Joan Jett Reveals How the Who Helped Launch Her Solo Career
The Who are currently trekking across North America on their “The Who Hits 50!” tour, which Roger Daltrey has described as the beginning of the group’s “long goodbye.” The band has influenced countless musicians who have followed in its footsteps, including Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Joan Jett, who shares her love for the Who below.
I first heard the Who on FM radio as a kid. “Powerful” would be the first word to come to mind to describe their music. Pete Townshend was definitely one of the guys that made me want to play guitar. I wanted to make those sounds, and I asked my parents for an electric guitar for Christmas and they actually got it for me. So I was able to sit around my room and play the simpler songs like “My Generation” and some “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
We’ve gone onstage to “Won’t Get Fooled Again” in the past. I think one key that song hit on for me personally was the underdog thing – of people pulling one over on you, and how that’s not going to happen again. And you know, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” – you have to live a little bit of life before you know that that’s a truism. Words like that are very powerful-feeling, and I think it really resonates inside and helps me warm up vocals to sing and scream. But we could’ve easily gone on to a lot of different songs of theirs. The era around “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is locked in my brain, but I love things on the Tommy album. “See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me,” all that stuff, I think it’s beautiful, beautiful music.
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I feel sort of nurtured by the Who. At the end of the Runaways, I was alone, trying to make my way in the world, and I’d just met Kenny [Laguna, Jett’s longtime producer], and he had this idea to go over to the Who’s Ramport Studios and record there, because he had been working there with the Who for several years. After a week or two, we were getting the pressure from my manager to sign this record deal. One day, Pete Townshend dropped by Kenny’s apartment. I happened to be asleep at the time. Kenny spoke to Pete about this record deal, and Pete said it seemed shady. He told us to talk to his manager, Bill Curbishley, because we were in their studio and worried about paying them. Bill just said, “Do what you got to do, and pay us when you can.” I thought it was so generous and wonderful. We were able to pay him back obviously. The Who let us do Bad Reputation in their studios. I had something to play for people. So, to me, it all starts right there with the Who.
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About three years or so after making Bad Reputation in the studio, we opened for the Who. I remember, Roger got down on one knee and sang to me happy birthday to me backstage. I saw Roger recently at his Teen Cancer America concert. He asked me to sing “Summertime Blues,” which was pretty scary. I just blanked out. I could not remember the words. You look over and you see Roger, and you still get star-struck. It’s still tough to hang with those guys sometimes. It’s pretty intense.
To me, the Who’s songs stand for fun, but it’s fun music that has substance to it. It’s talking about more than just partying. Partying songs are great, too, but I think it’s good when you’ve got messages in there as well. They’re raucous, and they’ve got meaning. It’s everything you want to be if you’re a rock band.
As told to Kory Grow
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