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Same punk-pop sound, new message

Though Blackhearts band member and Joan Jett’s producer Kenny Laguna claims the music industry and radio stations refuse to give punk the credit it deserves, he has continued to dedicate himself to the genre for nearly three decades.

And even though Laguna no longer believes a rock song can change the world, he helped Jett pen the lyrics to politically-charged "Riddle" and "Change The World" songs listed on the band’s latest album, "Sinner."

Laguna enjoys a challenge, it seems.

The same predilection for the under appreciated likely had something to do with Laguna’s initial attraction to Jett more than two decades ago: though everyone else in her band The Runaways had been adopted as solo artists for PolyGram after the group broke up, she remained unsigned. Label after label turned her down, Laguna remembers.

"It’s still a mystery to me how people treated her like garbage," he reflects. "But thank God they did, because now we have our own record label, [Blackheart Records.] And that’s the only reason why we have it: because nobody would give us a record deal. We had no choice."

He notes Jett beat the odds among most women in rock whose star typically burns brightly and then quickly burns out. In 1982, her rendition of "I Love Rock ‘N Roll" remained No. 1 on Billboard charts for seven weeks in a row, after lot of people thought Jett’s career ended with the Runaways in 1979, he says.

Recently, Jett told the Salt Lake Tribune that she notices girl bands, even today, are only allowed to go so far "there’s a resistance to girls playing rock and roll" she claims.

Yet when Jett takes the stage with the Blackhearts Saturday afternoon at The Canyons Concert Series, it will the second time within a year she’s played in Utah. Mountain Town Stages Executive Director Toby Martin, who helps book the spring acts, says he’s anticipating a record turn out.

Last summer, Jett and the Blackhearts traveled the country on Warped Tour, playing alongside contemporary artists, then toured with the young band Eagles of Death Metal in the fall.

She also hosts her own show on Sirius Satellite radio, called "Joan Jett’s Radio Revolution" which runs on Saturdays and Sundays on Channel 28.

Before he was introduced to Jett, Laguna’s career began in "bubblegum" pop music, as a singer with Tommy James and the Shondells, a genre he says relates to punk rock in that it has no pretenses.

"With bubblegum pop, we weren’t trying to be cool, we were just trying to get to the chorus as quickly as possible, " he explains, and like punk rock, the genre appeared to be "nauseating to FM radio in America." Laguna says with Jett, "we had to battle for every inch we ever got on mainstream radio."

Jett even covered "Crimson and Clover," one of the Shondell’s top U.S. singles in the 1960s.

Saturday, Laguna predicts fans will recognize Jett’s signature pop-punk-rock independent sound though some of the band’s lyrics may tackle some new territory. The "Sinner" album includes songs that speak to sexual freedom and "the Orwellian Bush-speak, where they say a healthy forest initiative is allowing the logging industry to go into the forest to chop down trees," he says.

In recent years, Jett and the Blackhearts have toured the Middle East on more than one occasion, though Laguna laments, "I’m not really seeing music do what it did in the 60s where the rock stars are leaders. I think it’s a more sinister situation today."

He lists the success of Green Day’s "American Idiot," an album with songs criticizing the current United States’ administration, as a sole exception.

Though Laguna says not everyone in the music industry is convinced of Jett’s significance, the press and acts like Green Day, David Bowie, The Red Hot Chili Peppers still love Jett.

"Joan Jett loves what’s going on in the music industry right now, and the bands that have come after her. She embraces it, and not everyone can do that," Laguna observed. "When she was on Warped Tour, there was no difference between her and everyone else. They were all cut from the same cloth. She’s still walkin’ it like these teenagers, because it’s in her soul. "

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts will perform at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 31 at The Canyons Resort. The concert is free and open to the public. The Canyons Spring Concert Series is presented in part by Mountain Town Stages.


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