Joan Jett and The Blackhearts Bad Reputation Nation

Volume 4 Issue 1

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Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
Thommy Price Interview
Thommy Price has been a member of The Blackhearts for more than 8 years. "It's great being in The Blackhearts!" stated Thommy. "I feel like Keith Moon did in The Who. It's that kind of feeling and that kind of music. I've learned over the years playing with The Blackhearts that there are four people contributing to the band and that you can lean on each other as opposed to having to do everything yourself."

Where and when were you born?

TP: I was born in Brooklyn, New York in December of 1956.

What kind of upbringing did you have?

TP: I grew up in a large Italian family with lots of cousins who played instruments. I got into music really young when I used to watch my cousin's band play at the local places in Brooklyn that my father or brother would take me. I started listening to music when I was five or six years old and started playing when I was nine. There was a music store that would sponsor groups in the Bayridge area of Brooklyn. They would take students out of each class and put together groups. They started a group when I was nine called The Tablets. That was the first band I was in. We used to play on Sunday afternoons at The 802 Club. That's the club where they filmed "Saturday Night Fever." Those Sunday afternoon shows were sponsored by the music store. We used to open for an all-girl band called The Butterflies.

Was it your family's influence that sparked your interest in music?

TP: I was always around music. My father played piano and my brother was a big music fan who was always playing records. I was around music a lot and I loved it. It's all I've ever wanted to do.

When did you get your first big break?

TP: When I was about 20 years old with Jimmy Lovine. He's a producer who was managing a group at the time called Flame. I went and auditioned for them and Jimmy heard me. The next minute I was in the studio with them making a record. That was my first recording experience and the beginning of a long and very successful career for Jimmy Lovine, which helped me out because he used me on other records after that.

How did you hook up with The Blackhearts?

TP: I've known Kenny Laguna for years and I've always loved Joan's music. I always wanted to get involved but she had a drummer. When the spot became available, Kenny called me and I ran to the opportunity.

What made The Blackhearts special to give up a successful recording and touring career with other bands?

TP: I've always wanted to be a part of a band. I hate being a hired gun. I've played on everybody's records from Ronnie Wood to Roger Daltrey and I've always just been a hired gun. I played with Joan on some of the music for the Light Of Day soundtrack and after that I did the Good Music album with her, but I still wasn't in the band. I remember once I had the opportunity to go and see The Blackhearts at Radio City Music Hall. I watched the band from the front and I could see they were a tight unit with a lot of harmony. They looked like a band -- every move the guitar player made, the bass player moved with him. It was beautiful and sounded unbelievable. At that point I said to myself, 'I want to be in this fuckin' band!' And here I am.

You've been with the band for many years, what's kept you from moving on to other projects?

TP: Because, as I've said, I feel like I'm part of a group. In fact, this time around, I got to write with Joan and I have some songs on the new album. Things are starting to happen a little bit more for me -- writing-wise.

What are some of the highlights of your career?

TP: Well, as I mentioned, I recorded with Ronnie Wood and that was a thrill for me to be in the studio with him. I also got to jam with him and Keith Richards while the Stones were doing the Dirty Work album. That was a big thrill for me and Jimmy Page was also in the studio. I'm the biggest Rolling Stones fan in the world. They're my favorite band. I'm hoping we can do some dates with them after our new video is out. We filmed some stuff this morning for it and Joan and I were just out at the Golden Gate Bridge. I'm hoping once this video is complete and we have a single out, that we'll start selling some more records. At that point, I think it would be great if we could do some dates with the Stones.

You mentioned a new Blackhearts' video, is that the new clip for "Eye To Eye?"

TP: Yeah, we were on location walking around the city (San Francisco) and taking some shots. "Eye To Eye" is the first single from Pure and Simple. It's just the band walking around the city. Joan and I did some stuff up near the Golden Gate Bridge, plus Joan did some close-ups in Los Angeles the other day. I thing it's going to be cool.

