Thanks to the release to DVD of The Runaways film about the all-girl rock band, a new audience is being introduced its executive producer and the band’s co-founding member Joan Jett. Jett is a rock n’ roll icon that has influenced the music business, fashion and sound since the mid-1970s and continues to stay fresh and culturally relevant in rock n’ roll.
Jett started rockin’ early; she started playing guitar at the age of 13, “My parents got me a Sears Silvertone for Christmas.” Jett recalls, “The first records I remember really inspiring me to play guitar were T. Rex ‘Bang a Gong’ and Black Sabbath ‘Iron Man’ and the first New York Dolls’ record.1” From that point on, Jett started perfecting her original approach to playing the electric guitar which portrays a hard-edged, down-stroke rhythm. In the movie adaptation of band-mate Cherie Currie’s book, Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway, not only is Jett’s passion for rock n’ roll music depicted by actress Kristen Stewart (from the mega-hit Twilight series), Stewart is stylized in Jett’s still trendy punk look. Jett was still a teenager when she co-founded the band and she continued to develop her style. The Runaways was short lived, lasting from 1975 to 1979. Even with the band’s success, Jett continually faced hardcore skepticism because in the 1970s, there were very few hard-rockin’ females. Despite all this negative hype, now in 2010, The Runaways best-known songs “Cherry Bomb,” “Queens of Noise,” “Rock n’ Roll,” “Neon Angels (On the Road to Ruin)” and “Born to Be Bad” are still being played on the airwaves and are now documented on film and DVD.
Jett overcame the skepticism of the 1970s. However, it was not her tight sexy clothing that kept her successful. Her success is due to her music, her playing style and the tone of her electric guitar; a sound so unique that Gibson released the second edition of Jett’s signature guitar, a black Melody Maker. According to Gibson, Jett says, “I got my Melody Maker in 1977.” In the late 1970s and early 80s, Jett played a white Melody Maker and in time, it was covered with stickers, “It was light and it sounded great. It was the guitar I had in The Runaways, and then played on all my hits, like ‘I Love Rock N’ Roll’ and ‘Bad Reputation’ and ‘Do You Wanna Touch Me.’ It’s my baby. ” Gibson even has a model with simulated rock n’ roll gashes, however you’ll have to supply your stickers.
With her signature Melody Makers, Jett has won recognition for her astonishing guitar playing. In 2008, Jett was named by ELLE magazine to be one of the12 Greatest Female Electric Guitarists; in 2006, she was inducted into The Long Island Music Hall of Fame and in 2003, Jett was listing amongst Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Jett formed Blackheart Records with producer Kenny Laguna in the 1980s and has continued to churned out hit after hit with her hard-rockin’ style, hits including “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll,” “Crimson and Clover” and “ACDC.” She has perfected her electric guitar style and continues to tour and record with her band the Blackhearts.
Jett has been revolutionizing music for decades: from co-founding The Runaways, the premier all-girl punk band, to her sexy punk clothing that never goes out of fashion. Jett has proven time and again to be highly influential to rock n’ roll and has changed the music business for the female rock musician. But most important, her electric guitar playing remains fresh and culturally relevant and will always stimulate the core rock n’ roll senses.
Photos by: Z. McCarthy, from Joan Jett and the Blackhearts at Seminole Casino, Coconut Creek, Florida, 2010