Bill Aucoin who managed KISS – he wanted to buy our contract out. He even said, “You guys are even better than Kiss.”
I said, “I don’t think we’re better, but we’re like them. We have a similarly big show.”
But we were under contract, and our management company at the time wouldn’t sell. They wouldn’t let us go.
I tried so hard. Finally, we did get out of those contracts and we did find new management.
Who did you sign with when you were released?
We got the next big manager, Mike Appel. Mike was the man who steered Bruce Springsteen’s career to the top.
How did that go?
Things started well and we were really hopeful. Thor and I had written this entire rock opera: Mike got us a year in a theater to rehearse the show: it was really amazing, and we were ready to take it on the road.
But Mike kept wanting us to do re-writes – and eventually he decided he didn’t like it, and he asked us to start all over again. We said, “We’re not writing another one. This is it!”
We’d been doing it for a year – a year! – and we were losing our audience. We couldn’t understand it as it was probably the best rock show in the world that no one got to see.
So things with Mike just fell apart.
What happened after Mike Appel?
We had tried to come up with money on our own to pay the expensive entertainment lawyers so that we could just start over.
It really seems you all had the worst luck regarding managers.
We really did. I mean, we had so many people who were supposed to be the best managers, and they just didn’t seem to know what to do with Thor.
What happens in the music business is every year the record companies have a certain amount of money that they put into acts, and once that money is spent, you have to wait another year. I wanted to manage us so I could control that – I knew what to do with the money and I knew everybody. But the record companies just wanted me to be in the group and not try to run things.
So our management just kept ruining everything for us year after year.
That even lead to Jon being kidnapped one time.
Jon was kidnapped?!
Yes. There was a big dispute between the management company and the record company. So they kidnapped him – they would say “held” him – to keep him out of the way while they were negotiating to make sure everyone was going to get enough of the money that he was supposedly going to earn.
It was a mess. So we decided to head over to England around 1983 to see if we could have better luck there.
And did you fare better in the U.K.?
Yes, we did. We played a few nights at the Marquee Club, the most famous club in London. That was such a big deal. We were in all the newspapers, the magazines, the tabloids.
That’s when we met Motörhead’s manager Douglas Smith and he took us on. He really helped us a lot. We were busy. We were booked out constantly. So Jon and I decided to stay in the U.K. for a while.
What brought you back to the States eventually?
We had a disagreement with Douglas when he wouldn’t sign the contract that we needed to make us famous around the world. His issue was that the people who wanted to sign us were from South Africa, and they were called Zomba. They was huge. But Douglas said it was blood money from Africa, so he wouldn’t do it.
So you were closed out because of that?
It was bad. It’s my huge regret. Douglas had managed Hawkwind, then Motorhead. I met him when I was 16 years old. I had such allegiance to him, but I realize now that we should not have stayed with him. We should’ve said, “We’re gonna part ways with you, we’ll pay you anything that we owe you.” And we should’ve taken that deal. We would’ve been one of the biggest groups, like KISS, all over the world.
What did you do when you came back to the U.S.?
We came back to New York, and I went back to men’s magazines. I got a consulting gig with Cheri. I’d fly out to California occasionally to do stories.
7. After Thor
What happened when Peter Wolff, your mentor at Cheri, left the magazine?
Carl always wanted to buy me and have me work solely for him but I never liked him. I found him to be a very strange man. He wouldn’t listen to me, even though when I was running Cheri, we were selling millions of copies.
What didn’t you like about Carl Ruderman?
Carl wanted to move the magazine away from single girl pictorials, and make it more hardcore.
He said, “If you don’t wanna have pictures with a penis in you, then we don’t want you.”
I said, “Are you outta your mind? That is my image, I can’t do that.”
I said to Carl, “Men like to imagine that they’re the ones with the women, they don’t want to see other men with them. It just ruins the fantasy.”
So I just had to fade out, go away, and that was it. My time with Cheri came to an end.
Did you and Thor leave New York for North Carolina after that?
Yes. When our career with Thor was over, we moved back to North Carolina. It got to the point where I said we just can’t live the New York way anymore. I wanted a more manageable life, so we decided to move. Thor’s family wanted us to move to British Columbia in Canada where they were, but that was a more complicated family dynamic. So we moved to North Carolina near my family and where I grew up.
I still flew to New York two weeks out of every month at first, and I worked with different magazines.
What was life in North Carolina like for you both?
When we settled in North Carolina, we didn’t have anything to do with show business. Thor didn’t want anyone to know who he was, or who we were. We built a beautiful house in a brand-new community, and I sold my co-op in New York – even though I wanted to keep it forever.
That sounds like a complete change in lifestyle.
In a way it was just so odd – for the longest time, nobody knew anything about us. We kept a low profile and largely kept to ourselves. And for a time, Thor lost his motivation. He did nothing for years.
How did Thor change personally when you moved to North Carolina?
He really closed the world out. He wouldn’t let anybody in the door. We were no longer Thor and Cherry. We weren’t even Rusty and Jon – he went by David when we moved, which was another part of his legal name. He really broke down. We were so quiet that neighbors thought we were in the witness protection program.
Sometimes I would slip and call him Jon in front of people. He’d look at me and say, “Why are you calling me Jon? My name is David.” He made me look like I was nuts. It was hard.
Did you keep in touch with people from the band, or in New York?
No. Jon didn’t want me talking to anyone from our past. He forbid me from talking to anybody that I used to know in New York, and so that’s how I lost contact with everybody. And I didn’t talk to anyone because he was so fragile and I didn’t want him to crack up. I didn’t even do it secretly.
