Few artists boast a wider appeal than Joan Jett. Beloved by punks, Indie rockers, pop lovers, metal heads, classic rockers, radicals and conservatives, she is, first, and foremost,
a genuine icon and an influential, trailblazing musician. Going back to when she helped break down rock’s gender barriers and helped pioneer punk music with her teenage band, The Runaways, she is a genuine star, with no less than nine Top 40 hit singles and eight Platinum and Gold LPs. More than anything, she is a Renaissance woman, actress on stage and screen, and knowledgeable and entertaining host of “Joan Jett’s Radio Revolution” on Little Steven’s Sirius Satellite Radio’s Underground - a continually challenging artist, not content to rest on past laurels.
At age fifteen, Jett helped form The Runaways, after receiving a call from Kim Fowley and Sandy West. Kari Krome (replaced by Micki Steele and later Jackie Fox), Lita ford and Cherie Currie completed the line-up. While Cherie initially fronted the band, Jett also sang lead vocal, played rhythm guitar and wrote or co-wrote much of the band’s material. The band recorded five LPs, with one becoming one of the biggest selling imports in U.S. and U.K. history. The band toured around the world and some of their opening acts included Cheap Trick, Van Halen and Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. They found massive success abroad, especially in Japan.
While The Runaways were popular in Europe, Japan, Australia, Canada and even South America, they could not garner the same success in the U.S. It seemed that the United States - and the music press especially - was not ready to take the music of female teenagers seriously. After Cherie and Jackie left the band (to be replaced by bassist Vicki Blue, who was then replaced by Laurie McAllister), Joan and the others released two more albums, Waitin’ for the Night and And Now . . . The Runaways. Altogether they produced five albums from 1975 until 1979 and disbanded in 1979.
It was around this time that Jett produced The Germs’ debut (and only) album, G.I. This recording has been critically heralded as the American version of The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks.
In the spring of 1979, Jett was in England pursuing a solo career. While there, she cut three songs with ex-Sex Pistols Paul Cook and Steve Jones (one of which was an early version of a cover song called “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”, originally written and performed by The Arrows). Later that year, she moved to Long Beach, and ultimately, Los Angeles, where she reluctantly began fulfilling an obligation by The Runaways to complete a film loosely based on The Runaways’ career called We’re All Crazee Now!, with three actresses standing in for Joan’s departed band members. The plug was pulled on the project halfway through shooting, but in 1984, after Jett had become a major star, producers were looking for a way to make use of the footage from the uncompleted film. Bits of the original movie ended up on the cutting room floor, only to be re-edited in a never commercially-released underground movie called DuBeat-Eo, produced by Alan Sacks (producer and writer for the television shows Welcome Back, Kotter and Chico and the Man). However, one good thing came out of the project: Jett met songwriter and producer Kenny Laguna. They became instant friends and decided to work together.
Jett and Laguna entered The Who’s Ramport Studios with the latter at the helm. Jett’s self-titled solo debut was released in Europe. Because the album was rejected by no many major labels in the United States, Jett and Laguna released it independently on their own Blackheart Records label.
Laguna remembers, “We couldn’t think of anything else to do, but print up records ourselves, and that’s how Blackheart Records started. It was more or less Joan’s idea to do it ourselves.” Jett inadvertently became the first female performer to start her own record label.
With Laguna’s assistance, she formed The Blackhearts. The pair used their personal savings to press up records and set up their own system of independent distribution, sometimes selling the albums out of the trunk of their car at the end of each concert. Laguna was unable to keep up with demand for her album. Eventually, old friend and founder of Casablanca Records, Neil Bogart made a joint venture with Laguna and signed Jett to his new label, Boardwalk Records. After a year of touring and recording, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts recorded a new album for the label. The new single was a re-recording of the title track, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”, which in the first half of 1982 was number one on the Billboard charts for seven weeks in a row. It is now Billboard’s Number 28 song of all time.
A string of Top 40 hits followed, as well as sellout tours with The Police, Queen and Aerosmith, among others. Jett was the second American act of any kind to perform behind the Iron Curtain, the first one being Blood, Sweat & Tears in Romania (1969), and the first English-speaking rock band to appear in Panama and the Dominican Republic.
After receiving her own MTV New Year’s Eve Special, Jett beat out a number of contenders to appear in the movie, Light of Day, with Michael J. Fox. Bruce Springsteen wrote the title song especially for her and her performance was critically acclaimed. Later that year, Jett released Good Music which featured appearances by The Beach Boys, The Sugarhill Gang and Darlene Love.
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts became the first rock band to perform a series of shows at the Lunt-Fontane Theatre on Broadway, breaking the record at the time for the fastest ticket sell-out ever. Her next release, Up Your Alley, went multi-platinum and was followed by The Hit List, which was an international hit.
In the 1990s, Jett and Laguna released Flashback, a compilation of her career so far on their own Blackheart Records. Her next release, Notorious (which featured The Replacements’ Paul Westerberg) was the last with Sony/CBS as Jett switched to Warner Brothers. A CD single of “Let’s Do It”, featuring Jett and Westerberg, was also released during this time and appeared in the song credits for the movie Tank Girl.
Jett produced several bands prior to releasing her debut and her label Blackheart Records released recordings from varied artists, such as thrash legends Metal Church and smooth operator Big Daddy Kane.
The press touted Jett as the “Godmother of Punk” and the “Original Riot Grrrl”. In 1994, The Blackhearts released the well received Pure and Simple, which featured tracks written with Kat Bjelland (Babes in Toyland), Donita Sparks (L7) and Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill).
Near the end of the 1990s she worked with members of the punk band, The Gits, whose lead singer and lyricist, Mia Zapata, had been raped and murdered. Their collaborative efforts resulted in a live LP, Evil Stig, and a single, “Bob”, whose earnings were contributed to the investigation of Zapata’s murder. To this end, the band and Jett appeared on the television show, America’s Most Wanted, appealing to the public for information. The case was finally solved in 2004, when Zapata’s murderer was finally brought to trial and convicted.
In 2004, Jett and Laguna produced, “No Apologies” by Warped Tour favorites, The Eyeliners. Jett also guested on “Destroy” and made a cameo appearance in the music video.
In 2005, Jett discovered Cleveland punk rockers, The Vacancies. She and Laguna produced their second album, A Beat Missing or a Silence Added. It went top 20 in the CMJ Music Charts.
In 2005, she was recruited by Steven Van Zandt to join original Rolling Stones’ manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham, former Runaways’ manager Kim Fowley, humorist/producer Martin Lewis and others by hosting her own radio show on Van Zandt’s Underground Garage radio channel on Sirius Satellite Radio. She hosts a four-hour show entitled Joan Jett’s Radio Revolution heard every Saturday and Sunday.
In 2005, Jett and Laguna celebrated the 25th anniversary of Blackheart Records with a sell out show at Manhattan’s Webster Hall that featured their groups, The Eyeliners and The Vacancies, as openers to the headlining Joan Jett & The Blackhearts.
Jett stands at a point in her life where she can appreciate her past and longevity, but still look towards the future. It is an exciting time. “I went to a school reunion in Maryland not long ago and some people reminded me I had said I was going to go to California to become a rock ‘n’ roll star! I hadn’t remembered that I had focused on it that early!!! To say that as a kid and actually do it is pretty cool. It just goes to show you that if you can believe in yourself, if you’re lucky and have the right timing, you have a shot. I’m an example of what can be, if you don’t give up!