5 Fascinating Facts About Joan Jett

“Girls don’t play electric guitar.”

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Those words, spoken by Joan Jett‘s guitar teacher in 1971, may have changed the course of rock and roll. The discouraging words only solidified her desire to learn the instrument. After guitar instruction led to only folk songs, Jett quit taking lessons and dove into the instrument on her own. She wanted to play like Mick Ronson or Marc Bolan, not Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez. Let’s take a look at five fascinating facts about “the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Joan Jett.

The 15-year-old Wannabe Rocker Started The Runaways

Jett, who was still going by her given name of Joan Larkin, moved to West Covina, California, with her family in 1973. During visits to Hollywood, she discovered Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco. Joan Jett was born.

In the 2018 documentary Bad Reputation, Jett remembers her days in the glam club: “They played Bowie. They played T. Rex, Suzy Quatro, who I’d never heard of. There was this girl playing bass. It was a disco for teenagers. If you were, like, 21, you were already too old, though rock stars of that era would come in. I was a naive kid, so going to Hollywood, it was a big night out. I talked some kids into coming with me, and there were guys and girls with tons of makeup on, and crazy hairdos, and lots of glitter, and really short skirts, and dresses and fishnets, and it was just, ‘What the f–k is this?’ A club full of a bunch of weirdos living in a city that’s known to be full of weirdos.”

Jett met another teen named Kari Krome, who introduced her to producer Kim Fowley, who was interested in putting together an all-girl group. This was exactly what Jett was looking for. Drummer Sandy West met Jett in the Rainbow Room parking lot while Fowley discovered lead singer Cherie Currie. With the addition of guitarist Lita Ford, The Runaways started performing around Southern California, eventually landing a deal with Mercury Records.

Fowley felt it was a natural progression: “When we were putting The Runaways together, it was based on Darwin. Let’s start with the evolution of a man in show business. The guys just kept getting more and more and more and more feminine. Elvis was feminine. Sinatra was feminine. Bing Crosby was feminine. But if you keep getting more and more feminine, you’re going to get to female.”

Jett Contracted a Heart Infection and Nearly Died

From 1975 to 1978, The Runaways released four studio albums and Live in Japan. Despite releasing solid albums, they were not accepted by the critics. The music was ahead of its time, looking for footing in a male-dominated industry. The band split up in 1979. The band was contractually obligated to supply music to a film called We’re All Crazee Now. The Runaways were not together, but Jett seemed to be the only one who took the contract seriously. Producer Kenny Laguna was brought in to work on the project, and it led to a partnership that would last for decades. Jett became ill and checked into the hospital for a heart infection, and the movie project was scrapped. 

Jett Was Turned Down by Record Labels 23 Times

After Jett recovered, the plan was to secure a record deal as a solo act. Laguna and Jett received rejections from every major label. The plan then changed to releasing a record themselves. In 1980, Jett recorded with different backing musicians, including members of Sex Pistols and Blondie, on their own label, Blackheart Records. Said Laguna, “Out of nowhere, an old friend of mine, the head of Buddha, Neil Bogart, decided to help us. I mean, this guy knew senators and presidents and made movies. He helped me put out the Joan Jett record, which he renamed Bad Reputation. He never checked with us. It completely pissed us off. He said, ‘You’re a cult marketer. I’m a mass marketer. I have two Rolls-Royces. That makes me a lot smarter than you, Kenny.’ We were selling so many more records than we knew about because the factory was printing them up out the back door. You gotta be very careful how you handle it because the guys doing that are thugs. So, you don’t sue them. Neil knew how to handle that. We went, and we took our own money, and we made I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll Was Financed by Her Producer’s Daughter’s College Fund

Jett remembers discovering the song that changed her life. “I had seen this song that was a B-side of another song. I saw it on TV,” she said. “It was called ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.’ I’m like, ‘That’s a hit.’ The Runaways didn’t want to do it, so I did a version with the Sex Pistols, Steve Jones, and Paul Cook.” Added Laguna, “I thought their version was a little unsophisticated, a little sophomoric. I thought we could make a better record.”

Jett formed the Blackhearts, and they self-financed the album, which would go on to be Jett’s most successful album. The song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for eight weeks. The cover photo was an iconic picture taken by Mick Rock. Jett told Sounds magazine in 1982: “They wanted me to lie on a couch in leopardskin like Pat Benatar or something. You know I couldn’t do anything like that!”

Jett Was Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2015

“Crimson and Clover” and “I Hate Myself For Loving You” followed, and Jett appeared in Light of Day with Michael J. Fox. “Bad Reputation” was the theme song for the television show Freaks and Geeks. In 2015, Miley Cyrus inducted Jett into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Girls DO play electric guitar.

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