“Tommy James wrote one of my biggest hits,” Joan Jett said of the man who topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in 1969 with “Crimson and Clover.” She was speaking last night (October 23) from the stage of New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, at the 6th Annual Little Kids Rock Benefit. About a half an hour earlier, James and Jett had performed the song together for the first time ever.
“I was so nervous during rehearsal, I forgot the words!” Jett exclaimed. Happily, their duo performance turned out perfectly, with James starting the song on his own, backed by the house band (made up of members of Jett’s longtime backing band, the Blackhearts). One verse into the song, Jett joined him and the crowd roared.
It was all part of an event that served as a tribute concert to Jett, with artists from several generations and genres performing some of her most well-known songs (and a few rarities as well).
The show raised nearly a million and a half dollars for Little Kids Rock, an organization that helps to keep music programs in disadvantaged schools. Before the Jett tribute began, the organization held an auction that raised quite a bit of cash from the many high rollers in the audience — a dinner with the show’s producers, Steven and Maureen Van Zandt, for example, went for $60,000, while the opportunity to perform on stage (“any instrument you want!”) for the encore last night went for $20,000. The audience might have been, as John Lennon once said, the kind who rattle their jewelry to show their approval. Although in fact, most of them were on their feet throughout the night, whether bidding for some pretty awesome items (other treasures included a guitar autographed by all the members of Metallica, another one bore Slash‘s John Hancock), or to sing along with Jett classics.
Jake Clemons, a singer/songwriter who is well known as the nephew of Clarence Clemons and is part of the E Street Band’s horn section, was this year’s recipient of the “Big Man of the Year” award, which was named after his late uncle, and per LKR’s website, “…is presented to a musician who embodies the values of generosity and service that reflect Clarence’s legacy and our organization’s ideals” (Clarence was an early supporter of LKR). Recent recipients include Darlene Love in 2013 and Steven Van Zandt in 2012.
The 2012 and 2013 events served as ad hoc tribute concerts to the honoree, but as Jake’s discography only includes a handful of songs, the decision was made to create the “Rocker of the Year” award, with Jett certainly being a deserving recipient. But before the Jett-fest kicked off, Clemons performed two songs with some of the kids who have benefitted from the organization: First, he donned an acoustic guitar and sang “You’re A Friend Of Mine,” his uncle’s biggest solo hit, and then grabbed his sax to back up two young girls for an original song that they wrote.