In honour of her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last week, here is my 'Joan Jett' interview from her first solo tour. At least at the time anyway, her manager was handling all her interviews since he had been with her for pretty much the whole time since leaving The Runaways.
(via manager KEN LAGUNA)
KEN LAGUNA, JOAN JETT’S LONG-TIME MANAGER had once played with The Ohio Express as well as Tommy James & the Shondells. He’s pretty much managed Jett’s entire career. At the time of this interview he was handling all her press interviews since he knew as much about her as she did herself. So, here’s the article I wrote from my interview with Ken Laguna in February 1987.
‘We’ve been really lucky with Joan,’ he says. ‘She’s gone from nothing to being a top artist. In New York she came in at number two, right behind Styx, and at number 10 in Boston, with many top LPs. She’s been a top 10 seller on WEBN in Cincinnati, as well. In Northern California she does real well and has been number one in Albany, New York and on KNAC in long Beach California. The third record, originally an import only, became the ninth most rated record in America according to Record World during the Christmas 1982 season.
‘The Runaways had a couple of things going against them,’ he continued. ‘They were never taken as anything more than a novelty, in spite of the fact that the songs were brilliant. You’re Too Possessive, Cherry Bomb, [I Love] Playing With Fire. The press wanted to treat them as "jailbait rock.” It hurt the band’s morale and made them think they’d never be more than a novelty.’
The Runaways, the ‘all-girl band.’ A couple of members – Cherie Curry and Lita Ford – wanted to go metal. [Cleveland drummer Eric Singer originally played drums for Lita before moving on to Black Sabbath and then KISS.] both have since come out with solo albums, however, Lita has made more progress with her music than Cherie and has become fairly popular in her own right. Both have also had small movie roles. Joan wanted to continue on in the same trend that The Runaways had begun, with perhaps a bit more of a pop-flavoured overtone. She has succeeded far and beyond the other members of her previous band.
Joan is somewhat of a ‘legend’ in Los Angeles. The Germs wanted her to produce their first album, GI. The Germs idolised her. At the time, she needed the money and the activity, having been approached by The Germs shortly after The Runaways split up. It came as somewhat of a boost to her sagging ego.
She’s also worked with the Sex Pistols for awhile, recording a couple of songs with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. She has a bit of a sound reminiscent to T-Rex, circa 1973, yet she can also get into a sound like that of The Germs and the Pistols.
Jett, around , was born in Philadelphia but has also lived both in Erie and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and in Maryland with Ken and his wife. During her high school years, she moved out to Los Angeles and, at some point, found herself at Rodney Bingenheimer’s club. in Los Angeles she was treated as a freak, being a girl who wanted to play guitar. It was, for the most part, an exclusively male club at the time. There weren’t very many women in rock music (Suzi Quatro, Linda Ronstadt and Heart were the exemplaries of the women playing rock music – and while Ronstadt had a backing band, Quatro and the Wilson sisters, Ann and Nancy, of Heart all played their own instruments) and it was looked on rather oddly.
Self-styled music guru Kim Fowley took Joan’s idea to form a band and helped to get it going. Sandy West, the drummer, had approached him with a similar idea and he helped her team up with Jett. He also helped with auditions, helped write songs, helped produce and, generally, got the band off the ground and helped them to stay motivated. He manipulated the press as well, making them think he was in total control of the band, which wasn’t true. Kim Fowley was basically the American equivalent of England’s Malcolm McLaren who assembled the Sex Pistols and pretty much did the same thing that Fowley would later do himself for The Runaways.
The image for the band – black leather and tight clothing – was created, partly due to the times (the infancy stages of punk rock) and partly due to a mistake in management. It all came back to the ‘jailbait’ aspect. All the members of the band had come from good families whose parents were able to understand that a girl could be in a rock band.
They were not ‘wayward’ kids, as their image was created to suggest, and they were definitely not runaways looking for a way to survive. Their parents were all involved in the decision to attempt to make rock and roll a part of their lives and their careers. Jett was an A-student in school and, though she left to pursue a music career, had no trouble in passing her GED courses to make up for the lack of a high school diploma.
Actually, her parents were a bit apprehensive at first, being concerned about their daughter running off to join (or form) a rock band, but they were behind her decision all the way. She decided that was what she wanted to do once she arrived in California and, coupled with having seen Suzi Quatro at the age of 13, Joan Jett knew that this was what she wanted to do with her life.
Kim Fowley and the band eventually had a falling out of management decisions, which left them in a bit of a turmoil. They weren’t prepared to handle things by themselves, but they resented the fact that their image was that of being a ‘figment of his whims,’ and they began to fall apart.