Getting back, what are some other highlights of your career.

TP: Well, I used to play with Billy Idol for a long time and that was a gas. I love Billy's music and working with him and Steve Stevens was incredible. I did the Rebel Yell and Whiplash Smile albums and tours. That was a big part of my life and it opened a lot of doors for me. After that I got to work with a lot of people whom I never dreamed I'd work with. I also got to do my own album. I recorded one album for Epic Records in 1988 with Kasim Sulton, the old bass player from The Blackhearts. Kasim and I put a record out and in my standards it didn't do really well, but it was a great thing to do. I got to write, sing and play a lot of stuff on my album. It was a good experience. I brought in a lot of people, Joan and Billy sang some background on it with me. It was fun. It was called Price/Sulton. It did pretty well overseas where we sold some records and got to shoot two videos. One of the videos was a clip for the movie, The All Nighter. It was pretty cool because I got to front my own band. I hired another drummer and when we played we had two sets of drums. I also got to play a little guitar. That was definitely a highlight in my life.

What's it like for you to play with Joan Jett?

TP: It's great!! She's absolutely one of the best rhythm guitarists in the business. From a drummer's point of view, you have to play with the rhythm section and the rhythm guitar player is really important. Joan is a real perfectionist. If she doesn't get it right the first time, she will work herself to death until she does. She's a real trooper, a great musician and a great person. She's like a sister to me. I've known her for a long time and I love her. She's a very good person.

What's in the future for The Blackhearts?

TP: Hopefully we'll have a nice long tour. We're going overseas to do a tour of Southeast Asia. Hopefully by the time we come back our record will start to get some action and airplay. The video for "Eye To Eye" that we're shooting now will be out and we hope to have a hit record this year. We want to stay on the road. We have an incredible band - Kenny Aaronson is playing bass and Tony Bruno on guitar. It's an amazing band. We've been doing some incredible shows the last few weeks. The tour is very young right now, we've only been on the road a few weeks and we have a long while to go.

Kenny Aaronson Interview

Hall & Oates, Leslie West, Rick Derringer, Edgar Winter, Billy Squier, Foghat, HSAS (Sammy Hagar, Neil Schon, Kenny Aaronson & Michael Shrieve), Brian Setzer, Billy Idol, Bob Dylan, Dave Edmunds, Nick Taylor and Joan Jett all have one thing in common: Kenny Aaronson. Kenny made the rounds in the rock 'n' roll circles before landing the bass spot with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. He learned of the vacant position through Thommy Price. "I felt like it was time to get back into a band. I liked doing records, but I still love live performances and I like playing with Thommy," recalled Kenny. "So I went down and played with Joan and she was fine with it. So I started working with Joan and it's been three years already. It's went by really quick."

Where were you born and raised?

KA: I was born on April 14, 1953 in Brooklyn, New York. I was raised in a Jewish, middle-class family.

When did you first get interested in music?

KA: I was always interested in music. I have an older brother who was also a musician, so from a very early age, I was exposed to music. A lot of his friends, who were also older that me, were listening to early rock and roll and I was around it all the time. I grew up listening to that, the radio and American Bandstand. As I got a little older, I started listening to Motown and Phil Spector records. I started out as a drummer because I loved drums and it was the instrument my brother played. Drums and bass are what I always cued into, listened to and heard. I started playing drums when I was eleven and became interested in bass when I saw a picture of and electric bass. I fell in love with the way it looked. My parents bought me a bass when I was 14, but I didn't start playing it until I was 15.

Did you take any formal music lessons?

KA: I would consider myself self-taught, although I did study on and off with different people but never for very long. I would consider myself self-taught because I figured everything out for myself and I still do to this day.

Was there any reason you didn't pursue bass lessons?

KA: Anytime I took lessons, my playing was always ahead of what they were teaching, so I never had the patience to start at the beginning. I was already playing by ear and for me to sit there and learn how to read music at a very slow pace was difficult. I would just get bored with the lessons and stop.

