On July 31st the sixth annual Sunset Strip Music festival got under way with their customary awards show at the House of Blues in Hollywood. This years’ honoree was the Queen of Rock and Roll, Joan Jett. The feisty slender singer guitarist was one of the first successful women in rock, with a string of hit songs, mostly in the 1980’s including her hit song “I Love Rock and Roll.
The awards ceremony began with tributes from long time friends of the 54 year old singer. In a fitting juxtaposition, two of the most personal tributes came from femme fatal, Carmen Electra, and flamboyant comedian Margaret Cho. Electra spoke first, appearing in a tight sexy outfit, highlighting her attributes. She spoke of how a strong sexy female rocker seduced generations of young men, both physically and musically into becoming avid fans. Cho, spoke next, hilariously parodying Electra’s excessive fondling of the phallic like microphone. She then proceeded to honor Jett as a role model for all women, regardless of sexual orientation.
The event, which is open only to music fans who buy the VIP three day music festival pass (A bargain at $150.00), featured several hours of free refreshments including a variety of sponsor Jack Daniel’s flavored whiskeys. Appetizers, representing most everything on the extensive HOB menu poured out of the kitchen in the arms of dozens of scantily clad servers.
While the crowd satiated themselves, the ceremony continued with the customary presentation of the Elmer Valentine award, presented by veteran club owners, Nick Adler, owner of the Roxy Theater and Mikael Maglieri, owner of the Rainbow Bar & Grill. Then Jett was presented a custom Gibson guitar, by radio veteran, Rodney Bingenheimer. The slightly disheveled looking Los Angeles radio legend could be seen early in the day, pacing up and down Sunset Boulevard, in the front of the club, indistinguishable from several homeless panhandlers that he had engaged in conversation. The uniqueness of her Hollywood surroundings was not lost on Jett, as she gave a bittersweet, heartfelt acceptance speech. She reminded the crowd that no less than 23 record companies in Los Angeles rejected her first record with the Blackhearts. Finally, the band released the album independently which was an unheard practice at the time, and the rest was history. The awards ceremony was followed by a lengthy presentation of music videos of the Blackhearts’ biggest hits.
The only missing link of the evening was the glossing over of Jett’s tumultuous beginnings with one of the first all girl rock bands, The Runaways. Although that band never achieved great success in the US, they were hugely successful overseas, during their stormy existence from 1975-79. While their members and associations would take pages of print to recount, suffice to say, their existence is legend in rock history. Like a bad cliché, the band really was “Big In Japan”, with Beatles like adoration from fans and the recording of a livehit album. It is too bad they couldn’t dig up some of the surviving members of “The Runaways, for a surprise jam session, but I guess that is asking for the impossible.
But Joan Jett and The Blackhearts did appear for an impressive ninety minutes set of their rock classics. As reported by most reviewers this was supposedly the first honoree of the festival to actually play on opening night. This is not entirely true, however, as Ray Manzerek and Robbie Krieger, played last year after they were honored as members of The Doors. The duo was joined by their touring band and guest singers to perform classic Doors songs. It was sadly, to be one of the last live performances in the Los Angeles area by Manzerek, who died earlier this year.
Three years ago, Slash also made a surprise appearance with the headline band, The Head Cat, after being honored at that year’s festival. Jett opened with her fitting moniker of a song “Bad Reputation, and the mostly inebriated full house rushed to the edge of the stage, reacting in frenzied exhilaration. The band played a string of their biggest hit songs, including the iconic “I Love Rock and Roll.” In a little known footnote to history that song is actually a remake. While living in England, after Jett had left The Runaways she recorded three songs there with Paul Cook and Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols/ One of them was an early version of the British band Arrows’ “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” The show at HOB also featured The Runaways biggest hit “Cherry Bomb,” as well as The Blackhearts remake of “Crimson and Clover,” originally the 1968 hit by Tommy James and The Shondells.
The highlight of the evening may have come during the bands’ encore when they were joined by Pat Smear of Foo Fighters and Germs fame. His clean crisp guitar work stood out against the backdrop of The Blackhearts’ more punk inspired distorted sound and the two elements blended perfectly to create a memorable jam finale. Happy music fans stumbled out into the streets of Sunset Boulevard shortly after midnight, to catch other bands playing the festival in nearby clubs. The festival features three days of music culminating in the giant street festival which shuts down one of the most musically historic blocks on the planet.