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As frontwoman for The Runaways, Joan Jett became a female pioneer in the male-dominated world of rock music. She is also a songwriter and producer.
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Born Joan Larkin on September 22, 1958, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Joan Jett entered the music business at age 15 in the punk-pop band The Runaways. She went on to become one of the most influential women in rock; recording hits like "I Love Rock 'n' Roll"; founding Blackheart Records and producing Riot Grrrl acts Bikini Kill and L7. Her early career was portrayed in the biopic The Runaways.
Singer, songwriter and producer Joan Jett was born Joan Larkin on September 22, 1958, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One of the top women in rock, Joan Jett had a string of hits during the 1980s and 1990s. Her passion for music began early, and she received her first guitar at the age of 14.
Moving to southern California, Jett began frequenting a popular youth club known as Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco. There, she found inspiration from the glam rock stars of the day. "I learned to scream from Marc Bolan of T. Rex," Jett explained to Esquire.
Jett started her musical career as a teenager, forming her first serious band, the Runaways, at the age of 15. The final line-up included Jett on guitar and vocals; Sandy West on drums; Cherie Currie on lead vocals; Jackie Fox on bass guitar; and Lita Ford on guitar. The band was ahead of its time in many ways, with its hard-rock sound emerging during an era when disco music was king. They also felt dismissed by audiences and critics because of their young age and their gender; the public didn't seem to know what to do with five girls who sang about sex, rebelling, and partying. The musicians' fashion choices also alienated them from mainstream fans; Currie chose to wear lingerie on stage, and Jett often appeared in her trademark red, leather jumpsuit.
In 1976, the Runaways released their first self-titled album, which failed to impress critics and music buyers alike. Still, the song "Cherry Bomb," with its rebellious and raw edge, which Jett wrote with friend Kim Fowley, became a punk hit. The following year, the Runaways released their sophomore effort, Queens of Noise, which featured such tracks as "Born to Be Bad" and "Neon Angels." While the album performed poorly in the U.S., the Runaways received a warm welcome in Japan, scoring three gold records there.
After Currie and Fox left in mid-1977, Jett emerged as the group's lead singer. She was already a powerful force behind the scenes, writing most of the Runaways' songs. The band struggled through two more albums before they were dropped from their record label. The group called it quits in 1979. "When the Runaways broke up, I didn't know what I wanted to do. A breakup is like losing a very good friend. It's like a death," Jett later explained to Esquire.
Deciding to pursue a solo career, Jett spent some time in England working with Paul Cook and Steve Jones, both former members of the legendary punk band the Sex Pistols. She then returned to Los Angeles where she worked as a producer for the first album of the L.A. punk band the Germs.
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