Kenny Laguna, Joan Jett's producer, is a longtime hit maker
Thursday, December 10, 2009
To the casual rock-and-roll fan, the name Kenny Laguna probably won’t ring a bell. But to music insiders, Laguna’s name carries some formidable weight. The performer-turned-producer was still a teenager when he produced hits in the 1960s for Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers, Tommy James and the Shondells, Darlene Love, Jay and the Americans and The Ohio Express.
The bubblegum sound changed Laguna’s career. Then along came Joan Jett, who changed his life, and he hers.
of rock's great "lost" parodies is finally going to be
released. "Stairway to Gillian's Island", in which an
act billed as Little
Roger & The Goosebumps marries the music
of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" with the words
to the classic castaway TV sitcom theme, was quashed back in the
late '70s by Zep's management.
Kenny Laguna, who produced
it, recently had it played for Zeppers Robert Plant and Jimmy Page,
who gave the go-ahead for it to be included on "Laguna Tunes",
a collection of tracks from his producing, arranging and performing
vaults due Jan. 25 from Blackheart Records, the label he's run for
20 years with partner Joan Jett.
February 18, 2000
TO GILLIAN'S ISLAND"
22 years, Led Zep have okayed the release of Little Roger and the
Goosebumps' parody. The track (on Blackheart's new Laguna Tunes
compilation) sets the show's theme song to the tune of "Stairway
to Heaven". What's next: "Whole Lotta Loveboat"?
he became the brains behind Joan Jett's Blackheart imprint, Kenny
Laguna was one of those '60s pop-industry utility players, sort
of like Sonny Bono without political ambitions. Laguna Tunes
collects 22 tracks Laguna had something to do withand
it's a giggle just for its range. Laguna began his career working
with people like Tony Orlando (before Dawn) and Bill Medley (after
the Righteous Brothers), but in the album's liner notes, he details
his connections to Andy Warhol, Pete Townshend, Jonathan Richman
and "our friend Ian MacKaye from Fugazi." Clearly, Sonny
left the biz too soon.
such oddities as a Joan Jett/Greg Graffin duet of Cole Porter's
"Let's Do It", Laguna Tunes is rooted in the Brill
Building era. Most of these songs are doo-wop, girl group or bubblegumor
playful updates on those styles, such as "Dario (Can You Get
Me into Studio 54)," a disco-era novelty. Although Laguna worked
with Bow Wow Wow and Beserkley Records (onetime home of Richman,
Greg Kihn and Earthquake), he kept returning to such pre"I
want to Hold Your Hand" pals as Ellie Greenwich (who sings
on two of these tracks) and Darlene Love (who Laguna laments "slagged
me off" in her memoir).
those with no affection for '60s assembly-line pop, Laguna Tunes
will probably be inexplicable. Even those who love the stuff
will find few gems among the many unreleased and underreleased tracks.
Curiosities, however, the album has aplenty: The Beach Boys harmonize
with Joan Jett, Sissy Spacek joins Meco and the Spice Strings on
a tune recorded for Warhol's Lonesome Cowboys, and Little
Roger and the Goosebumps perform their suppressed conceptual coup
"Stairway to Gillian's Island". Robert Plant laughed when
he finally heard it, Laguna reports, and so will you.
Scene, February 13, 2000
REKINDLES SUBTLE CHEMISTRY OF
Kenny Laguna is a producer, arranger and a performer who began his
career in the '60s as a sideman with such bubblegum groups as the
Ohio Express. He's probably best known for producing "I Love
Rock 'N Roll" by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts.
the 20th anniversary of Blackheart Records (the label he's run with
Jett, who he continues to manage) comes "Laguna Tunes"
(Blackheart), his vault-emptying collection of tracks that never
made it onto record - i.e, the theme to Andy Warhol's "Lonesome
Cowboys" sung by Bobby Bloom, Meco and a budding movie star
named Sissy Spacek.
in the middle lies the grail for novelty record collectors. Back
in the late '70s, Laguna produced "Stairway to Gillian's Island"
by Little Roger & The Goosebumps, a somewhat wacky parody that
wed the words to the classic TV sitcom theme with the music to Led
Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" - and the Zep's management
crushed it. But Laguna recently had it played for Robert Plant and
Jimmy Page, who gave the green light for it to be included on "Laguna
by Dave Marsh
of the first lessons you learn in writing about trash culture is
that there aren't any rules. People who want to make nothing but
a buck sometimes stumble across art, and people interested in nothing
but Art sometimes actually pull off actual art, too. (Remember Roxy
Laguna has been a rock'n'roll artist since he was 12 years old,
but as Kenny's '60s forte was brilliant bubblegum hits and he has
mostly worked lately with Joan Jett, herself an artist of the brilliant
burrowing (under your expectations) species, hardly anyone gets
who doesn't get Laguna Tunes (Blackheart Records) will miss a great
rock'n'roll history lesson. It turns out that Laguna, behind his
guise as a bubble-gum oriented termite, is actually a visionary.