I finally did get back in touch with some of the band and old friends.
Did Jon know you were contacting people?
Yes – I told him. I said, “This is stupid – these are my friends, I knew them before I knew Thor, so I’m not gonna keep distant anymore.”
How did that change things?
Eventually Thor and I missed music so we decided to open a local recording studio. We needed money to do that, so I began doing some stripping – which was funny because I’d never done it before.
I used to emcee and sponsor beauty pageants, things like the police pageants, but I had never danced myself. But dancing was good money and I thought, heck, it will be good exercise too.
Did stripping work out for you?
Oh yeah. I had a home club in Charlotte, which was great because I didn’t like traveling anymore, other than for the few things that were really big that I knew would be fun.
When I danced, I’d put out a basket with little pictures of me that guys could buy and get signed later. The DJs would try to get me off the stage when my set was coming to a close and I was collecting all the money. They’d say, “Now Cherry says goodbye,” and I’d say, “No I don’t, I’m not leaving this money on the floor for the next girl. It’s my money!”
I would say, “Wait until I’ve got all my money. That’s when Cherry says goodbye!”
How did the recording studio work out?
It did well – though we still didn’t operate it under our real names, or under the name Thor. But our world started opening up again. We were working with people, lining things up, and doing really well.
It got Thor back near show business. And that combined with friends and fans asking for him to make a comeback made him want to get back out there. Everybody said, “Where are you? We want you to go back into show business.”
So he started to get the performing bug again. He wanted to get back out there and try once more.
And you didn’t want to?
I didn’t. I was so done with it. It had been too hard, and we’d endured too many disappointments. I didn’t want to go through it again. I said, “It didn’t work when we were young, we had so much trouble, and we’re older now. I don’t want any part of it.”
So what happened?
The last full tour I did with Thor was in 1998, and he and I just weren’t seeing eye-to-eye. So we wound up getting a divorce.
Was the divorce acrimonious?
Not really. But he did take a bunch of my stuff with him like my old stripping costumes and men’s magazines. He wound up selling the stuff, but he was desperate for money at the time so I didn’t get mad about it.
It was just the end of things for us. And then I had to start over and figure out how do I rebuild my life, and rebuild it nicely?
It’s not easy sometimes.
8. Cherry Bomb in retirement
How do you look back on your time on the road with Thor?
He and I were a good team and a good couple. I saw him about a year and half ago after not seeing him for about 18 years. So many years. He was performing nearby, so I went to see him.
How did that go?
It was good. Some of the fans insisted that I get up on stage and sing with him. I was happy to do it.
Did you ever remarry?
I did. I met a guy who reminded me of Keith Moon from The Who. My second husband was just great – he rode a Harley and was like a rock star.
He knew all about my past when he met me. He said that me and Christy Canyon were his dream girls. But his family were all doctors and he felt they’d never understand my past, so we had to keep it under wraps. He was worried they’d hear about the Thor stuff and start digging and find their way to the magazines. He said they could manage Thor… but they wouldn’t like the Cheri work.
I didn’t want to create any issues so I went along with it.
Are you still married to him?
No. He died. He was my age, but he died a few years ago.
Even with all the help in the world, somehow they just couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him.
How did you feel when Peter Wolff passed away?
It was one of the saddest days of my life when Peter died. It just killed me. I loved that man so much, and he helped so many people. I’d have done anything for him.
He helped me so much and always believed in me. He understood what I brought to the table. All the things that I did broke barriers back then.
What memories of Peter stay with you the most?
It’s the small things. Like Peter had the funniest little giggle, I’ll never forget it.
And if we had a good story or found something interesting, he’d slap a magazine down on my desk and we’d yell, “Juice!” When people in the office heard that, they’d come running over because they knew we had something that was going to be big.
Do you keep in touch with anyone back from those magazine days?
I don’t. And while the magazines bring back some memories, there are so many things that happened that weren’t captured for publication. Like parties at places like Plato’s Retreat. Crazy nights out with rock stars. Amazing, bizarre stories that were part of my everyday life back then.
Once in a while, people that I know now find out about my past… and they almost fall out of their chairs. They’ll say, “I’ve known you for 15 years and you never mentioned anything!”
And I answer, “Yeah, well it never came up.”
But boy it was a fun ride.
What’s your focus in life now?
In large part, it’s family. I have three grandchildren through marriage. My second husband had kids before I married him, and those kids now have kids. And even though my second husband passed away, I’m still very close to his family.
I think in the future when the grandkids grow up, they’re going to think my past is awesome. Young people are by nature much more progressive. And they see more explicit things on regular TV nowadays!
Do you have any regrets?
Whatever I did, I’m not really sorry I did it. I learned from it. Even when people didn’t like me, it helped me go into another direction, and it helped me to be a better person, and to be smarter about my choices. It just made me realize I needed to learn how to do something else.
There’s no one that I’m mad at, even people who didn’t like me.
Looking back, how do you feel about those magazine days now?
It’s strange. I put that part of my life away for a long time. And I had some reservations about opening it back up. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s just because it was so long ago. Also I still think my in-laws, who are elderly and who I spend a lot of time with, would be upset about my past.
But when I look at the materials on your site, they bring back good memories. So I’m more inclined now to start looking into things again. In some ways, I’m surprised by how much I did, how much I learned, how much I achieved. I sometimes wish that I’d pursued this – and not gone in other directions. I wonder how life would have been different if I had.
Some of the pictures from the magazines are really beautiful… and some of the photos of me from those days are beautiful!
Thank you for your caring about my unusual career in this business.
I was lucky as hell. Seriously.