Joan Jett (born Joan Marie Larkin, September 22, 1958) is an American rock singer, songwriter, composer, musician, record producer and occasional actress.
Jett is best known for her work as the frontwoman of her band, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, and for earlier founding and performing with the Runaways, which recorded and released the hit song "Cherry Bomb". The Blackhearts' version of the song "I Love Rock 'n Roll" was number-one on the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks in 1982. Jett's other notable hit songs include "Bad Reputation", "Crimson and Clover", "Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)", "Light of Day", "I Hate Myself for Loving You" and "Dirty Deeds".
Jett has a mezzo-soprano vocal range. She has three albums that have been certified Platinum or Gold, and has been a feminist icon throughout her career. She has been described as the Queen of Rock 'n' Roll and the Godmother of Punk. In 2015, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Joan Marie Larkin was born on September 22, 1958 to James Larkin and Dorothy Jett Larkin, at Lankenau Hospital in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia (although some sources list her birthdate as September 22, 1960). She is the eldest of three children. Her father sold insurance; her mother was a secretary. Her family were Protestant and attended church, but were not particularly religious. In 1967, her family moved to Rockville, Maryland, where she attended Randolph Junior High and Wheaton High School. Jett got her first guitar at the age of 14. She took some guitar lessons, but soon quit because the instructor kept trying to teach her folk songs. Her family then moved to West Covina, California, in Los Angeles County, providing Jett the opportunity to pursue her musical endeavors. Shortly after the move to Los Angeles, her parents divorced and she changed her name to Joan Jett, taking her mother's maiden name as her professional and legal name.
In Los Angeles, Jett's favorite night spot was Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco, a venue that provided the glam rock style she loved.
Jett became a founding member of the Runaways, alongside drummer Sandy West. Jackie Fox, Lita Ford and Cherie Currie soon joined up to complete the band, creating the classic lineup. 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 albums, with Live In Japan becoming one of the biggest-selling imports in US and UK history. The band toured around the world and became an opening act for Cheap Trick, Ramones, Van Halen and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. They found success abroad, especially in Japan. While touring England with the Runaways in 1976, Jett first heard the song "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" when she saw Arrows perform it on their weekly UK television series Arrows. In 2010, The Runaways, a movie about Jett's band, was released, starring Kristen Stewart as Jett and Dakota Fanning as Currie.
While the Runaways were popular in Europe, Asia, Australia, Canada and South America, they could not garner the same level of success in the US. After Currie left the band, the band released two more albums with Jett handling the lead vocals: Waitin' for the Night and And Now... The Runaways. Altogether, they produced five albums from 1975 until they disbanded in the spring of 1979.
Soon afterward, Jett produced the Germs' only album, (GI).
In 1979, Jett was in England pursuing a solo career. She recorded three songs there with the Sex Pistols' Paul Cook and Steve Jones, one of which was an early version of Arrows' "I Love Rock 'n' Roll". This version appears on the 1993 compilation album Flashback. Later that year, she returned to Los Angeles, where she began fulfilling an obligation of the Runaways to complete a film which was loosely based on the band's career entitled We're All Crazee Now! Three actresses stood in for the departed band members, including Rainbeaux Smith, who was also a rock drummer. While working on the project, Jett met songwriter and producer Kenny Laguna, who was hired by Toby Mamis to help Jett with writing some tracks for the film. They became friends and decided to work together. Jett relocated to Long Beach, New York, where Laguna was based. The plug was pulled on the project halfway through shooting after Jett fell ill, but in 1984, after she became famous, producers looked for a way to use the footage from the incomplete film. Parts of the original footage of Jett were eventually used in another project, an underground film called DuBeat-Eo, which was produced by Alan Sacks but not commercially released.
Jett and Laguna entered the Who's Ramport Studios with the latter at the helm, and Jett's self-titled solo debut was released by Ariola Records in Europe on May 17, 1980. In the US, after 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."
