If you can be judged by the quality of your friends, Joan Jett is surely at the top, as evidenced by her “extended musical family” turnout at last night’s Sixth Annual Little Kids Rock Benefit at the Hammerstein Ballroom.
The event honored Jett as “Rocker of the Year” for the impact that her career, influence, and music have had on the youth organization’s “Modern Band” music program—and the role she’s played in advancing music education.
Celebrating Jett in song were her friends Alice Cooper, Tommy James, Billie Joe Armstrong, Darlene Love, Jesse Malin, Brody Dalle, Cheap Trick, Gary U.S. Bonds and Jake Clemons (Clemons received the “Big Man of the Year” award, named for his late uncle Clarence Clemons), Social Distortion’s Mike Ness and Kathleen Hannah, with her husband Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys.
Jett noted that she had important relationships with all of them. She recalled opening in Japan for Cheap Trick–who opened the evening’s musical segment with her hit “I Hate Myself for Loving You”—and that she and her fellow Runaways were the first to wear the famous Cheap Trick t-shirts. Of Cooper, for whom she co-wrote his 1989 single “House of Fire” and with whom she performed “Be My Lover,” she remembered playing her first arena show with him.
Bonds, with Clemons, sang Jett’s “Eye to Eye”—having sung on her recording of his hit “New Orleans.” And Tommy James joined Jett on his 1969 hit “Crimson and Clover,” their first-ever joint performance of the song which she covered and took to No. 7 in 1982—and featuring Jett’s manager and former Tommy James’ Shondell Kenny Laguna on keyboards, surely an instant YouTube classic.
Representing the younger generation of rockers influenced by Jett, Armstrong was terrific in his duet with her on “Don’t Abuse Me.” Aussie punk/alternative singer-songwriter Brody Dalle was truly Jett-inspired in her rendition of “Victim of Circumstance,” while Hannah’s “Fake Friends” was clearly heartfelt: She prefaced it with an expression of gratitude that Jett had always treated her like a peer, and as a “true friend” had always been one to “give and give and give” and never take.
Prior to closing the show with an all-star finale of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” (also including the Little Kids Rock kids who had performed earlier), Jett briefly spoke of the “quite surreal” experience, being that her career seemed to be floundering following the breakup of The Runaways in 1979 and prior to her chart-topping solo breakthrough in 1982 with “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
The rest, of course, is rock ‘n’ roll history, as recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Little Steven Van Zandt noted in his opening remarks. Van Zandt produced the show, which could well be a harbinger of big things to come for Jett, who has just been nominated again for induction into the RockHall.
Like Darlene Love, who was finally inducted in 2011 (and was typically outstanding with her performance of Jett’s “Little Liar”), Jett’s long-deserved induction is too long a time coming. But suddenly, Jett has never seemed more visible: Her version of the rock ‘n’ roll classic “Wild One” graces the current Hyundai Sonata TV campaign, and she also this year became the first female to receive the Golden God Award from Revolver magazine (presented by Cooper) and the AP Icon Award from Alternative Press. Currently, her classic hit “Bad Reputation” is the focus of a “get out the vote” campaign by the Department of Peace organization.
Perhaps her “Rocker of the Year” award is just a taste of the big prize Van Zandt predicted.
The annual Little Kids Rock Benefit supports music education in public schools, and has been Little Kids Rock’s largest fundraising event each year since 2009. That year Clarence Clemons was honored for his devotion to helping the organization build a world where children, through music, can lead rich, purposeful lives.
The “Modern Band” music program equips public school music teachers with the instruments, training, and resources they need to teach popular musical styles including rock, hip-hop, country, blues and funk.
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