By Brian M. Howle
Rock ‘n Roll is one of those entities that tends to stamp a time date on things, due to the shear force of great music merging with great memories. And for millions of rabid rock ‘n rollers who preferred their music with a touch of femme fatale overtones, there was one power player who topped everybody’s list of uber power vocalists (who partnered with a prolific guitarist/arranger) to virtually monopolize the music biz.
Those of you born during and after the mid ‘80s may have missed the heyday, but now’s your chance to make up for that unfortunate time warp – and find out what your elders already know – when Pat Benatar, along with husband/guitarist Neil Giraldo, takes command of the storied stage at House Of Blues in N. Myrtle Beach, SC on Tuesday, June 30, 2009.
One of the most dominant forces in music in the late ‘70s burst onto the scene with the emergence of Pat Benatar. Her distinctive vocals, smoldering Ukrainian good looks, and powerful arrangements by band leader/guitarist Neil Giraldo launched a career that powered on into the ‘80s and ‘90s. And now, in this new millennium, both are still a force to be reckoned with.
With a little help from Wikipedia, here’s her journey to rock superstardom:
Born Patricia Mae Andrzejewski in Brooklyn, New York, Benatar’s family moved from Brooklyn to Lindenhurst, Long Island when she was 3 years old. The daughter of a sheet-metal worker and a beautician who once sang with the New York City Opera, Pat became interested in theater and began voice lessons, singing her first solo in elementary school at age eight. She participated in musical theater in high school.
Her musical training was strictly classical and theatrical, and literally was cut off from the rock scene in nearby Manhattan. She said her parents were “ridiculously strict – I was allowed to go to symphonies, opera and theater but I couldn’t go to clubs. I was singing Puccini and West Side Story but I spent every afternoon after school with my little transistor radio listening to the Rolling Stones…”
She was accepted to The Juilliard School, but surprised family, friends and teachers by deciding a classical career was not for her and pursued health education at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. At 19, she dropped out to marry her high school sweetheart Dennis Benatar and later worked as a bank teller.
After attending a Liza Minnelli concert in1973, Pat quit her job the next day and pursued a singing career. Gigs as a singing waitress and singing in a lounge band helped her prepare for her big break.
Pat’s rousing rendition of Judy Garland’s “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody” at an amateur night at the renowned comedy club Catch a Rising Star in New York in 1975 earned her a call back by club owner Rick Newman, who would become her manager. She went on to be a regular member of Catch for close to three years.
Halloween 1977 proved a pivotal night in Pat’s early, spandexed stage persona. Rather than change out of the vampire costume she had worn to a Greenwich Village cafe party that evening, she went on-stage wearing black tights, black eyeliner and short black top. All of a sudden, despite performing her usual array of songs, Catch’s audience was hit with this strong visual image that matched her exceptional singing and powerful vocal range. This time she received a standing ovation. “The crowd was always polite, but this time they went out of their minds, Pat recalls. “It was the same songs, sung the same way, and I thought, ‘Oh my God…it’s these clothes and this makeup!’”
In between appearances at Catch and recording commercial jingles for Pepsi Cola and a number of regional concerns, Pat Benatar headlined New York City’s famous Tramps nightclub March 29 – April 1, 1978, where their knockout performance devoted to original rock material and ballads, plus a few rearranged favorites, including “Bird of Paradise” and “My My My” by Taro Meyers, Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” and a reggae arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” impressed representatives from several record companies. They were signed to Chrysalis Records the following week. “There was a long period of three years, when I spent my time taking demo tapes around and being rejected by one record company after another,” Pat said. “Then just two days after the debut concert with the band, we were signed to a record contract…”
As with many artists, Pat’s ambition to write and sing original rock material was not shared by record company executives at first. Further contentious flames were fanned with battles over material, plus disputes over advertising manipulated to make Pat appear nude, and her image after she remarried and started a family. (The Benatars divorced in 1979. Pat and band leader/guitarist Neil “Spyder” Giraldo married February 20, 1982. The distinctive lead guitarist of the band – his “Spyder” nickname becomes obvious when you watch him attack the neck of his guitar – he was in Rick Derringer’s touring band in 1978. Giraldo has performed on all of Benatar’s albums. Neil also sings, plays keyboards and harmonica, and has many writing and producing credits on Pat’s albums. The Giraldos have two daughters: Haley Egeana born February 16, 1985, and Hana Juliana born March 12, 1994).
