Joan Jett and The Blackhearts Bad Reputation Nation

Album Press Kit, 1983

The following is the original text and photos from Blackheart Record's Press Kit for "Album" sent to media outlets in 1983:

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Album

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
"A fiery ball of fighting energy, exploding atoms all over the stage and recording studio...it's unrelenting rock, pedal to the metal from first note to last." - Memphis Press Scimitar

"Jett has become a symbol of whatever optimism is left in this country's youth." - The Record

Late in December 1982, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts finally came off the road after a solid 2 1/2 years of worldwide touring, with plans to take a well-deserved rest and to record their new MCA LP ALBUM. Says Jett of the group's third LP, "You won't hear a lot of echoes and overdubs on the LP. I wanted the record to be very basic sounding. We're a rock and roll band and that's how I wanted it to sound."

But to say The Blackhearts are just a rock and roll band is a bit of an understatement. Through talent, energy and sheer determination, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts have overcome every obstacle strewn in their path on the way to becoming a phenomenon. When Joan Jett's first album BAD REPUTATION was released in 1980 it became one of the Top Ten most-added albums in the trade magazine airplay charts and re-established the ex-Runaway as a cult figure. Rolling Stone called the LP "...a rock and roll autobiography that few...performers had lived out so fully or told so convincingly." 1981's I LOVE ROCK 'N ROLL yielded two top Ten singles: the title cut, which stayed at number one for eight straight weeks, and "Crimson & Clover," which went to number six. Rolling Stone's Dave Marsh called the album "Irresistible...Jett has lived up to the promise of her debut with this thunderously exciting set." The Boston Globe hailed Jett as "a major artist...The record is a sizzling hard rock collection powered by Jett's insistent rasping vocals, and excellent choice of material and the uninhibited vitality of her band." When the subsequent success of "Do You Wanna Touch Me," from the Bad Reputation album, gave Jett's first LP a belated new life on rock radio, Jett became the first in a line of artists to have their early works rediscovered with the explosion of new music on mainstream rock radio. In 1982 Jett was voted one of the Top Female Vocalists in polls taken by Rolling Stone, Playboy, Billboard, and Cashbox.

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Joan Jett and the Blackhearts are, above all, a touring rock and roll band. They love to work. An exciting part of the last tour was when they became the first American performing act asked to play in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The kids in that country had heard the Blackhearts' music on the Armed Forces Radio and on West German radio and TV, and were great fans. Even though the band could not take any money out of the country it was a thrill to play their rock and roll in the GDR. The audience knew all the tunes and the shows were a huge success.

Album marks Joan Jett and the Blackhearts' first release on Blackheart/MCA. The LP features nine original Jett compositions and two Jett-style send-ups of old favorites.

Rock and roll influences began early in Joan's life; indeed, she had wanted to play guitar since elementary school. Jett's family moved fourteen times during her youth. ("Maybe that's why I can't stay in one place for too long and love the road so much," she says. "I get restless.") As a grade-schooler living in Rockville, Maryland, she got her first guitar. "My mother bought me a cheap Sears electric with a little Gibson amp which cost twenty dollars for the combination. I took lessons for about a month. The guy kept trying to teach me 'On Top Of Old Smokey' but I wanted to learn to play rock and roll. So I went home and played with my records in my room. I really taught myself. I'd set up the stereo and amp and tuned my guitar to whatever song I wanted to play. I'd play things like T-Rex songs off the ELECTRIC WARRIOR album, or 'Honky-Tonk Woman' really loud. I was thirteen, fourteen years old."

In 1972, Joan's family moved to Los Angeles, where she started hanging out in a club called Rodney's English Disco, which played nothing but early 1970's glitter rock like David Bowie, T-Rex and Suzie Quatro. Joan started writing her first songs and met producer Kim Fowley. Together with Fowley and a drummer named Sandy West, she hatched the idea of forming an all-girl rock and roll band. That band, The Runaways, toured for five year, cut three albums, and played the kind of raw, overtly sexual music that was, to say the least, unheard-of from a group of teen-age girls. Charles M. Young in Crawdaddy called Joan "the soul of the band in the same way Keith Richards is to the Stones." Joan wrote most of the songs including "I Love Playing With Fire," "You're Too Possessive," "Wait For Me," "Don't Abuse Me," and the number one Japanese hit, "Cherry Bomb."

