Joan Jett and The Blackhearts Bad Reputation Nation

Volume 4 Issue 3

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Kenny Laguna Interview

Kenny Laguna talks to David Snowden about the 1979 EP

1979 was a pivotal year in Joan Jett's career. At its start, The Runaways, Joan's first group, broke up. Joan, on her own at 17, tried to figure out what came next in the underground world of Los Angeles punk, with all its excess and despair. She produced the now legendary album, G.I., for The Germs, after which the band's singer, Darby Crash, died of a drug overdose. In May, 1979, Joan met two writer-producers, Kenny Laguna and Ritchie Cordell at the Hyatt on Sunset Boulevard. Both Laguna and Cordell were veterans of the bubble gum music scene of the mid-late 60s.

1979 is a collection of seven tracks now available for the first time on Joan's label, Blackheart Records. The EP, available exclusively through the Joan Jett Fan Club, showcases Joan's toughness and street credibility and documents the origin of a partnership that has spanned 15 years, hundreds of songs, thousands of concerts, and millions of records sold.

"Even as a teenager, she was sort of a cult hero," said Kenny Laguna. "There were always legions of people outside the studio trying to get in. It remains to this day - there's always some really diehard fans following the word of Joan Jett. In that sense it was very different from what I was accustomed to. Joan was also very tough in wanting to make clear her position. She was sensitive about being treated differently because of her gender. She would always want, and have to, play on the basic track. She was very tough about where her parameters began and ended."

For Joan Jett, working with Kenny was different than her previous working relationships with people in the music industry. "Respect," Joan stated. "That's it respect. I got respect from Kenny."

Mutual respect and a love of simple, good-time beat music brought Kenny and Meryl Laguna together with Joan Jett. While The Blackhearts were touring Australia early this summer, Kenny fondly recalled his early involvement with Joan and brought us up-to-date with her current and future plans.

What is 1979 and why has Blackheart decided to release this material now?

KL: It's a bunch of quick songs that were done when Joan and I first met. The reason it is coming out now is because after years of requests from various Joan fans, we think this is something that should be available to the people who really care about Joan's whole legacy. That's the whole reason.

How did you initially get involved with this project and Joan?

KL: I was working in England at The Who's studio when Toby Mamis, who was Joan's manager at the time, called me and goes, 'Look, we really need to get some songs together for Joan Jett right away. Do you think you could create six songs within a week?' I said, 'Yeah, I could do that.' But I was undecided about doing it until Meryl said, 'You should go out and meet Joan. She's significant. I've read stuff about her and I dig her.' That's how I finally went out to meet her. To tell you the truth, I didn't know what to make of it. To me anything that's really gimmicky is hard to deal with and that was their (The Runaways') reputation. So I went to California and on the way, Ritchie (Cordell) and I started about four songs on the plane plus whatever Joan had started. When we got together, we worked real quick and didn't allow ourselves to get hung up on details. That was a good chemistry and everything was pretty direct. Inspiration only takes a moment and it was great vibes. We did the tracks at Fidelity Studios and it was pretty intense. I was working with Joan and thinking she was great. Around the second day of recording, I just decided that I really liked her and I wanted to see her do okay, so I decided to help her get a record deal. I didn't expect to get this involved, but that's the whole story.

"You Don't Know What You've Got"

KL: This was the song that I fell in love with Joan over. When I saw her sing this song, it reminded me of Darlene Love. Not that they sounded alike, it was that reckless abandonment -- the ability to just let it go. The song was included on the Bad Reputation album. I remember I started writing that one on a bus going to New Jersey to visit a singer, Spencer Barefoot. I took out my guitar and starting writing the beginning of that song. That was ages ago, and it came back again during these sessions.

"I Want You"

KL: This was a song that we created so we could record something and show how cool Joan was. We later recorded this song again [on the Notorious album] and fixed up the words so it didn't go, "I want drugs, I want booze. . ." Back in 1979, the song was reflective of the time everything was loose. It was an interesting time in rock history. When we re-recorded it, we changed the lyrics because we didn't want it being silly. It was the difference between Joan being 17 and 29. That's a big difference.

"I'll Never Get Away"

KL: I started that one by getting really drunk with Ritchie on the plane on the way out to California. It was just a ditty. Joan really liked the melody and we went with it.

"You Can't Get Me"

KL: We were trying to write a song like "Hang On Sloopy." We wanted a great song like "Twist And Shout" or "Hang On Sloopy," or "Louie, Louie." Those are some of the greatest songs in rock and roll because everybody can play those chords, but very few people can make something unique with them. When you do, it's a monster and it lasts forever because it's so basic and brilliant. It's Joan's attitude because she was directing the content of the songs.

"We're All Crazy Now"

KL: That one Ritchie and I wrote with Joan after we met at the Continental Riot House in Hollywood which is now the Hyatt on Sunset. It started with the title that Toby Mamis came up with from the Slade song, "Mama Weer All Crazee Now" Joan had covered that track on the last Runaway's album. "What Can I Do For You?"

KL: That song was a really, really old idea. I wrote that in high school when I was 16. We changed it a little bit when Joan recorded it. It was influenced by the Beatles, "Hold Me Tight." It was my attempt to try and rewrite that song.