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
With Laguna's assistance, Jett formed the Blackhearts. Laguna recounted, "I told Joanie to forget the band and support herself on the advance money. There was enough for her but not for a band. She said she had to have a band. And I believe to this day that it was the Blackhearts, that concept, that made Joan Jett." She placed an ad in the LA Weekly stating that she was "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, who had recently been crashing on his couch. Ryan was born Gary Moss, and adopted his stage name upon joining the Blackhearts in 1979, in part to cover for the fact that he was only 15 at the time. Ryan was part of the Los Angeles 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. Ryan in turn 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 San Francisco band the Avengers. This lineup played several gigs at the Golden Bear, in Huntington Beach, California and the 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.
Laguna fired O'Brien at the end of the tour, and upon returning to the States, Jett, Ryan, and Ambel moved to Long Beach, New York. Auditions were set up and Lee Crystal, formerly of the Boyfriends and Sylvain Sylvain, became the new drummer. The band then toured throughout the US, slowly building a fan base but struggling to remain financially afloat. Throughout 1980, the band was able to keep touring solely due to Laguna drawing on advances from outside projects. Jett and Laguna used their personal savings to press copies of the Joan Jett album and set up their own system of 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 the 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.
A spring 1981 concert at the Palladium in New York City proved to be a turning point. Described by music journalists as a career-defining performance by Jett, it helped solidify a strong New York following for Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. After a year of touring and recording, the Blackhearts recorded a new album entitled I Love Rock 'n Roll for the label. Ambel was replaced by local guitarist Ricky Byrd during the recording. Byrd recalled in an interview with Guitarhoo!, "One day I went to a studio to jam around a bit with Jett and everything clicked". The first single from the album was a cover of the title track, "I Love Rock 'n' Roll", originally written and recorded by Arrows, which in the first half of 1982 was number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks in a row. It is Billboards No. 56 song of all time and has also been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2016.
Jett released Album (1983) and Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth (1984). A string of Top 40 hits followed, as well as sellout tours with the Police, Queen, and Aerosmith, among others. 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 song "Light of Day" especially for the movie, and her performance was critically acclaimed. It was about this time that Ryan and Crystal left the Blackhearts. They were soon replaced by 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 & 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. This album contains the single "I Hate Myself for Loving You", which peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and had been used as the theme song for Sunday Night Football NFL games in America (with altered lyrics, by two singers) during the 2006 and 2007 seasons. This 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.
In 1990, the band had a song on the Days of Thunder soundtrack, "Long Live the Night", written by Jett with Randy Cantor and Michael Caruso.
Her 1991 release Notorious, which featured the Replacements' Paul Westerberg and former Billy Idol bass player Phil Feit, was the last with Sony/CBS as Jett switched to Warner Bros. 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 metal 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 Babes in Toyland's Kat Bjelland, L7's Donita Sparks and Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna. Jett has also been described as the Queen of Rock 'n' Roll.
Jett returned to producing for the band Circus Lupus in 1992 and again, in 1994, for Bikini Kill. This recording was the New Radio +2 vinyl 7-inch EP for which she also played and sang back-up vocals. The Riot Grrrl movement started in the 1990s, with Bikini Kill as a representative band, and many of these women credited Jett as a role model and inspiration.
In 1997, Jett was featured on the We Will Fall: The Iggy Pop Tribute album. She performed a cover of the Johnny O'Keefe song "Wild One" (or "Real Wild Child"). Jett worked with members of the punk rock band the Gits, whose lead singer and lyricist, Mia Zapata, had been raped and murdered in 1993. The results of their collaboration was a live album, 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 solved in 2004, when Zapata's murderer, Jesus Mezquia, was brought to trial and convicted.
Jett is a guest artist on Marky Ramone and the Intruders' 1999 album The Answer to Your Problems? on the track "Don't Blame Me". She is a guest vocalist on Peaches' album Impeach My Bush on the tracks "Boys Wanna Be Her" and "You Love It".
At an October 2001 9/11 benefit in Red Bank, New Jersey, Jett and Springsteen appeared together on stage for the first time and played "Light of Day".