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Joan says of her Runaways days, 'It was my dream to play in a rock band and I was doing it. We didn't really pay attention to what was going on around us...We were just normal teen-age girls who swore a little bit and smoked and drank now and again, but we decided to wrap it up. I went back to L.A. to try to figure out what to do, but the only thing I know is music...I had to get another band."

While living across the street from the Whisky A-Go-Go in 1979, Jett met Kenny Laguna and Ritchie Cordell. As a teenager, Laguna had been producer-songwriter and musician for the Ohio Express, Jay and the Americans, Tommy James and the Shondells, and the 1910 Fruitgum Company. Cordell had been the composer of eighteen worldwide hits, among them "Mony Mony." Laguna says, on first meeting Joan, "I don't know what it was, but there was something really special in this girl." Kenny and Ritchie agreed to help Joan produce her first solo LP. Jett asked musician-friends like the Sex Pistols' Steve Jones and Paul Cook, and Blondie's Clem Burke and Frank Infante, to help record BAD REPUTATION for the Dutch label Ariola. Here in the U.S., this import album sold 22,000 copies within weeks of its release, heading to the top of the charts on stations like L.A.'s KNAC and Long Island's WLIR.

The album started a style on Joan's LPs which has since become a tradition: the blending of original Jett tunes, like "Bad Reputation," with highly original interpretations of classic songs like Sam the Sham's "Wooly Bully," the Isley Brothers' "Shout," and Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me," all rendered in Jett's inimitably hard, minimalist style.

Joan formed the Blackhearts and began touring extensively, building a solid grassroots support with a band that included Gary Ryan on bass, Ricky Byrd on guitar, and Lee Crystal on drums. Their reputation was built on the intensity and athleticism of their performances, which the New York Post described as a "sonic boom of power pop and hard-nosed rock." Critical acclaim could not overcome industry cold feet and corporate tin ears.

When they couldn't get a U.S. record deal, Kenny and Joan decided to form their own label and used their personal savings to press records and set up their own system of independent distributors. No matter how they kept their expenses down, money was always a problem. One day, at the worst of it, Meryl Laguna, Kenny's wife, and Joan's co-manager, walked into the kitchen and handed Kenny and Joan $6,000. She had just cleaned out their child's entire college education fund. The tour could go on! It was this tour, along with some adventurous radio program directors, that helped make BAD REPUTATION one of the ten most-added discs of 1980. The demand for the LP quickly outstripped the ability of Blackheart Records to produce copies, so Joan signed with the late Neil Bogart and Boardwalk Records.

Touring relentlessly, Joan and the Blackhearts recorded their next album, I LOVE ROCK 'N ROLL, between dates. Again, the collection offered original Jett tunes ("Victim of Circumstance," "Love Is Pain," "You're Too Possessive") and a striking cover of Tommy James's "Crimson & Clover" ("That was the first single I remember buying as a kid," she said). Propelled by the success of "I Love Rock 'N Roll," and "Crimson & Clover," the LP skyrocketed up the charts and drew raves everywhere. Rolling Stone called it "original and ambitions...Jett fuses both the yearning of girl groups and the slapdash ferocity of garage bands to the power and beat of heavy metal...I LOVE ROCK 'N ROLL hooks up rock's underground (i.e., punk) to its mainstream (i.e., the kids) with a populism that almost nobody is trying for anymore."

For Joan Jett and the Blackhearts the best part of releasing an album is always getting back out on the road and playing the new songs for her fans. "I don't really need that much in life," Joan says. "Material things don't mean that much to me. As long as I can travel and play in front of people--whether it's a sweaty little club or a big place-- to see those people smiling is what it's about. I live for that hour-and-a-half on stage. That's where my dreams all come true."

Gary Ryan (Bass)

When Gary Ryan ran away to Hollywood at age fourteen, it was his love for rock and roll that led him to leave home. "I just wanted to be part of it all," says Gary, "not even in a band. I just love the people, the scene and the music."

A self-described "army brat," Ryan grew up "everywhere--Montana, Okinawa, Texas, and finally in Riverside, California." He studied cello at age nine, played upright bass in the school orchestra and jazz bass in the school jazz ensemble, but when he started listening to such emerging new bands as The Runaways, The Sex Pistols and The Ramones, he was ostracized by his junior high friends.