I mean, this is the guy with the nerve to record "Stairway
to Gilligan's Island," by Little Roger and the Goosebumps,
a Led Zeppelin parody so perfect the group's manager offered to
put Laguna up if he didn't get it off the radio. Which Zeppelin
needed because Little Roger's "Stairway" totally de-pantsed
the original, as music and as lyric.
Laguna wrote, produced, sang and played on, dreamed up and tried
to sell (sometimes successfully). They wander around rock history
from the mid-'60s pop-rock of Darlene Love and the Blossoms' magnificent
"Make a Change" and "In the Name of Happiness,"
a crazed 4 Seasons knockoff by Tony Orlando and Wind to the Steve
Gibbons Band's inspired knockoff of Chuck Berry's "Tulane"
and "Good Music," the grungey mid-'80s pop rock. Jett
cut with Love and the Beach Boys.
liner notes, written by Laguna, add up to a true-believer's odyssey
through the record business. They're hilarious ("I sang the
flat part") and informative, although I'd still like to know
how he conned the record executives into being taped for "The
Big B Side," a most devastatingly accurate summary of music
biz hogwash. The album is unified musically by Laguna's love for
high harmonies, doowop singing, fuzzy lead guitars and romance ironically
coupled to the big beat. Such tracks amplify the album's sense of
being a personal musical epic, with versions of everything from
"The Davy Crockett Theme" to "Donna the Prima Donna,"
and an actual big-time disco hit, "Dario (Can You Get Me Into
Studio 54)" and one of the great "Louie Louie" spinoffs,
Bow Wow Wow's "Louis Quatorze."
is a big word for point-of-view, and here's how I'd sum up Kenny
Laguna's: Making music is about the best thing in the world to do,
getting paid for it is the luxury of a lifetime, and even bubble-gum
changes your life, so never sell yourself short no matter what you're
offered as bribe or wages.
pretty much word-for-word Joan Jett's "Good Music," which
ends Laguna Tunes in a blaze of fully-realized glory. To me, it
has always been Joan's greatest record but now I realize that it's
also Kenny's credo. I know it because of the last line of the chorus:
"I would die without good music."
that doesn't make sense, avoid this album at all costs. But for
those of us who understand it as the simple truth of the matter,
though, Laguna Tunes is a land of enchantment.
Blast from a Bubblegum Past
by Spyder Darling
Laguna? Let's see, wasn't he that Footloose guy who played with
Dave Messina back in the seventies? Wait, that was Kenny Loggins.
Kenny Laguna, for those not up on their Rock 'n' Roll Jeopardy,
is best known for his longtime role as producer and manager to Ex-Runaway,
and original riot grrl Joan Jett.
two teamed up to form Blackheart Records after Jett had been turned
down by over twenty record companies in the new-wave disco-craze
daze of 1980. Since then, despite odds even the most degenerate
gamble wouldn't touch, Jett and Laguna have struck gold many times
over. Laguna's production of Jett's 1982 multi-platinum single,
"I Love Rock 'n' Roll", helped the song become an anthem
for the MTV generation.
as Blackheart Records beats into its twentieth year and no longer
sells records out of the back of Joan's van, Laguna wants the world
to know of his other, even lesser known accomplishments and associations
dating back to the late sixties. So, like an audible footnote to
pop history, out trots Laguna Tunes a quirky twenty-two track
compilation of Laguna's work with artists as diverse and perverse
as Darlene Love, the Morticians, Bow Wow Wow and even a pre-Dawn,
Tony Orlando doing his best Frankie Valley impersonation on two
of the CD's moldiest oldies, "Make Believe" and "In
the Name of Happiness".
on in a chatty, wise-guy style about his achievements and associations,
the Laguna Tunes liner notes cover four decades of classics,
clunkers, smash hits and near misses. The ten-plus pages of background
info tell everything but what Kenny had for lunch yesterday. Judging
by what I've read and heard though, I'd say ham and cheese is a
good guess. Among the repolished "gems" on the CD are
a couple of cuts by Joan Jett, including a duet with Greg Graffin
of Bad Religion punking out a cover of Cole Porter's "Let's
himself takes a turn at the microphone on his self-penned "Home
for Christmas", proving he's indeed a jack of almost all trades,
the exception of course being singing. Other oddities on the disc
include the theme to Andy Warhol's "Lonesome Cowboys",
featuring actress Sissy Spacek of all people and future disco star
Meco of Star Wars fame. To make the kaleidoscope even kookier
there's the Doctor Demento favorite "Stairway to Gillian's
Island" by Led Zep-sound-alikes Little Roger & the Goosebumps.