In 2004, Jett and Laguna produced the album No Apologies by the pop punk band the Eyeliners, after signing them. Jett also guested on the track "Destroy" and made a cameo appearance in its music video.
In 2005, Jett and Laguna signed punk rockers the Vacancies and produced their second album, A Beat Missing or a Silence Added (reaching the top 20 in CMJ Music Charts), and their third album in 2007, Tantrum. That same year, she was recruited by Steven Van Zandt to host her own radio show on Van Zandt's Underground Garage radio channel on Sirius Satellite Radio. She hosted a four-hour show titled Joan Jett's Radio Revolution, broadcast every Saturday and Sunday. The program moved from Sirius 25 (Underground Garage) to Sirius 28 shortly before being canceled in June 2008.
In 2005, Jett and Laguna celebrated the 25th anniversary of Blackheart Records with a sellout show at Manhattan's Webster Hall.
In June 2006, Jett released her album Sinner, on Blackheart Records. To support the album, the band appeared on the 2006 Warped Tour and on a fall 2006 tour with Eagles of Death Metal. Various other bands such as Antigone Rising, Valient Thorr, the Vacancies, Throw Rag and Riverboat Gamblers were to have joined the tour for a handful of dates each.
Jett sang a duet with Chase Noles on "Tearstained Letters", a song on the Heart Attacks' 2006 album, Hellbound and Heartless.
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts headlined the Albuquerque, New Mexico Freedom Fourth celebration on July 4, 2007, with an estimated crowd of 65,000 in attendance at the annual outdoor event.
In November 2007, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts appeared with Motörhead and Alice Cooper in a UK arena tour; Jett opened eight American shows on Aerosmith's 2007 World Tour.
Following the Dave Clark Five's induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, on March 10, 2008, Jett, as part of the ceremony, closed the program with a performance of the Dave Clark Five's 1964 hit "Bits and Pieces".
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts appeared on several dates of the True Colors tour in the summer of 2008. She opened for Def Leppard in August. On November 19, 2009, Mattel released a Joan Jett Barbie doll. Her name and likeness was used with her permission.
In June 2010, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts opened for Green Day on their UK tour alongside acts such as Frank Turner and Paramore.
Jett performing live with the Blackhearts in Beaumont, California, during the 2010 Free Concert Series
The band was the opening act for Aerosmith's September 2010 Canadian tour.
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts were part of the lineup for the Falls Music & Arts Festival, December 29 through January 1, 2010, in Australia.
Jett was an executive producer for the film The Runaways, which chronicled the Runaways' career. It was written and directed by Floria Sigismondi, who has directed videos for Marilyn Manson, the White Stripes and David Bowie. Production of the movie began filming around Twilight's Kristen Stewart's filming schedule, (i.e. of the sequels New Moon and Eclipse). Stewart played Jett in the film. In order to prepare for the role, Stewart met Jett around the 08/09 New Year. In an interview, Stewart revealed that she hoped to be able to sing some songs in the film. The film explores the friendship between Jett and Runaways' lead singer, Cherie Currie, played by Dakota Fanning, and premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival on January 24, 2010. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts appeared at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, at Harry-O's, for The Runaways promotion, which was also attended by Stewart and Dakota Fanning.
March 2010 saw the release of a 2-CD Greatest Hits album with four newly re-recorded songs. March 2010 also saw the release of a hardcover biography and picture book, spanning her career from the Runaways to the present day.
Jett, along with the Blackhearts, released the album Unvarnished on September 30, 2013. The album reached Billboard's Top 50. It included songs dealing with the death of her parents and other people. August 1 was declared Joan Jett day in West Hollywood. She was named West Hollywood's Rock Legend. Former Blackhearts member Lee Crystal died on November 6, 2013, from complications of multiple sclerosis.
Jett starred in and was the executive producer of the film Undateable John, which was released in 2014.