When did your first break happen?

KA: Almost from the beginning I fell into bands and learned a lot of stuff from the musicians I was around. I was in a band called Dust, which was a three-piece hard rock band from Brooklyn, New York. I had been in the band for quite a few years and eventually through perseverance, we got signed by Neil Bogart to his first record label. We were his first experiment with a real rock and roll band; this was before he found Kiss and Casablanca Records. We didn't sell records, but to this day, the records are still being bootlegged and sold. People bring them for me to sign all the time. It's a real cult thing. We were fairly advanced for the time in terms of what we were doing. The second band I played in professionally was a group called Stories. We had a number one hit with "Brother Louie." From then on, I played with nothing but name people. After Stories it was Hall & Oates in 1974, then Leslie West, Rick Derringer, Edgar Winter and on and on. In the eighties I played with Billy Squier, Foghat, I did a record with Sammy Hagar, Neil Schon and Michael Shrieve called HSAS. After that I did Brian Setzer's solo album when he left the Stray Cats, then Billy Idol, Bob Dylan, Dave Edmunds, Nick Taylor and now Joan. I've done tons of stuff over the years, from one thing to the next.

How did you end up joining The Blackhearts?

KA: I ended up with Joan because a few years back, Thommy Price and I were doing a record together. I had been doing a lot more session work at the time and I had a feeling that the session thing was going to slow down. Thommy mentioned that The Blackhearts were going through a lot of different bass players and he was getting frustrated because he wanted someone who was going to be in the band for awhile. Thommy's always been one of my favorite drummers and I believe I've always been one of his favorite bass players along with Kasim Sulton who was in The Blackhearts before me. As I said, Thommy was frustrated about all the changes and he really wanted someone to be in the band for a while, so he asked me. I felt like it was time to get back into a band. I liked doing records, but I love live performances and I like playing with Thommy. I wasn't that familiar with Joan's records, but part of the attraction for me was playing with Thommy. I knew the hits but I'd never met Joan. I went down and played with Joan and she was fine with it. So I started working with Joan and it's been three years already. It's went by really quick. I just loved playing with Thommy. Thommy and I have a thing where we're so tight together that we could be in two different parts of the country and still be able to play together. I know what he's going to play even before he plays it.

Three years is a long time considering all the artists you've played with and albums you've recorded. What has made you stay with The Blackhearts?

KA: Because I really like the music and I think Joan is a real fuckin' rock 'n roll legend. I have a lot of respect for her plus I love playing with Thommy. The only thing I was hoping that would come out, which finally did, was that I would do a record with Joan so I could start playing my own bass lines. I think the record came out great and I love it and everything that I played on it. Now it's even more enjoyable because I'm playing my own stuff. Even though I've done my share of recording over the years, I've always usually been the guy that ended up touring with the band and not doing the record. I was always playing someone else's bass lines and even with Joan, I've always kept thinking, 'Jesus, this should have been played this way. This is what I would have done or this is what really should have been in the song.' Joan has allowed a little bit of freedom, but not too much and I respect her for that. She wants the songs to be played the way they were and that's fine with me. I've taken a few liberties here and there and she's been fine with that. I was really happy to finally get to do this record. It was a long wait because she was getting off her old label and it took a little while for the Warner Brothers thing to happen. It was a lot of waiting for me because I really wanted to do an album with her. I'm really happy that it finally happened.

Looking back on your career as a whole with all the things you've done, what are some of your fondest memories?

