Joan Jett (born Joan Marie Larkin September 22, 1958) is an American rock guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer and actress.
She is best known for her work with Joan Jett & the Blackhearts including their hit cover "I Love Rock N' Roll", which was #1 on the Billboard charts from March 20 to May 1, 1982, as well as for their other popular recordings including "Crimson and Clover", "I Hate Myself for Loving You", "Do You Want to Touch Me", "Light of Day", "Love Is All Around", "Bad Reputation" and "Little Liar." Jett has a mezzo-soprano vocal range. Her musical and song-writing approach is heavily influenced by the hard-edged, hard beat-driven rhythms common to many rock bands of her native Philadelphia, often featuring lyrics surrounding themes of lost love, criticisms of insincerity, the struggles and resolution of the American working class, and the quest for authenticity.
Joan Jett is a founding member of The Runaways along with drummer Sandy West. Micki Steele (who was later replaced), Jackie Fox, Lita Ford, and Cherie Currie completed the line-up. While Currie initially fronted the band, Jett shared some lead vocals, played rhythm guitar and wrote or co-wrote a lot of the band's material along with Ford, West and Currie. The band recorded five LPs, with Live In Japan 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 success abroad, especially in Japan.
While The Runaways were popular in Europe, Asia, Australia, Canada and South America, they could not garner the same success in the U.S. After Currie and Fox left the band (to be replaced by bassist Vicki Blue and later, Laurie McAllister), the band released two more albums: Waitin' for the Night and And Now... The Runaways. Altogether they produced five albums from 1975 until they disbanded in spring of 1979.
Soon after, Jett produced The Germs' first and only album GI.
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, New York and ultimately, Los Angeles, where she reluctantly began fulfilling an obligation of the Runaways to complete a film loosely based on the band's career called We're All Crazee Now!, with three actresses standing in for her departed band members. While working on the project in 1979, Jett met songwriter and producer Kenny Laguna, who came in to help Jett with writing some tracks for the film. They became friends and decided to work together. 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 incomplete film. Bits of the original footage of Jett were used in a completely new project never commercially released, an underground movie called DuBeat-Eo, produced by Alan Sacks.
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 on May 17, 1980. In the United States, the album was rejected by 23 major labels. Jett and Laguna released it independently on their new Blackheart Records label, which they started with Laguna's daughter's college savings. Laguna remembers, "We couldn't think of anything else to do, but print up records ourselves, and that's how Blackheart Records started.
Joan Jett and The Blackhearts
With Laguna's assistance, Jett formed the Blackhearts. She placed an ad in the L.A. Weekly "looking for three good men." John Doe of X sat in on bass for the auditions held at S.I.R. studios in Los Angeles. He mentioned a local bass player, Gary Ryan, that had recently been crashing on his couch. Ryan was part of the L.A. punk scene and had played bass with local artists Top Jimmy and Rik L. Rik. He had been a fan of the Runaways and Jett for years. Jett recognized him at the audition and he was in. Gary recommended guitarist Eric Ambel, who was also at the time part of Rik L. Rik. The final addition to the original Blackhearts was drummer Danny "Furious" O'Brien, formerly of the infamous San Francisco band The Avengers. This line-up played several gigs at the Golden Bear and Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood before embarking on their first European tour which consisted of an extensive tour of the Netherlands, and a few key shows in England including the Marquee in London.
Upon returning to the States, Jett, Ryan, and Ambel moved to Long Beach, N.Y. O'Brien stayed behind in England to pursue other interests. Auditions were set up and Lee Crystal, formerly of The Boyfriends and'Sylvain Sylvain, became the new drummer. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts then toured throughout the States and built quite a following in New York. Jett and Laguna soon used their personal savings to press up copies of the Joan Jett album and set up their own system of independent distribution, sometimes selling the albums out of the trunk of Laguna's Cadillac 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 and re-released the Joan Jett album as Bad Reputation. After a year of touring and recording, The Blackhearts recorded a new album entitled I Love Rock N' Roll for the label. During the recording process, Ambel was replaced by local guitarist Ricky Byrd. Eric went on to a career as a founding member of the Del-Lords, and later worked as a producer of a wide variety of bands. He currently plays with his band, The Yayhoos, and was a member of The Dukes, Steve Earle's band from 2000 to 2005.
With Byrd on guitar, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts recorded their hit album. 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 #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 in 1969. She was among the first English-speaking rock acts 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. It was about this time that Ryan and Crystal left the Blackhearts. They were soon replaced by the powerful rhythm section of Thommy Price and Kasim Sulton. Later that year, Jett released Good Music, which featured appearances by The Beach Boys, The Sugarhill Gang and singer Darlene Love.
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts became the first rock band to perform a series of shows at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Broadway, breaking the record at the time for the fastest ticket sell-out. Her next release, Up Your Alley, went multi-platinum and was followed by The Hit List, which was an album consisting of cover songs. During this time, Jett co-wrote the song "House of Fire", which appeared on Alice Cooper's 1989 album Trash.
Her 1991 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. In 1993, Jett and Laguna released Flashback, a compilation of various songs on their own Blackheart Records.
Jett produced several bands prior to releasing her debut and her label Blackheart Records released recordings from varied artists such as thrash rock band Metal Church and rapper 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).