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Jett Set For Speed Street

Ex-Runaway is silver lining in oldies' fare

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"I Love Rock and Roll," Joan Jett sang in 1982. But as Jett was already discovering, the business end of rock and roll didn't necessarily love her. Twenty-three record companies turned down the 16-year-old Runaway before she put her first solo record out on her own label, Blackheart Records.

Jett, who appears at Charlotte's outdoor street festival Speed Street 600 on Friday (bracketed by Three Dog Night on Thursday and Creedence Clearwater Revival Revisited on Saturday), never abandoned hope. Jett first heard the song that was to make her career when she was still with the Runaways, a five-member 70s teenage girl group similar to, say, the Spice Girls, but with a harder edge -- and their own instruments. Jett tried to record it with the Runaways, but members Lita Ford and Sandy West hated it. "They've had 25 years to worry about that," chuckles Kenny Laguna, Jett's producer and Blackheart Records company president.

Laguna had connections in the business from his years playing keyboards for Tommy James & the Shondells and producing artists including Jay & the Americans and Edwin Starr. Laguna was working in England for The Who's label when Jett was brought to him.

When it was time to cut the demos for her first record, Laguna suggested using session players and putting her guitar on afterwards. "If I'm not playing the guitar on the basic track, there is no record," Jett replied. Laguna remembers thinking, ""You're totally broke, your band's broken up, you're desperate for my help, and you're making this demand.' I thought that was a really incredible bit of courage and integrity."

"I Love Rock and Roll" is the #28 record of all time, Laguna says, citing Billboard's all-time US hits, "right up there with "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.'"

Jett's also scored hits with "Bad Reputation," "Do You Want To Touch Me," "I Hate Myself (For Loving You)" and "Crimson And Clover."

Laguna feels that Jett has never gotten the credit she deserves, although Rolling Stone just voted her #87 on the 100 greatest guitarists of all time list. "She's got a great voice, and she's like Chuck Berry," Laguna says. "But it's minimal, and sometimes people overlook minimal. I was amazed that RS recognized her, because they've ignored her her whole life."

Jett has a new album coming out later this year, with songwriting help ranging from Pink producer Linda Perry to Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna. Although Laguna admits that the new one doesn't have a song that sounds like "I Love Rock and Roll," "six or seven songs sound like hits to me," he says hopefully.

At least Jett is writing some new material. Past hits continue to fuel the careers of Three Dog Night. The group with three lead singers - Chuck Negron, Danny Hutton and Corey Wells - started their string of hits in 1969 with Harry Nillson's "One." The musical Hair spawned "Easy To Be Hard," and that song and Laura Nyro's "Eli's Coming" were also hits in '69. The bullfrog song, "Joy To the World" (originally a children's song written by Hoyt Axton), went to #1 in 1971. But at the height of their popularity in '74, drug problems made live performing difficult and the band stopped performing in '77. A newly reformed band without Chuck Negron but featuring original keyboardist Jimmy Greenspoon and singers Cory Wells and Danny Hutton still performs the hits.But for sheer orneriness, nothing beats Creedence Clearwater Revival's acrimonious history and "rebirth." Creedence's songs were written, sung and arranged by frontman John Fogerty, who apparently wanted nobody to forget that fact, including band members which included brother Tom. He once said that he showed the band every note they played on all the albums. Fed up with his brother's behavior, Tom left in 1971. When John was forced to sell the rights to his songs to his record label in '72, he refused to perform any of his songs for the next 28 years. When CCR's Rhythm section, bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford, reformed the band as Creedence Clearwater Revisited, Fogerty sued to prevent them from using the name or any of his tunes. The band won a court case to use CCR Revisited. When inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, Clifford and Cook walked out when they discovered that Fogerty would be playing with Bruce Springsteen and not them. The rift has yet to be healed - CCR Revisited recorded an album of Fogerty's CCR hits and Fogerty tours on his own.Now, who loves Rock and Roll? We do!

Joan Jett, Three Dog Night and CCR Revisited are among the acts playing Thursday through Saturday at the Speed Street celebration before the Coca Cola 600.

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