Honestly, who thinks of these band names? This particular potential
chart buster was pulled from its initial release due to pulverizing
pressure from Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin's heavy weight and heavy-handed
sure you're catching on by now that Laguna Tunes could easily
have been titled Kenny's Kitchen Sink for its "Everything
But..." contents. Another idiosyncratic ingredient is "The
Champion", written for Muhammad Ali in 1968, a song most memorable
for its rhyme crime of coupling "Missed him" with "Sonny
Liston". Ouch! Unbelievably, "The Champion" was almost
released by Atlantic Records, but was knocked out when Ali lost
his title fight to Joe Frazier. In light of Muhammad's recent tributes
as a contender for many Athlete of the Century awards, maybe Kenny
can again attract interest in the song from the boys over at ESPN's
Jock Rock series. As if Ali hasn't suffered enough.
Pistols packager Malcom McLaren's pop-tart protégés
Bow Wow Wow put in one of Laguna Tunes more legitimately
listenable with "Louis Quatorze" a bouncy new-wave blast
from the Big Eighties. Laguna's production made ultimate use of
Bow Wow Wow's trademark tribal drumming and singer Annabelle's pouty,
playful vocals. When onboard with the band, Laguna came through
with production that brought them their biggest hits, including
the dance-floor favorite "I Want Candy", which unfortunately
isn't included in this collection. Instead we're treated to Davey
Crockett, and the instantly forgettable Moose and the Pelicans with
a novelty throwaway that "featured" both Laguna and Sissy
you are a hardcore Joan Jett head who must have every rarity ever
sold, or a Solid Gold Oldies junkie looking for a few novelty nuggets
to add to your vault of musical knowledge then Laguna Tunes
will be a joyride down a lost highway of bubble-gum wishes and soda-pop
dreams. Others, however, may find the collection a grinding wind
down a potholed highway to Hell. So, if you care or dare, buckle
yourself in, crank up Laguna Tunes and enjoy.
(week of Jan. 30 - Feb. 5, 2000)
compilation - "Laguna Tunes," various artists (Blackheart/Mercury;
this is a fun career salute to Kenny Laguna, who runs Blackheart
and produces and manages Joan Jett. Before Blackheart, which is
celebrating its 20th anniversary, Laguna played or sang backup on
a load of mostly bubble-gum Top 40 hits. But he made his greatest
mark as a producer, working with the likes of Jett, Bow Wow Wow,
Bill Medley, Darlene Love and many others.
22-track collection gathers tracks that, for one reason or another,
got squashed before their time. Among the rarities are "Lonesome
Cowboys," from the Andy Warhol film of the same name, featuring
Bobby Bloom ("Montego Bay"), Meco, The Tradewinds and
a struggling country singer named Sissy Spacek. There's also a Jett
collaboration with the Beach Boys and Love on "Good Music,"
the original "Dancin' in the Moonlight" by Peter Weinstock
and Bow Wow Wow's "Louis Quatorze". The album's tour de
farce is Little Roger and the Goosebumps' "Stairway to Gillian's
Island". You have to hear it to believe it.
before Kenny Laguna partnered with rock icon Joan Jett to form the
hit making Blackheart Records in 1980, the music producer was already
shaping the careers of artists and creating an historical body of
will release a collection of overlooked gems, Laguna Tunes,
on the company's 20th anniversary in January.
liner notes are like memoirs, unveiling Laguna's musical history
that spans four decades. Among the lost classics are a diverse mix
of songs by Tony Orlando, Bill Medley, Bow Wow Wow, Greg Graffin
(Bad Religion), Steve Gibbons Band, and Kenny Laguna himself.
and Meryl Laguna and Joan Jett started Blackheart Records in 1980
after being turned down by 23 labels. They used their personal savings
to press the records and set up their own independent distribution.