In April 2014, Jett fronted the remaining members of Nirvana for a performance of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She joined the band again later that night for its surprise concert at Saint Vitus. In April 2014, Jett was the first woman to win the Golden God Award. Former bandmates Cherie Currie and Lita Ford came and supported her. On April 24, 2014, Alternative Press magazine held its first-ever Alternative Press Music Awards, and Jett received the AP Icon Award. On July 12, 2014, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts performed at Tropicana Field after the baseball game in St. Petersburg, Florida. On October 29, 2014, Jett sang the U.S. national anthem at the New York Knicks vs. the Chicago Bulls basketball game. Jett and Hot Topic released Jett's first clothing line in 2014. It consists of jackets, shirts, pants, and a sweater. Jett played guitar on "I Am a River" on the Foo Fighters' 2014 album Sonic Highways released November 10, 2014.
On April 15, 2015, Jett & the Blackhearts opened for the Who, kicking off their "The Who Hits 50!" 2015 North American tour in Tampa, Florida. The Blackhearts opened for the Who for 42 dates in the U.S. and Canada, ending November 4 in Philadelphia.
On July 4, 2015, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts were part of the Foo Fighters 20th Anniversary show at the RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
Jett is a sports fan and has remained actively involved in the sports world. "Bad Reputation" was used by Ultimate Fighting Championship's Women's Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey as her walkout song at the pay-per-view event UFC 157. Her cover of "Love Is All Around" (the theme song of The Mary Tyler Moore Show) was used by the NCAA to promote the Women's Final Four, as well as the song "Unfinished Business," which was never commercially released. "Love Is All Around" went into radio play and became the number one requested song without an existing (support) CD. Jett supplied theme songs for the ESPN X Games premiere and has contributed music to all their games since. At Cal Ripken Jr.'s request, she sang the U.S. national anthem, at the Baltimore Orioles game in which he tied Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played. She also sang the national anthem at the final game played at Memorial Stadium. Until the 2016 season, the melody for her song "I Hate Myself for Loving You" was used as the theme music for NBC Sunday Night Football with re-worked lyrics and retitled "Waiting All Day for Sunday Night". Jett has also been a consistent supporter of the United States Armed Forces, has toured for the United Service Organizations for over 20 years, and even performed at the United States Military Academy.
Satire and tributes
In 1983, musical satirist "Weird Al" Yankovic released a parody of "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" entitled "I Love Rocky Road", changing the singer's passion for rock music with that for ice cream.
The comic strip Bloom County included a character named Tess Turbo; her band was the Blackheads.
Film, stage and television appearances
Jett's first appearance on film is in the 1981 live concert film Urgh! A Music War, performing "Bad Reputation" with the Blackhearts at the Ritz in New York City. She made her acting debut in 1987, co-starring with Gena Rowlands and Michael J. Fox in the Paul Schrader film Light of Day. She appeared in independent films, including The Sweet Life and Boogie Boy.
In 1997, she appeared on the sitcom Ellen, in the episode "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah", performing the title song. In 1992, she was a guest star in "Free Fall", a first-season episode of TV's Highlander: The Series.
The 1999 series Freaks and Geeks used the song "Bad Reputation" as the opening theme.
In 2000, Jett appeared in the Broadway production of The Rocky Horror Show in the role of Columbia. That same year, Jett appeared on Walker, Texas Ranger as an ex-CIA agent turned assassin hired to kill Walker and Alex.
In 2002, Jett appeared in the film By Hook or by Crook in the role of News Interviewee.
From 2000 to 2003, Jett hosted a showcase of new film and video shorts, Independent Eye, for Maryland Public Television.
In 2004, Jett narrated a short film, Godly Boyish, about two teenagers who share suicidal fantasies.
In 2008, Jett made a cameo appearance in Darren Lynn Bousman's rock opera/file Repo! The Genetic Opera as the guitarist in Shilo's room during the piece "Seventeen". Also in 2008, she appeared in the Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "Reunion" as a rock-and-roll talk show host who gets murdered.
Jett played Betsy Neal in the film Big Driver. The film, based on Stephen King's novella of the same name, premiered on Lifetime on October 18, 2014.
Jett provided the voice for the character Sunshine Justice in an upcoming episode of Steven Universe.