We love rock n roll, and no one rocks harder than Joan Jett. After finding fame with the Runaways, Joan Jett struck out with her own band, the Blackhearts, scoring a string of hits that sealed her place in the rock pantheon. As a musician, songwriter, activist, and entrepreneur, Jett has been in inspiration to girls (and boys) who rock all around the world.
As she enters her sixth decade in the music industry, Jett shows no sings of slowing—or quieting—down. We don’t give a darn about her bad reputation: here are 45 black-hearted facts about Joan Jett.
Born Joan Larkin, the singer took the name Joan Jett after her parents’ divorce. Jett was actually her mother’s maiden name. She legally changed her name to Joan Jett in the 1980s.
Jett was born in Pennsylvania and spent her early childhood in Maryland. Her parents moved to West Covina, California while she was in high school.
Jett was given her first guitar at the age of 13. When her guitar teacher insisted on teaching her folk songs, she quit taking lessons and began teaching herself. Jett must have been a pretty good teacher: in 2007, Rolling Stone magazine named her one of the top 100 rock n roll guitarists of all time.
Jett also took voice lessons. Her teacher, a professional opera singer, threw her out because of her punky clothes.
While still in high school, Jett began hanging out at Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco, a rock club on the Sunset Strip that specialized in the glam rock and protopunk Jett adored. The English Disco was a popular hangout for artists like Iggy Pop or the Gun Club, but also for underage girls: Runaways manager Kim Fowley later remarked the most popular drink at the English Disco was cherry cola.
Another regular of the English Disco was Sandy West, a young aspiring drummer. When she expressed interest in starting a band to a local producer, songwriter, and promoter named Kim Fowley, Fowley gave her Jett’s phone number. West and Jett began jamming and writing music together shortly thereafter.
Once they had built a repertoire, West and Jett invited Fowley over to hear what they had come up with. Fowley immediately began helping them find musicians to fill out the band. Though he developed a reputation as an exploitative Svengali figure, Fowley acknowledges that the band was not his idea, nor did he put the band together.
Jett and West were soon joined by bassist Jackie Fox, guitarist Lita Ford, and keyboardist Cherie Currie—another English Disco regular, with whom Jett shared vocal duty. The Runaways were signed to Mercury Records and released their self-titled, Fowley-produced debut album in 1976.
The girls in the Runaways all tried to model themselves on one of their rock n roll heroes. Jett chose Suzi Quatro, a singer and bass player best known for her song "Can the Can," and for playing rocker Leather Tuscadero on the TV show Happy Days.
Curie left the band in 1977, leaving Jett to handle the vocals alone. The Runaways recorded two more records with Jett as the sole frontwoman, Waitin’ for the Night and And Now… the Runaways.
Jett was on tour with the Runaways in England and booked to appear on a variety show hosted by the Arrows. It was here that she first heard them perform what would become her biggest solo hit, "I Love Rock n Roll".
The Runaways toured the world as an opening act for bigger bands like Cheap Trick and Ramones. While they were not especially popular at home, they found a devoted audience in Japan, where they outsold mega-groups like Kiss and ABBA. Their live album, recorded at Tokyo’s Wel City concert-hall, was scheduled only for release in Asia and Australia, but later became one of the most imported albums in the US.
As a member of the Runaways, Jett was instantly recognizable by her red leather jumpsuit. Jett would later wear the jumpsuit in the video for her solo hit "I Love Rock n Roll," but no one could tell because the video was shot in black and white.
The Runaways built a rabid cult following, and they’re still recognized as an influential part of California’s punk scene. But they failed to break through both commercially and critically. Straining under commercial failure, critical disapproval, and creative differences, the band broke up on New Year’s Eve, 1978.
After the Runaways broke up, Fowley put together the Orchids, another all-girl hard rock band featuring one-time Runaways bassist Laurie McAllister.
In 1979, a group of Runaways fans asked Joan Jett if she would produce their album. The band was called the Germs, and their only album, the Jett-produced GI, became a seminal album in the development of the Bay Area punk scene.
A 2007 biopic about the Germs called What We Do Is Secret included Joan Jett in a small role. She was played by Anna Waronker.
Jett would play a much bigger part in the 2010 biopic of the Runaways. She was played by Kristen Stewart, who spent time shadowing Jett in preparation for the role, trying to learn her mannerisms and performance style.
Jett praised Stewart’s singing, claiming that she couldn’t tell the difference between her voice and Stewart’s. But while Stewart did learn to play the Runaway’s songs on guitar, Jett stepped in to handle the guitar parts on the soundtrack.
Ironically, it was a movie about the Runaways that paved the way for Jett’s solo career: The Runaways were contractually obligated to perform in a movie about their life, but broke up prior to filming. Jett, along with three actresses standing in as her Runaways bandmates, starred in We’re All Crazee Now! Jett developed the music for the film with Eddie Laguna, the former guitarist for the Shondells, who would become Jett’s long-time collaborator.
Following the breakup of the Runaways, Jett went to England to concentrate on putting together a solo album. While there, she recorded a number of tracks with Steve Jones and Paul Cook, including an early version of "I Love Rock ’n’ Roll". When she returned to the US, Joan recorded further tracks with Clem Burke and Frank Infante.
Burke and Infante were the drummer and bassist, respectively, of new wave group Blondie.
Jett also get some help from legendary British rockers The Who. Laguna was friends with the band’s manager, and the band gave Jett a hand by letting her use their recording studio under a very chill "pay us when you can" arrangement. Jett returned the favor in 2015, serving as an opening act for the Who’s 50th anniversary tour.
Jett did put together her own band The Blackhearts, featuring Ricky Byrd, Gary Ryan, and Lee Crystal, in time for her first album’s release. Most of the tracks on that album, however, were played by a band called the Roll Ups.