Jett's first hits, Bad Reputation and Do you Wanna Touch
Me? Started a revolution we are still feeling to this day. In
1982 they emerged with I Love Rock 'n' Roll, one of the biggest
hits of all time.
tempting to imagine that Kenny Laguna invented the lifework he chronicles
in the songs and liner notes of Laguna Tunes, that this parade of
detritusTony Orlando before Dawn, Sissy Spacek singing the
soundtrack to an Andy Warhol film, Bill Medley between the Righteous
Brothers and his 1980s blipis some kind of Nabokovian ploy
concocted six months ago in a New York studio. "But it isn't
a sham, exactly, just an unprecedented distillation of a phantasmic
realm: the world of shameless bubblegum, where balladeers rejected
pathos as bathos that wasn't trying hard enough, studio groups were
invented at the drop of a hat, and anything could be stuck
on the B-side.
later the keyboardist and producer for Joan Jett, broke in as a
teenage wunderkind, backing the Shangri-La's and others at concerts
staged by New York's main AM station, and conjuring 45s whenever
he could line up a song, singer, and label. Stranded in California
by Tommy James, he befriended Beserkley, home to Jonathan Richman
(not included, though Laguna produced him) among other crazies;
on this compilation, Beserkley's Zep-suppressed radio cult staple
"Stairway to Gillian's Island" finally gets a legit issuing.
When punk hit, Laguna fit right in, recognizing grubby hustlers
underneath all the hype.
Jett, he helmed Malcom McLaren's version of teenybop: Bow Wow Wow,
represented by the still greasy rape fantasy "Louis Quatorze".
The latest tracks here are a 1997 Cole Porter cover by Jett and
Bad Religion's Greg Graffin and a 1985 Jett session with the Beach
Boys and Darlene Love. For a career arc, quite a wingspan.
latter song's called "Good Music", pretty funny given
Laguna's spaghetti-on-the-wall aesthetic. But the CD might convince
you that that isn't a sham, either, or that it's the founding sham
of rock and roll. There's an August Darnellpenned disco tune
about trying to get into Studio 54everyone in Lagunaland is
trying to get an in somewhereand it's even better B side:
the saga of how many labels said no to the A side before Eddie O',
who'd go on to found Salt-N-Pepa's Next Plateau, said yes. The version
of "Dancin' in the Moonlight" that King Harvest stole
("once again, 'we was robbed' "). An instrumental B side
for Wind that became a British chart topper in 1970 after the BBC
didn't know which side to play. Any number of baritones trying to
make like Neil Diamond. And endless covers, by ersatz ensembles
like Moose and the Pelicans, because "rock and roll is going
to set you free." Think they're kidding? Look at them!
could draw cynical conclusions from this album: that pop never changes,
just the shtick
of those trying to cash in; that the only
difference between a song on a Rhino compilation and one in somebody's
attic is a million spins on the radio. The truth is, Laguna and
his pals, even Joan Jett, had a hard time mustering the self-importance
to become historic figures. So they drifted around, with the result
a record that keeps finding the same sweet spot, whether the inspiration
is the Brill Building, Motown, longhair AM, or the Ramones. I find
myself singing "Sudden Death" by Anders, Laguna &
Ginsberg, which tries so hard to top Procol Harum it ends up anticipating
Tom Petty. Rock isn't just trash. But that's one of the things it
is, and weirdly enough, the folks cutting demos in the garbage can
are often the truest believers.
producer Kenny Laguna, who also manages Joan Jett & The Blackhearts,
is a Zelig of the trade. He started out in the 60's playing Crimson
and Clover in Tommy James' band and later moved to the Soundboard.
has popped up as a singer, player, producer or talent herder on
hundreds of recordings. He never achieved the cultish adoration
of Phil Spector or the beknighted fame of George Martin, but wotta
spills the vault on Kenny the Kahuna's absurdly checkered past,
from bubblegum to the Blackhearts. Here is client and business partner
Jett singing Cole Porter's Let's Do It with Greg Graffin
of the punk band Bad Religion, then Good Music with the Beach
Boys and Darlene Love. There are the early, pre-Dawn songs by Tony
Orlando and Wind (Make Believe, In the Name of Happiness),
followed by an Andy Warhol soundtrack number featuring Sissy Spacek
on backing vocals (Lonesome Cowboy).
career weakness for noveltry is well expressed on this 22-song collection.
Not even nostalgia will redeem the insipid Davey Crockett by
Moose and the Pelicans, but Laguna takes warts-and-all approach
to anthology. The lost 'n' found trove includes a hilarious splice
job, Stairway to Gillian's Island, mating TV theme with Led
Zeppelin epic. The Champion Part One is a Laguna-penned ode
to Muhammad Ali sung by Love.
was an indie-label pioneer with his Blackheart Records, and an able
producer with a clean, punchy aesthetic. He is not what you would
call a visionary. Some other studio wizard always seemed to do things
a little sooner or a little better, althought Laguna's albums with
Jett are models of how to cut straight rock 'n' roll.