Shortly thereafter, the band members ended up going their own separate ways and, after the earlier-mentioned work with The Germs and the Pistols, Jett got the idea to get another band together to do things she felt they really ought to be.
She met Ken Laguna and changed her bandmates to males because she felt that, since she had already played with an all-female band, that was something special and would always remain so. Anything else she could have done from that point forward would, she felt, be just a mockery of all that had gone before.
Gary Ryan, the bass player, told me ‘She didn’t really WANT an all-male band. [It was just that] after auditions, this [the Blackhearts] was the best thing to come out. He had been playing with a popular group in Los Angeles called Rik L Rik. The late Darby Crash of The Germs called him one day and told him that Jett was looking for a bass player to form a new band. He suggested Gary check it out. Gary was dating Germs bassist Lorna Doom at the time.
He tried to connect with Joan for two days to discuss an audition, but he didn’t succeed on the first go. Then, one day, Blackhearts guitarist Eric Ambel called him up and told him about an advert in the paper that Jett was [officially] looking for a band. Gary called the number, went to the audition, and it was, ‘Hi, how’ve you been, haven’t seen you for six months. I got in the band like that,’ he concluded. Ambel, who had been friends with Ryan for awhile – as well as having played together in the Rik L Rik band, also auditioned and was accepted for the position of guitarist.
Gary Ryan originally started his career in music playing cello in the fifth grade, switching to stand up bass and finally to electric bass in a high school jazz ensemble. He started hanging out in Hollywood, originally to see bands like X, Black Randy, The Germs, The Weirdos and, of course, The Runaways. From that point on, he said he ‘slowly worked my way in’].
Although he plays the kind of music he does and had in the past – loud, fast punk and power pop bordering on punk – and, when going to concerts enjoys the same kind of music, he normally listens to older music. ‘The only new band I really like is Adam & the Ants. I really like The Doors,’ he confessed.
His parents didn’t like what he’s doing very much, at first, but then when ‘they realised I was going to tour Holland and stuff, the kind of dug it,’ he told me. ‘They really like the [Jett] record too. It’s my mother’s favourite LP.’ He plans on sticking with the music business ‘for awhile.’ He said he’d only look about six months into the future and that’s about it.
The single, I Love Rock And Roll, was originally only released on an obscure Dutch label before eventually being released in the US. It was recorded with the Sex Pistols, Kenny Laguna produced it along with Rich Cordell, the producer on such smash hits as Tommy James & The Shondells’ Mony Mony, Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’ and I Think We’re Alone Now.
Twenty eight-year-old drummer Lee Crystal, and the other members of her band all knew her since before the Blackhearts were assembled. The rest of the band had resented the fact that journalists always went to beautiful Joan Jett for interviews to their exclusion but that feeling abated somewhat when they realised that the band is all one, not just Jett, or any other individual member. They like to think that they’re a complete band that she fronts, as opposed to it being ‘her’ band.
Jett actually recorded three songs with the Sex Pistols. I Love Rock And Roll was really originally an experiment on some radio stations and ‘the response was overwhelming.’ The other two songs they recorded were You Don’t Own Me and Don’t Abuse Me.
She was upset after the Runaways breakup because she really didn’t know what she was going to do next. The Dutch subsidiary of Phonogram Records wanted something else from her, but she didn’t know what she could do. she went to England. She had known the Pistols fom backstage appearances at a couple of Runaways shows. She thought that it would be great if they played and she produced, but she quickly changed her mind, thinking they should produce the record, and Steve Jones and Paul Cook did a brilliant job.
Rumour soon spread that Cook and Jones would join Jett’s band now the Sex Pistols were broken up. The European press picked up on the stories much more so than the American music press. Ken Laguna told me, ‘She expected lunacy in the studio, but they were very professional … unusually so. They took it seriously. It was around this time that they formed their own band, The Professionals and released a couple of singles and a pretty good album entitled I Didn’t See It Coming.’
Kenny had always told her not to talk to the press after she’d had a couple of drinks. Though she doesn’t really ‘drink’ per se, as he put it, ‘all people will have a couple of drinks at a party. A rock and roll star, or anyone in the public eye, has to be careful of the image they project. It’s like a guy might say, “I met Joan Jett and this is how she is.” She’d say “I don’t give a damn about my bad reputation”. She wrote the song Bad Reputation in the frame of mind that this is a new world and a girl can do what a guy can do. A person can do what they want and shouldn’t be condemned. The whole world is screwed up, and why should she have to be worried about the way she is? All she cares about is putting on a great show.’ Other than that, her main concern just may be that the Baltimore Orioles win.