In his bedroom at home Gary would play bass along with his David Bowie records. He had started sneaking out the house at age ten to go to Hollywood and see the bands he loved. "I must have run away from home three or four times," recalls Gary. "Then, in 1978, I left for good." Now, at 18, he plays bass with his favorite Runaway--Joan Jett.

He landed in the burgeoning L.A. punk scene, and was befriended by members of such bands as X, The Germs, and a gang of girls who would later become The Go-Go's. "I lived from friend to friend," he says. "You name it, I slept on it. For a year-and-a-half I existed on nineteen-cent boxes of macaroni and cheese." For six months Gary lived in a shuttered Hollywood basement rock club that is now a rehearsal space for bands, and for another seven months he lived in a Santa Monica Boulevard apartment with the band X.

Gary also started playing bass with some local groups like Rick L. Rick and Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs (Top Jimmy being a hefty R&B singer who took his name from the taco stand at LaBrea and Highland where he and Gary worked, Top Taco). One of the rock and rollers who "was part of the same turf" was Joan Jett, who had by then left The Runaways. "I was a big fan of Joan's," says Gary. "When I used to see The Runaways, I thought she was one of the best rockers I'd ever seen."

Jett was putting together a group, and at the recommendation of the late Darby Crash of The Germs (the band Gary's girlfriend Lorna played in--and whose first album Joan produces,) Gary auditioned and landed the slot as Joan's bassist. Unsure whether or not they would hire a 15-year-old, Gary "lied and told Joan I was 18." The original Blackhearts were born. The band started off playing a month of Monday nights at the Whisky A-Go-Go, and was soon off to Europe on a tour. The Blackhearts have been touring almost non-stop ever since, and, as Gary tells it, "I grew up on the road." Gary now looks back at his runaway days with a certain fondness. "I was going to show them," he says of the kids who ostracized him in high school. A lot of people might think he already has.

Ricky Byrd (Guitar)

Ricky Byrd's membership in The Blackhearts is almost the fulfillment of a rock and roll prophecy. At age sixteen, Ricky played in New York bands like Rough Stuff and Luger at such seminal rock and roll nightsposts as Max's Kansas City and Mercer Arts Center (where The New York Dolls started). His talents had caught the eye of the late Lillian Roxon, one of the original rock journalists, who mentioned his name frequently in her Daily News column.

For Byrd, just that taste of rock and roll was like a dream come true, and a goal he'd worked hard for. As a child growing up in the Bronx, up the block from Yankee Stadium, Ricky was naturally an avid baseball fan (and even shares his birthday with Mickey Mantle)--that is, until he started seeing rock and roll bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who on "The Ed Sullivan Show." "From then on, it was rock and roll," he says.

"At thirteen I was dressing like a little mod, with a Beatle haircut and Beatle boots." He saved enough money to buy a cheap electric guitar at Lafayette Radio and Electronics. Byrd drove a cab, worked as a messenger, and sold The New York Post by phone, but was also earning a reputation as a hot young guitar player around town.

Soon Ricky linked up with a number of other talented musicians--Binky Phillips (of New York's legendary Planets), Tom Dickie (who later recorded for Mercury and Tom Dickie and the Desires), and Charles Leland (later with the A&M recording act Hurricane Jones)--in a band with what Byrd considers and ill-chosen moniker: Susan. The band recorded an album for RCA that was an airplay success, toured with Graham Parker and Cheap Trick, but failed to take hold despite a year-and-a-half of hard work. "We were playing pop stuff like The Jam and The Raspberries," he says. "We were good, but it was the wrong time for that kind of music."

Undeterred, Byrd went back to work as a messenger for a year-and-a-half but hardly remained inactive. Having landed a song ("Just For You" on a Fotomaker LP,) Byrd honed his talents until he was recruited by Mirage recording artist G.E. Smith (who was touring with Hall and Oates for a tour headlining clubs and opening concerts for such acts as Squeeze.) At the same time, Byrd started writing songs with John Waite of The Babys, and jamming with stars like Steve Marriot of Humble Pie. But when a chance meeting with Joan Jett turned into an audition for The Blackhearts, Ricky jumped at the opportunity. "It was the kind of rock and roll I wanted to play."

