My favorite artist is Joan Jett. Her accomplishment’s as an artist, is that she was the first woman to lead an all-male band, and rock a guitar just as good as a man could. She also started her own label. She empowers me and all women rockers out there to go after what they want, no matter what people say, or who says they cannot. Her message to me was do not give up. That was also her attitude towards her music and for that she got to do what she loves to do, and will be remembered by all women for that. And by men as well, for showing that we women do matter too, and that we can accomplish our goals.
Joan Jett was born Joan Marie Larkin, on September 22, 1958, in Lankenau Hospital on Lancaster Avenue in Penn Wynne. She was the oldest of three kids, she had a brother James and a sister Anne. Because of her father’s work as an insurance salesman, the family moved around a lot. After Joan was born they moved to Pittsburgh, in 1967 they were in Rockville, MD, and in 1974 ended up in a suburb of Los Angeles called Brentwood. However, Joan went to Hollywood where she met Kim Fowley.
Jett met Kim Fowley at Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco. The club was located on the famous Sunset Strip, 7461 Sunset Boulevard, to be exact. It was a place where all of Hollywood’s famous actors and musicians would hang out. The regulars were, Led Zeppelin, the New York Dolls, Iggy Pop, Shaun Cassidy and his band Longfellow, and even Elton John. Sadly the glitter glam dance club is now closed. Kim Fowley was a publicist, did record production, was a songwriter and producer. He worked with and discover many bands, of which include, David Gate, he worked with the Rolling Stones, the Sleepwalkers, Skip n Flip, and Frank Zappa. He also produced Gene Vincent’s come back in 1969, and is honored in the Psychedelic Hall of Fame, for “The trip”.
Fowley wanted to form a band that had sass, swagger, sex appeal and energy. And who better to bring all that than young teenage girls. He put an ad out in the “who put the bomb” magazine , looking for female musicians. He wanted the band to scream the Rock and Roll Dream, and Joan Jett was the posterchild for just that kind of message. Growing up listening to Frees “All Right Now”, Black Sabbath, the Blue Oyster Cult, Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin; why , her first musical crush was Marc Bolan, lead singer of the glam rock band T. Rex.
She said to Mick Sinclair, of ZigZag, “The main thing that attracted me about being in a band, was seeing the lights and all the kids yelling and screaming. And I thought , God, you can make all those people happy all at once? It wasn’t the money or the limousines, it was the thrill of being a thrill.” When Fowley met Joan she was already trying to form her own band , so she had the drummer, Sandy West, Fowley found other girls to join and they had a band that consisted of Joan Jett, singer/guitarist, Lita Ford guitarist, Sandy West drummer, Jackie Fox bass, and Cherie Currie lead singer. They were called the runaways.
They were an all-female band from 1975-1979. Their genre was pop/rock. Their top hit was “Cherry Bomb”, which was written by Joan Jett and Kim Fowley right on the spot for lead singer Cherie Currie to audition for the band. In 1976 Mercury Records signed then, and they got studio time to record their first album, “ The runaways”. Then they started to tour the U.S. and the band got negative reviews from the public, accusing them of being sleazy, jailbait because of their image and hard rock guitar playing in a man’s world.
However, they spoke out to women and encourage future female rock bands to rock it out better then a man could. Their second album was “ Queens of Noise”, it was co-produced by Earl Mankey and was released in 1977. Meanwhile “Cherry Bomb” became a number one hit in Japan and in Australia, and the number four biggest act in Japan. They toured in Europe and when they landed in Japan it was like the Beatles landing in New York for the first time with thousands of screaming fans. Their biggest show was The Music Festival in Japan, and the “Live in Japan” album became the highest selling imports of the 70’s.
After that Cherie Currie left the band to pressure a solo career, and Joan Jett became the lean singer. Their third album “Wait ‘in for the Night” was Jett’s first album being lead vocals. In 1978 they made their fourth and final album called “And Now… The Runways.” In 1979 the girls broke it off and parted ways, the runways were no more. Jett was upset and did not want to believe it at first, but when she realized it was over she teamed up with ex-Sex Pistols, Steve Jones and Paul Cook to produce the Germs’ album GI. They also recorded a cover song of the Arrows “ I love Rock and Roll”. Joan Jett first heard the song performed by the band The Arrows while touring with the Runaways in 1976, and it stood with her all those years.
This was the first time she recorded it and it only went to vinyl on Vertigo Records and was burned on a side “B” to “You Don’t Own Me”. It was then that the manager of the Sex Pistols noticed her and thought to himself “ She has an amazing career ahead of her.”, but her did not sign her and latter Regretted it. She found new management with Kenny and Meryl Laguna. Kenny suggested that she use and outside guitarist on her early demos, meaning a man, but Joan refused. She started her solo career in 1980 with a self-titled LP. She was unable to find a record deal in the U.S. and her first hit “Bab Reputation” was released in Europe.
It was then picked up by Neil Bogart, and he released it on his Boardwalk Records in 1981 making it the first signal to come out by Joan Jett. The songs message was a response to how some people diminished the Runaways sexuality and loud sound. “It’s about ignoring unearned smack-talk.” Jett told Sarah Larson, of the New Yorker. Then came the male band members and soon were called Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, making Joan Jett the first woman to lead an all-male rock band.
As a result Laguna sent out Joan Jett and the Blackhearts album to 23 labels and got no bites from any of them. They did not want to sign a band that had a female lean men, and on top of that she played guitar. Back then it just was not proper, even Jett’s music teacher as a child told her “ Girls aren’t allowed to play guitar socially.” So Jett formed her own label giving them all rights to all of their material. Then a hit came with “I Love Rock and Roll”, she re-recorded it this time with her band the Blackhearts, and it was gold, actually it was platinum. It went to number two on the billboard two hundred, and ranked number eighty-nine in the list of greatest guitar songs of the rolling stones. She went on and did more songs and they also made top twenty hits; such as, “Crimson and Clover” and “Do You Wanna Touch Me”. She also had three top 40 albums and six top 40 signals, including the top hit “Light of Day”, the titled song from the 1987 film , which she co-stared with Michael J. Fox.
She still continues to tour and make music today. She will always be loved by her fans of every generation. She has inspired women of all ages to pressure what they love no matter what others may say or think. She as show that a woman can rock just as hard as a man could and do whatever man can. I recently went to see her live and even now in her 60’s she can still bring it and has high energy and is still inspiring. Joan Jett is different from all female rockers, it is all about the music and doing what she loves. I first started to listen to her when I was in middle school and she blew me away, I was hooked. The message she gave to me was not to be afraid of who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do.
I was just getting into the rock scene, and people would make fun of me for what I liked and the style I was into. They would call me weird for what I liked. When I heard Bad Reputation for the first time, it was like everything was okay, and I felt I was not alone in this, that there were others out there like me and I was not weird. She showed me I could be or do anything I wanted, without fear of anyone or anything, without care of anyone else. And if no one remembers her, but they will, I will always remember her for that and for the great music she has made.