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Joan Jett signs the Vacancies.

Ashlee Simpson, getting in sync at the Palace - Theatre, March 22. - WALTER  NOVAK
  • Walter Novak
  • Ashlee Simpson, getting in sync at the Palace Theatre, March 22.
Rock icon Joan Jett has signed Cleveland's Vacancies to her Blackheart Records, a longstanding indie label with major distribution, whose catalog includes Jett, the Eyeliners, the Chemical Brothers, and Big Daddy Kane.

"The Vacancies are an incredible live band," says Jett. "They have great songs with excellent lyrics that apply to people's everyday lives."

The Vacancies met Jett after she heard their 2002 Gutpunch CD and chose them to open for her in Cleveland and Cincinnati. The Cleveland show fell through when drummer Sean Watkins left, but the band regrouped for the Cincinnati concert, adding skinsman Angelo Merendino and leaving a good impression. Jett kept in touch and eventually offered the band a modest one-album deal that will pay off later if it works out and won't create a debt if it doesn't.

"This is the kind of label we saw ourselves at," says singer Billy Crooked. "It's indie, but they have the resources to get the record to people. There are no label bigwigs. It's so much more personal. They're not trying to get a huge pop record out of us. They signed us because they like us."

The band has already recorded its sophomore album -- tentatively titled A Beat Missing or Silence Added, slated for summer release -- with Jett and Kenny Laguna (her longtime manager-producer, formerly of Tommy James & the Shondells) co-producing. The band rehearsed until it worked up a lather, then recorded 16 tracks in six days at Long Island's Cloud 9 Studios and Manhattan's Soundtracks Studios.

"Their songs are amazing," says Laguna. "There's never a low-energy moment. They're a classic punk-rock band. That's why we love them. And they really have their shit together."

· The hard-edged modern-rock group Rikets is shooting a video for "Blister" Wednesday, April 6, at Peabody's, and the first 250 women get into the 7 p.m. show free. The band is planning to shoot clips for the other four tracks from its recent Anything for the Devil EP and release a DVD this summer. "Useless" is available at www.rikets.com.

· ColourFX Hair Colorant is sponsoring a national talent search for unsigned acts. The top Ohio bands will be featured in a special showcase. Interested groups have until April 15 to submit a bio, photos, and a show schedule to ColourFX Band Promotion, 6925 Valley Avenue, Suite 200, Cincinnati 45244.

· Hot on the heels of its debut Under a Grey Sky, dance-rock phenoms Whitechapel are planning to release a live EP. Recorded in February at the Grog Shop, 02-10-05 will feature new tunes and alternate versions of songs from their first album. The disc is set for a late spring release.

· Guitar manufacturer Ernie Ball is once again sponsoring a Warped Tour side stage stocked with local bands. Winners of the company's ninth annual battle of the bands will play the Cleveland show July 21. Interested groups have until May 21 to enter. Visit www.battle.ernieball.com for more information.

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