Byrd feels that "after twelve years of hard work, you really appreciate it. I always thought, when I was a kid, that I'd die for a chance. As the years went by, it became more important to be good. Playing with Joan, I can see how well she does what she does, but I also know that what I do is important." With a small but treasured guitar collection that includes a Gibson Les Paul Custom, a '59 Les Paul Jr., a 1963 Red Fender Stratocaster bought from G.E. Smith, and a 20-year-old Gibson B-52 acoustic he got from Z.Z. Top's Billy Gibbons, Ricky's glad to "be doing what I love--playing guitar in a rock and roll band."

Lee Crystal (Drums)

"Woody Allen jokes about growing up across from the Roller Coaster at Coney Island," says Blackheart Lee Crystal, "but I actually did grow up across the street from the Cyclone." As a youth, Lee spent the summers on the Boardwalk, getting ride operators to let him on for free, and the rest of his spare time playing in bands and going to up to four concerts a week by sneaking in.

Since Lee was saving what little spare cash he had to buy used drums and broken drum kit hardware (which he repaired and used) at Sam Ash Music in Brooklyn, he had to be ingenious to get into concerts he could afford. "At the Academy of Music (now the Palladium)," Lee explains, "they used to have two shows. I'd wait until the first show got out, and as the people came pouring out the exit, I'd just walk in backwards. Once inside, you had to become an actor and pretend you were cleaning up, looking for a friend, or still leaving." He even devised a way to get past the ultra-tight security at Madison Square Garden by taping together old Ticketron stubs and displaying them to get past the flanks guards, then discreetly bribing the ticket taker with a $5 bill.

Through some luck and ingenuity, Lee got his first real drum kit at 17. "A car hit me when I was on my bike, and although I wasn't badly hurt I got a settlement of $350.00." But even added to the $150.00 Lee had saved, it wasn't enough for the kit he wanted, until Lee saw Carmine Appice play a Ludwig Drum Clinic in Brooklyn sponsored by Sam Ash Music. The next day Lee went into Same Ash, made them an offer for the set they'd loaned Appice, and walked out with a "slightly used-for-one-day-by Carmine Appice set of Ludwig drums--the same drums," he explains, "I played on the song 'I Love Rock 'N Roll'." After a year studying jazz history at C.C.N.Y. ("pretty boring" he recalls), Lee started playing C.B.G.B and Max's Kansas City with the band he formed, The Boyfriends, who recorded a single on Bomp Records, "I Don't Want Nobody, I Want You" and opened the shows for local stars like The Ramones and The Dead Boys. The Boyfriends also acquired a national following by "piling into a '69 Plymouth with an old trailer and setting out across the country, all of us, and one roadie who we promised a meal a day--usually cinnamon toast."

But they won some hard-fought popularity, becoming headliners in Toronto during numerous visits, co-billing shows with The Romantics in Detroit (where The Boyfriends song is "still on the jukebox," reports Lee), and playing Chicago, Minneapolis and other Midwest cities, as well as the West Coast.

In Los Angeles, The Boyfriends headlined a Bomp Records week at the Whisky A-Go-Go. Living on toast and eggs with no money in their pockets, Lee and the band were in a local Safeway shoplifting one day. "I was standing there with a bottle of One-A-day vitamins in my gut and I ran into Joan Jett buying hamburger buns, and wearing a leather jacket even though it was 90 degrees out." One night Lee's motel room at the Tropicana was invaded for a post-gig party, where the guests were the band X and "this little punk rocker--Gary Ryan."

On Lee's return to New York, he also started playing with such friends and influences as ex-New York Doll Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers (who asked Lee to play their return gig at Max's when they came back from touring Europe with the Sex Pistols), David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain.

Sylvain asked Lee to join his band to record Sylvain's debut RCA album, on which Lee co-wrote the single "Every Boy, Every Girl" and on a subsequent tour. But Lee was still unsure about his next step until he came across a copy of the English music paper Sounds while rehearsing at the Doll's old loft in lower Manhattan. "I saw this picture of Joan and Gary with caption: Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. I said to myself, what a great idea. That's the kind of group I want to play with. Even then, I knew Joan was a great front person in the true rock and roll tradition."

Two weeks later, Lee coincidentally got a call from Jett's manager, Kenny Laguna, asking him to audition for The Blackhearts.

"I knew right then that playing with Joan was what I really wanted."

Not bad for a drummer who got his first kit courtesy of a Ludwig Drum Clinic.

6/83
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