Joan Jett: Jett Set
GW So you formed your own label, Blackheart Records.
JETT We had to. And, in retrospect, I’m glad it went that way, because now we own all our stuff. But it was totally DIY, selling records out of the trunk of the car after the show, getting the music directly to the fans. And I mean, back when we were being turned down by all these labels, the songs we had been sending around were “I Love Rock ’n Roll,” “Do You Wanna Touch Me,” “Bad Reputation,” “Crimson and Clover.” All eventual hit singles.
GW Your mainstream breakthrough finally came in 1982 with “I Love Rock ’n Roll,” which was a huge MTV and radio hit. The guitar sound on that song is massive. Do you recall what you used on that recording?
JETT Oh yeah. I actually still have all that gear. The amp was a Music Man 212 with EV [Electro-Voice] speakers. And I don’t believe I was even using a distortion box at the time; I just went straight in. And I had my main Melody Maker, which has a special pickup in it called a Velvet Hammer [designed by musician Red Rhodes] that is no longer in production. That’s the guitar Gibson used as a reference to make my signature model. [In 2008, Gibson began producing the Joan Jett Signature Melody Maker.]
GW In the earliest days of the Runaways you played a Les Paul. Why did you eventually switch to the Melody Maker?
JETT The Les Paul is a beautiful guitar but it’s heavy as shit! I had a beautiful blond Deluxe—actually, I still have it—with the switches reversed, because I only use the treble pickup. So the treble pickup would be on when the toggle switch was in the up position. That way I could just hit it down to kick off the pickup. I used that guitar on the first Runaways record and then switched to the Melody Maker sometime in ’77 around the time of [the Runaways’ second album] Queens of Noise.
GW Between the Runaways and your career as a solo artist, you’ve been a working musician for roughly 35 years. Not bad for someone who was repeatedly told that girls can’t play rock and roll.
JETT Well, when I was a kid, my parents told me I could grow up to be anything I wanted. And I took that to heart. I really did. So I wasn’t gonna let other people tell me what I could or couldn’t do. And I certainly wasn’t going to let other people tell me I couldn’t play rock and roll music, or that I couldn’t play guitar. Forget it. It just wasn’t gonna happen.