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Profile of Female Rock Icon & '80s Solo Artist Joan Jett

By

Joan Jett
Archive Photos/Getty Images

Born:

Joan Marie Larkin on September 22, 1958 in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania

Early Years:

Jett grew up on the East Coast near Philadelphia but headed for Los Angeles at the age of 15 to pursue a music career. She didn't have to wait very long, as impresario Kim Fowley masterminded a rebellious all-girl rock and roll group, christened the Runaways, with Jett a core songwriting contributor. Despite the novelty of the band's prefabricated origins, Jett joined bandmates Cherie Currie, Lita Ford, Sandy West and Jackie Fox in forging a fierce live sound that attracted smashing success almost everywhere but the group's native U.S. By 1979 the band had fizzled, and Jett set her sights on a hard-fought solo career.

Grass Roots "Overnight" Success:

After a stint in 1979 recording with Paul Cook and Steve Jones of Sex Pistols fame, Jett met up with producer and songwriter Kenny Laguna, who helped her get into the studio and record tracks that would appear on a self-produced, self-distributed 1980 debut LP. The album generated plenty of buzz but was able to make a significant commercial impact only when Jett formed her long-time backing band, the Blackhearts, and got a contract with a larger label. Re-released as Bad Reputation in 1981, the record met with considerable American success, and Jett hit the road with her bandmates, all veterans of the L.A. punk scene.

Joan Jett - A Raw, Fresh '80s Star:

At the advent of the MTV age, Jett emerged to help add diversity to the often glitzy, image-driven pop music scene. Along with fellow female rockers like Pat Benatar, Jett breathed some much-needed fresh air into the music world, and her sophomore release, I Love Rock 'n Roll, reaped the reward of becoming one of 1982's top-selling records. The title track, a cover of an Arrows tune that has since become a staple of arena rock and sports arena playlists, became an iconic No. 1 pop hit, and its momentum largely sustained Jett through the rest of the decade as a commercial threat to be reckoned with.

After a Lull, Legendary Status Soon Follows:

Jett and the Blackhearts went on to release four more studio albums during the '80s, placing two in the U.S. Top 20. Although 1988's "I Hate Myself for Loving You" would be Jett's only other Top 10 pop hit, her relevance as an artist burned strong even if it seemed dormant at times. The '90s witnessed further solo work but, more importantly, a rising legacy as one of rock's most authentic and influential performers. The Riot Grrrl movement credited Jett for years of pioneering work, and she has persisted as a multi-faceted performer in the new millennium.

Joan Jett Factoids:

  • Made an acclaimed debut film performance in the 1987 film Light of Day, for which she also recorded the soundtrack's title track, penned by Bruce Springsteen especially for her.
  • Appeared memorably on the Vans Warped tour in 2006, supporting her most recent original album, Sinner, released that same year.
  • Will soon become a major feature film character in the upcoming Hollywood biopic The Runaways. Teen-age Twilight star and frequent indie film actress Kristen Stewart is set to portray Jett alongside Dakota Fanning as Currie. The film is scheduled for a 2010 release.
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