1. The Runaways. Joan teamed up with Sandy West in 1975 to form the Runaways, the first highly successful all-girl rock band. Just seventeen years old, Joan quickly became the band’s primary songwriter and shared lead vocal duties with Cherie Currie. As the band’s rhythm player, Joan was a reference point for girls who wanted to play electric guitar, while her risqué songs brought the band all kinds of attention. Although they saw their greatest success in Japan, not the United States, the Runaways were ultimately a major milestone in rock n’ roll. A film based on their experience was released in 2010.
2. She doesn’t take “no” for an answer. When the Runaways disbanded in 1979, Joan recorded her debut solo album. After being rejected by 23 major record labels, Joan decided to start her own record label and release the album herself. It contained hits like “Bad Reputation” and “Do You Wanna Touch Me”, and her gamble paid off when she was signed to a record label shortly thereafter.
3. Awesome cover songs. Even though Joan is more than capable of writing a compelling song, she also chooses excellent songs to cover, with great success. Selecting songs from artists as diverse as Sly and the Family Stone to Iggy Pop, Joan always adds her own touch. Covers like “Crimson and Clover” and “Light of Day” rank among her greatest hits, while her version of The Arrows’ “I Love Rock n’ Roll” is the definitive one. With its monster guitar riff and lyrics that seemed tailor-made for Joan, the song was #1 for seven weeks in 1982.
4. Her consistency. Joan has been making records for nearly forty years, and she has never wavered from her original attitude and sound. Her albums are consistently good, and she has had no period of decline.
5. Her style. In her days with the Runaways, Joan favored glam-rock influenced jump suits. In her solo days, she gravitated towards black leather (jackets and pants) and her trademark Converse hi-tops. With her shag haircut and heavy black eyeliner, Joan’s look became as distinctive as her music.
6. Her activism. Joan has supported causes like PETA and Farm Sanctuary, but she is best-known for her work with the investigation of the murder of Gits lead singer Mia Zapata. Joan collaborated with the remaining band members on a live album, contributing all proceeds to the investigation. She also appeared with the band members on America’s Most Wanted to make an appeal for any information that could help solve Mia Zapata’s murder. After 11 years, the case was finally solved in 2004.
7. Her guitar. Joan’s guitar, which she bought from Eric Carmen after the breakup of the Raspberries, has become an icon in its own right. Gibson manufactured a Joan Jett Signature Melody Maker that is now out of production. Joan says, “I got my Melody Maker in 1977. It was light and it sounded great. It was the guitar I had in the Runaways and then played on all my hits…It’s my baby.” Playing with all the attitude of her idol, Keith Richards, Joan appeared on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists. Shamefully, only two women were included.
8. Her record label. Although it was founded in a moment of desperation, Blackheart Records is still going strong today. Joan uses it to release her new music, as well as reissues of her classic albums, solo and with the Runaways. New artists like Endless Bummer, The Eyeliners, Girl in a Coma, and The Vacancies are signed to the label. Joan is particularly passionate about signing up-and-coming female bands, giving them the break that she didn’t have as a new artist.
9. Freaks and Geeks. When the legendary cult TV favorite Freaks and Geeks was looking for a song for their opening credits, they turned to Joan’s music and found a kindred outsider spirit. “Bad Reputation” became the show’s theme.
10. Her legacy. After three and a half decades in the music business, Joan has rightfully earned her place in the “living legends” category, while still remaining an impressively current artist. Her kindness to new bands and loyalty to old friends have set her a cut above the rest. The Riot Grrl movement came to life in her wake, and countless people have gleaned music history from her seamless mix of punk, glam, metal, and straightforward rock n’ roll. She remains the patron saint for every girl who just knows that learning to play guitar will change her life.