KA: There are two things off the top of my head: back in 1977 when I was playing with Rick Derringer, we were second on the bill to Led Zeppelin for two days in Oakland, California for Bill Graham's "Day On The Green" show. We didn't open the show, we were second on the bill to them. At the time, Led Zeppelin was very heavily influential on my playing and the music that I was into. That was pretty amazing for two days in a row, plus we got two or three encores as well. Being on the same stage with those guys was pretty wild, that is a highlight that I will always remember. Even earlier than that, at the Fillmore East I went to go see The Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1968 when he was at his peak. I went with two of my best friends, one of which was the guitar player in Dust. Jimi broke his guitar in half and we ran out with both halves of his guitar. The guitar player from Dust installed the pick-ups on his own guitar and we used it in Dust. A later highlight was from playing with Bob Dylan when I got the Rolling Stone Critic's award for Best Bass Player of the Year. That was exciting because I never won any kind of award like that. I'm never mentioned in music polls because they generally reflect the popular band at the time. So I've always been ignored as a bass player in the polls all the years that I've been around and when I got the Rolling Stone award, I was really proud of that. Not saying that it means I'm the best in the world, because I know that I'm not, but the fact that I finally got some recognition particularly for work with Bob, was a really exciting thing for me.

What's it like to work with Joan Jett?

KA: I love playing with Joan. I feel like I'm playing with a real legend and I've played with many legends. It's like another proud notch on my gun. I think Joan is a survivor and a very talented person. I think she embodies true rock and roll attitude as much as Keith Richards does. I like Joan because I know she truly believes in the things that she's into. She stands by her beliefs and I think that's a great thing. Actually, I think she's a really good role model. Being around her and hearing about the things she talks about I know that she's very passionate about certain things, whether it's things about the women's movement, pro choice or whatever. Even if I don't agree with her, I respect the fact that she really believes in it and stands up for it. She's a no bullshit artist, Joan is the real deal. I pride myself on always having worked with people that are like that. I put Joan up there with all the people that I respect the most that I've ever worked with.

So have you found a good home with The Blackhearts for awhile?

KA: I hope so. I don't see why not. It's always been hard for me to find a place to stay around for a long time -- either the band breaks up or things don't work out for one reason or another. I've always been one to believe in real rock and roll. To me, real rock and roll is a band that sticks together and goes through the bullshit -- the good times and getting through the bad times -- bands who stay together and make great music. I've had a problem finding that kind of situation, but I've been with Joan for three years and it doesn't seem like I've actually been here this long. I hope I'm here for another three years, three albums and more. I want to stick around and contribute as much as I can.

You've just returned from the band shooting a video for "Eye To Eye" earlier today.

KA: Yeah, I've done some video work with the band before but it hasn't been anything that's been out there much, so I'm hoping this is the start of something really big for everybody. What we did today was Joan with the band walking around the streets of San Francisco. I know they did some stuff with Joan in Los Angeles, but today they shuttled us around the city doing a lot of street shoots with us as a group walking and some individual things on a pedestrian island in the middle of an avenue. We were just getting some great background shots of San Francisco. It was nice. It was a beautiful day to do it and I love the city.

What's the future look like for the band?

KA: All I can tell you is that I really hope that things go well with this record because I think it's great. I hope everybody does their job so Joan is back where she should be. Joan deserves to be up there and I think she could be bigger that she has ever been. I wasn't there when she was big in the past, but I know she's got a lot of loyal fans out there. I would like to see Joan build up a bigger audience and be where she belongs and I want to be there with her. I think things are looking very good although I don't really get involved with the business stuff. I don't know exactly what they have planned, but I do know that they are going to be pushing the single soon and she's getting more and more airplay. They're booking a lot of dates and we're going overseas soon. What I would like to see is this album take off while we're out on the road playing and making this grow into something really big. I'm feeling really good about it. Over the last few weeks coming across the country up into the northwest, there's definitely been a snowballing effect that I've picked up on -- more and more people are coming to the shows, more shows are being sold-out and you can see the fans singing the words to all the new songs. The fans are yelling out and requesting songs from the new record. It's really exciting. I haven't seen this in a while with anybody I've been with, so I'm real excited about it because I feel like I'm part of an up-an-coming thing.

Do you have a message for the fans:

KA: Just come out and see Joan! That's it -- be there and support her and make a lot of noise.
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