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Song Facts
North Jersey.com
Los Angels Times


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.

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Los Angeles Times

JANUARY 16, 2000

POP EYE

One 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.

But 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.

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Entertainment Weekly

Friday, February 18, 2000

"STAIRWAY TO GILLIAN'S ISLAND"

After 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"?

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Time Out

February 10-17, 2000

KENNY LAGUNA
Laguna Tunes
(Blackheart/Mercury)

Before 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 with—and 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.

Despite 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 bubblegum—or 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).

To 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.

Mark Jenkins

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Denver Post

The Scene, February 13, 2000

REISSUE REKINDLES SUBTLE CHEMISTRY OF
NILSSON, NEWMANN

- 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.

With 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.

But 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 Tunes".

— G. Brown

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VISIONARY

Written by Dave Marsh

One 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 Music?)

Kenny 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 it.

Anyone 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.

Kenny 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.

The 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."

Vision 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.

That's 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."

If 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.

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NY Rock

February 2000

Laguna Tunes:
Blast from a Bubblegum Past
by Spyder Darling

Kenny 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.

The 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.

Now 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".

Rambling 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 Do It".

Laguna 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 manager.

I'm 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.

Ex-Sex 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 Spacek.

If 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.

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Pause & Play

By Gerry Galipault
(week of Jan. 30 - Feb. 5, 2000)

*Best 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.

This 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.

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15 Minutes Magazine
December 24, 1999

Overlooked Gems

YEARS 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 musical treasures.

Blackheart will release a collection of overlooked gems, Laguna Tunes, on the company's 20th anniversary in January.

The 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.

Kenny 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.

Joan 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.

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The Village Voice

April 4, 2000

PARADISE GARBAGE
by Eric Weisbard

LAGUNA TUNES
Blackheart/Mercury

It's tempting to imagine that Kenny Laguna invented the lifework he chronicles in the songs and liner notes of Laguna Tunes, that this parade of detritus—Tony Orlando before Dawn, Sissy Spacek singing the soundtrack to an Andy Warhol film, Bill Medley between the Righteous Brothers and his 1980s blip—is 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.

Laguna, 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.

Besides 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.

The 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 Darnell—penned disco tune about trying to get into Studio 54—everyone in Lagunaland is trying to get an in somewhere—and 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!

You 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.


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A producer's past

Rock 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.

He 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 Rolodex!

Laguna Tunes 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).

A 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.

Laguna 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.

Sean Piccoli

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