Jett brought her record to 23 different record labels. They all turned her down.
Undeterred by the lack of studio support for her solo work, Jett founded her own record label, Blackheart Records, in 1980. She became the first woman to own and operate her own independent label.
While Jett used her label to release her own music, as well as that of like-minded punk bands, Blackheart Records was home to a diverse variety of artists, among them hip hop pioneer Big Daddy Kane and thrashers Metal Church.
"I Love Rock ’n’ Roll" became a massive hit, reaching Number 1 on the Billboard charts and eventually being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. But it was originally released as a B-side to Jett’s cover of the Lesley Gore song, "You Don’t Own Me".
The first copies of Jett’s solo album were sold after her concerts out of Eddie Laguna’s trunk.
Encouraged by the strength of the album's singles, Jett’s solo debut was picked up for re-release by Boardwalk Records. Boardwalk changed the name of the album from Joan Jett to Bad Reputation, to capitalize on the single’s success. Jett and Laguna were annoyed by the change.
Despite her frustration about the title change, Jett says "Bad Reputation" is her favorite of all the songs she has recorded. The song (a Joan Jett original), was named the 29th best hard rock song of all time by VH1. It was later used as the theme song for the TV show Freaks and Geeks.
Jett’s next album, titled I Love Rock ’n Roll was released in December 1981. In light of it’s seasonal release, the album ends with a rendition of the Christmas carol "Little Drummer Boy".
In 1988, Jett released the single "I Hate Myself for Loving You," co-written with Desmond Child and featuring a guitar solo from former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor. Her first top ten hit in six years, it actually spent more weeks on the chart than "I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll". The song re-entered the Billboard charts in 2011.
In the late 80s and early 90s, a new wave of feminist punk rockers embraced Jett as a pioneer and role model. Riot grrrl bands like L7, Babes in Toyland, and Bikini Kill all cited her as an influence. Jett signed many Riot grrrl bands to Blackheart Records, and produced Bikini Kill’s second album.
2004 saw the release of Edgeplay: A Film About the Runaways. Anticipating the documentary would focus on the interpersonal conflicts between the band members rather than the music, Jett refused to participate or to allow any of her songs to be used in the documentary.
Though an accomplished songwriter, Jett has had a lot of success putting her own stamp on other writers’ songs. In addition to scoring a huge hit with her rendition of the Arrows’ "I Love Rock and Roll," Jett has covered artists as disparate as Sly and the Family Stone, Tommy James and the Shondells, and Bruce Springsteen.
A vegetarian since the 1990s, Jett is an active animal rights advocate and a spokesperson for PETA.
Jett is a big sports fan, and the feeling is mutual. Jett was personally invited by Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. to sing the national anthem at the game where he tied Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played.
Jett’s iconic style—both musical and visual—has made her an easy object of parody and tribute. A character based on Jett, named Tess Turbo, appears in the comic strip Bloom County, and "Weird" Al Yankovic paid homage to Jett’s biggest hit with his song "I Love Rocky Road".
More than 40 years since she first made her mark as a member of the Runaways, Joan Jett is still going strong with the Blackhearts. Their most recent album, Unvarnished, was released in 2013, and reached the Billboard Top 50.
In 2014, Joan Jett joined the surviving members of Nirvana onstage for a performance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, standing in for deceased frontman Kurt Cobain. The performance was part of Nirvana’s induction ceremony to the hall.
The following year, Jett was given her own welcome into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Joan Jett and the Black Hearts joined Green Day, Bill Withers, Lou Reed, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band as 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees.
When The Runaways were still together, Fowley would often invite men into the rehearsal space to shout and throw things at the band while they practiced. Though it sounds unpleasant, Joan says these "heckling drills" really helped her get over her shyness and stage fright.
The rock star had what she referred to as the "Decade of Death," where many of her loved ones passed on. In particular, she lost her father in 2007, with her mother following two years later. As she said "I lost a lot: companion animals, friends, both my parents. I was very close to them".
Joan's father never liked her forays into music as a child, and didn't like rock and roll music in the slightest. However, this didn't stop him from supporting his daughter. As she recalled, "My father, who hated rock & roll, put up with it," even helping buy her first guitar. Because of this, she confessed that losing her parents was particularly heartbreaking.
As she said, "losing my parents was big, and I think it translated to the music in songs like ‘Fragile,’ which is about life being fragile, love being fragile, how easy it is to break hearts".
One of the most infamous moments to happen in the English Disco, the club that Joan frequented as a child, was when rock star Iggy Pop accidentally sliced himself when he fell on a glass. The Disco crowd, always ready for a riot, loved the move, and Iggy ended up working it into the show.
My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.
Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.
Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.
Want to tell us to write facts on a topic? We’re always looking for your input! Please reach out to us to let us know what you’re interested in reading. Your suggestions can be as general or specific as you like, from “Life” to “Compact Cars and Trucks” to “A Subspecies of Capybara Called Hydrochoerus Isthmius.” We’ll get our writers on it because we want to create articles on the topics you’re interested in. Please submit feedback to email@example.com. Thanks for your time!
Do you question the accuracy of a fact you just read? At Factinate, we’re dedicated to getting things right. Our credibility is the turbo-charged engine of our success. We want our readers to trust us. Our editors are instructed to fact check thoroughly, including finding at least three references for each fact. However, despite our best efforts, we sometimes miss the mark. When we do, we depend on our loyal, helpful readers to point out how we can do better. Please let us know if a fact we’ve published is inaccurate (or even if you just suspect it’s inaccurate) by reaching out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for your help!
The Factinate team
If you like humaverse you may also consider subscribing to these newsletters: