Singer/guitarist Joan Jett was one of the most surprising success stories of the early '80s. The latter-day leader of the much-maligned all-female teenage hard-rock group the Runaways. Jett could barely get a U.S. deal for her first solo album at the beginning of 1981. One year later her second solo LP had a #1 single and went Top 5 and platinum.
Jett's family moved to Baltimore when she was in grade school and to Southern California when she was 14. That Christmas she got her first guitar. Her initial and continuing inspiration was the British early -'70s glitter-pop music of T. Rex, Gary Glitter, Slade, David Bowie
, and Suzi Quatro, whose tough stance Jett most closely emulated. At 15 she met producer Kim Fowley at Hollywood's Starwood Club and became part of his group, the Runaways. The band gave its last show New Year's Eve 1978 in San Francisco.
In the spring of 1979 Jett was in England trying to get a solo project going. While there she cut threee songs with ex-Sex Pistols Paul Cook and Steve Jones, two of which came out as a single in Holland only. Back in L.A., Jett produced the debut album by local punks the Germs and acted in a movie based on the Runaways (with actresses playing the rest of the band) called We're All Crazy Now (its title taken from the Slade song). The movie was never released, but while working on it Jett met Kenny Laguna (producer of Jonathan Richman, Greg Kihn, and the Steve Gibbons Band) and Ritchie Cordell (bubblegum legend who cowrote Tommy James and the Shondells' "I Think We're Alone Now" and "Mony Mony").
Jett fell ill and spent six weeks in the hospital suffering from pneumonia and a heart-valve infection. She then assembled a solo debut, with Laguna and Cordell producing using the Jones-Cook British tracks plus guest musicians Sean Tyla and Blondie's Clem Burke and Frank Infante. As Joan Jett, the album came out in Europe only. It was rejected by every major and minor label in the U.S., and finally Laguna put out the LP himself. After much positive U.S. press, the album was picked up by Boardwalk in January 1981 and renamed Bad Reputation. But it didn't sell.
After a year of touring with her band the Blackhearts, Jett's second LP, even harder-rocking than the first, came out in December 1981, including a version of "Little Drummer Boy" on the pre-Christmas editions. It immediately bolted up the chart, aided by a remake of a B side by the Arrows, the pop-heavy-metal single "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," which hit #1 in early 1982. Jett reached the Top 20 twice more that year with a pair of covers, Tommy James' "Crimson and Clover" (#7) and Gary Glitter's "Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)" (#20).
The singer/guitarist's popularity has been sporadic ever since. The follow up to I Love Rock 'n' Roll went gold but contained only the Top 40 "Fake Friends"; by the time of 1988's Up Your Alley, Jett's career appeared all but finished. The previous year, her foray into film (Light of Day, the story of a struggling rock & roll band, starring Michael J. Fox) Had fared poorly at the box office, and even her version of the title song, penned by Bruce Springsteen
, failed to break the Top 30. But the platinum Up Your Alley put Jett's gritty, unadorned hard rock back on the chart with "I Hate Myself for Loving You" (#8, 1988) and "Little Liar" (#19, 1988). Then came another dry spell, broken only by yet another cover tune. AC/DC
's vengeful "Dirty Deeds" (#36, 1990).
In 1992 Jett left Epic Records for Warner Bros. At a time when she was verging on becoming a punk anachronism, she became frequently cited as an archetype of the so-called Riot Grrrl movement of women-led bands. She produced a single for Bikini Kill, whose singer Kathleen Hanna then cowrote four songs on Jett's 1994 LP, Pure and Simple. Despite that album's positive reviews, Jett wasn't able to keep the momentum going. She released a live album with the Gits (a punk band whose singer, Mia Zapata, had been murdered) under the moniker Evil Stig and continued to associate with the indie-rock scene, but her own output since Pure and Simple had been slim. In addition to a pair of compilations, there have been only 1999's confidential Fetish (a mix of old, rare, and new songs) and the 2001 EP (Unfinished Business, which collects five sports-related songs, including a version of "Love Is All Around" (the theme to The Mary Tyler Moore Show).
In 1999 Jett and the Blackhearts performed for allied troops in the Balkans. At the end of 2000 Jett joined the Broadway cast of The Rocky Horror Show, playing Columbia and Usherette.
In June 2006, Joan Jett released a new album, Sinner, on Blackheart Records, her own label. To support the album, the band appeared on the 2006 Warped Tour, and embarked on a Fall 2006 tour with Eagles of Death Metal. Various other bands like Antigone Rising, Valient Thorr, The Vacancies, Throw Rag and Riverboat Gamblers were to have joined the tour for a handful of dates each.
In 1997 Joan Jett was featured on the "We Will Fall: The Iggy Pop Tribute" record. She performed a cover of the Johnny O'Keefe song "Wild One" (or "Real Wild Child").
A Joan Jett video with Paul, Paul Jr. and Mikey Teutul of the Learning Channel show American Chopper
aired on January 14, 2007. The making of that video was presented in a segment of the show that aired on The Learning Channel on February 22, 2007.
Jett sang a duet with Chase Noles on "Tearstained Letters," a song on the Heart Attacks' 2006 album, Hellbound and Heartless.
In late June 2007, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts performed at Dolphin Stadium in Miami, following a Florida Marlins baseball game.
Joan Jett and 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, Jett and 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 DC5's 1964 hit "Bits and Pieces". She was introduced by actor Tom Hanks
, who said, "Ladies and gentlemen — at one time, if I had been lucky, one of the most beautiful 'Mrs. Tom Hanks' you can imagine, but I'm not complainin' — Joan Jett!"
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts appeared on several dates of the True Colors Tour 2008 in the summer of 2008. She opened for Def Leppard in August
Jett is an executive producer for the film The Runaways, which chronicles the Runaways' career. Floria Sigismondi, who has also directed videos for Marilyn Manson, the White Stripes and David Bowie, wrote and directed. Production of the movie began filming around Twilight
's Kristen Stewart
filming schedule (i.e. of the sequels New Moon and Eclipse). Stewart plays Joan Jett in the film. In order to prepare for the role, Stewart met Jett around the 08/09 New Year. In a recent interview Stewart revealed that she hopes to be able to sing some of the songs in the film. The film explores the friendship and falling out between Jett and Runaways lead singer, Cherie Currie, played by Dakota Fanning, and premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 24, 2010.
In an interview, Jett told RollingStones.com that a greatest hits album with two new tracks was set for release in 2010.