"You Can't Get Me" (Electric Version)

KL: I think we were trying to get the stuff into a movie or something so we were giving the song different looks.

What else is going on with The Blackhearts?

KL: The Evil Stig release is going to be very big for us. There's also a couple of compilation albums concerning women's issues that are coming out on Epic and 550 Music (Home Alive and Spirit of '73: Rock For Choice). Everyone should enjoy them when they see them, but right now if everybody wants to help us, we have to try and make Evil Stig happen. We need to torture all the local radio stations that play that kind of music. We think it's an awesome record - something unusual.

The profits from the sale of the Evil Stig record will go toward the investigation fund to find Mia Zapata's killer?

KL: We don't consider this charity, because it's not. This is about a quest for justice and we're not alone in it. This is Joan's unique way of contributing. When Kurt Cobain was alive, Nirvana did a benefit concert that started the fund. I heard from the guys at Sony that Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam is very into this and commended Joan on 180 radio stations for helping The Gits try and find the killer. America's Most Wanted jumped on it as well. [Joan appeared on the America's Most Wanted segment about the murder of Mia Zapata on July 8, 1995. Zapata's killer was eventually found and convicted in 2004].

Will there be any more Evil Stig tour dates?

KL: Yes, we're already setting it up. If the record does well, there will be a whole tour with The Blackhearts and The Gits' new band, The Dancing French Liberals. It'll be a whole thing -- an old fashioned kind of trip where different combos are on stage at different times. That's our goal. If the record goes well, we hope to see this happen in the middle of October.

How's work progressing on the next Blackhearts album?

KL: We have 10 songs done, eight we did with Bob Rock. It's a really amazing work-in-progress. We will probably get 20 done before we cut it done to 11 or 12. It's the most unbelievable songs. That's all I can say. It's very intense and very consistent. It's very well produced and the chemistry between Bob, the band, Jim Vallance and myself is just great.

Is Joan the primary writer on the new material?

KL: Yeah.

When do you expect the album to be complete?

KL: I never really expect. I'm promising Warner by the end of the year. I'm hoping I'm telling the truth. Some times things happen. This record will not come out until I am absolutely sure that we're not going to have a problem breaking through on radio. Joan has hits only when we have unstoppable records. It's just a fact of life and we know how to do it. Look at the history - "I Love Rock 'N Roll" was an unstoppable record. They used to tell us that the research on Joan was really bad during that record. But the fans were calling in so intensely for that record that it was a number one hit! It was an unstoppable record. Then after we got cold, there was "Light Of Day." "Light Of Day" was written by Bruce Springsteen at the height of his career with Born In The USA at the top of the charts. Michael J. Fox was in the video at the height of his career, right after Back To The Future. Plus we had CBS very excited over Joan and two movie companies were working on it. You add all that up and Joan had every one of her videos on MTV at the time. MTV played the shit out of it, so radio had to come onboard with that project. The next single after that was "I Hate Myself For Lovin' You." Again, radio passed on it. The album died and Joan and I had to lease some of the songs to get the money to hire promotion people because the record label had given up at that point. We brought that record back and after 26 weeks it was still on the charts. That was very unusual especially at that point. It took six months to break the record, but the reason was the fans were calling. We just need to have one of those moments.

How would you describe the new material in comparison to Pure And Simple?

KL: Pure And Simple had two faces - that was done with intent. That particular record had its very hard-core side like "Spinster." and it also had the softest pop edge in the world of Joan Jett. That was the two faces of that record. Now this record to my ears is more like PURE ROCK AND ROLL. It has the vibe. I'm in no way saying that we're completely there yet, or that it's the greatest album in the history of rock and roll! But it's that kind of vibe. I hope that makes sense. It's not boogie, it's not metal - just PURE ROCK AND ROLL!

Now that the band has returned from Australia, will they continue recording in the next few weeks?

KL: We're always trying to figure out how to go forward. Some times something gets a little stale and it's time for a break and you have to deal with it.

Have there been any more television or movie offers?

KL: We would do something if it was a good thing and it fit into the schedule. There's a comedy, either Ellen or Cybill, that Joan had the opportunity to do. We thought that would be a real cool thing to do, but unfortunately, we were recording with Bob Rock and couldn't do it. Recording is a serious commitment and we couldn't do the show without fucking up everyone else's schedule, so we passed. Those opportunities will keep coming and we'll do one or two. We get calls all the time. It just never seems to be the thing we want to do at the time we can do it. I'll tell you something about Joan: her priority is definitely ROCKING! The film people demand priority and when we get the right thing, that will be the top priority. We've never had that one top priority type call at the time when she could do it. If we're committed to something or in the middle of a tour; for instance, Joan and the band just did eight weeks in Australia, she couldn't have cancelled that tour just to do a film. Although a film did come up - it was a movie for Tales From The Crypt. It might have been a cool thing to do.

What's the future hold for Joan's career?

KL: Besides promoting the Evil Stig record, writing songs for the next Blackheart release. That's a big schedule already. Plus we're promoting a few acts on the Blackheart label like Red Henry and I'm still trying to figure out how to make The Characters' song, "Maryann" at hit. We might take a couple of other bands and put them out this fall.

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