Recorded in June and July 1979, Pat Benatar debuted the week of August 27, 1979 with the release of “I Need A Lover” (If it rings a bell, it’s because it was written and also recorded by John “Cougar” Mellencamp), from the album In the Heat of the Night. It was a flop in sales, as was the second single, “If You Think You Know How To Love Me.”
But the third time was the proverbial charm – “Heartbreaker” was released in December of 1979, and the legend was off and running.
She won an unprecedented four consecutive Grammy Awards for Best Female Rock Performance: 1980’s Crimes of Passion (“Hit Me with Your Best Shot”, “Hell is for Children”, “Treat Me Right” and a Rascal’s cover, “You Better Run” which gained later notoriety as the second music video played on MTV, after the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”); 1981’s Precious Time (“Fire And Ice” and “Promises in the Dark”); 1982’s Get Nervous (“Shadows Of The Night” and “Little Too Late”), and 1983’s Live from Earth (“Love Is a Battlefield”, with its iconic, shoulder-shimmying dance number that was custom-choreographed for MTV).
Benatar and Giraldo made a break from her “hard rock” sound and featured a softer, gentler sound with 1984’s Tropico (“We Belong”). Seven the Hard Way gave us “Invincible” and “Sex As a Weapon” in 1985. 1988’s Wide Awake in Dreamland featured my all-time personal Benatar favorite, “All Fired Up” (pop this puppy in your CD player when you’re heading out on a road trip if you want to start out right!), as well as “Don’t Walk Away”, “Let’s Stay Together”, and “One Love”. A jump blues record, True Love, was released in 1991. Gravity’s Rainbow came next in 1993, with “Everybody Lay Down” and “Somebody’s Baby”. 1997’s Innamorata featured “Strawberry Wine (Life is Sweet)”, and 1993’s Go featured the 9/11 charity single, “Christmas in America” as a bonus track.
Of the ten Grammy Award ceremonies in the 1980s, Benatar was nominated for Best Female Rock Performance eight times, including for “Invincible” in 1985, “Sex As A Weapon” in 1986, “All Fired Up” in 1988 and in 1989 for “Let’s Stay Together.” Benatar also earned Grammy Award nominations in 1985 for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female with “We Belong” and in 1986 for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Duo or Group as a member of Artists United Against Apartheid for their single “Sun City.” Benatar is also the winner of three American Music Awards: Favorite Female Pop/Rock Vocalist of 1981 and 1983, and Favorite Female Pop/Rock Video Artist of 1985. Benatar was twice named Rolling Stone magazine’s Favorite Female Vocalist.
Pat also has several stage and screen credits, including playing the character Zephyr in Harry Chapin’s futuristic rock musical “The Zinger”. Set in a recording studio sometime around the year 2000, the production, which debuted on March 19, 1976, at the Performing Arts Foundation’s (PAF) Playhouse in Huntington Station, Long Island (renamed the Harry Chapin Center), also featured Beverly D’Angelo and Christine Lahti.
Pat has also appeared in numerous TV appearances, mostly as herself, and her songs have been featured in film and TV. In 2007-2008 “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” was put into the songlist for Guitar Hero 3 in the first tier of songs, also in Guitar Hero On Tour, and is available as a downloadable song in the video game Rock Band. Her song “Heartbreaker” is a playable song in the 2008 video game followup Guitar Hero: World Tour as well as also being downloadable content on Rock Band.
Benatar was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame at the Second Induction Award Ceremony and Fundraising Gala held October 30, 2008.
Pat is a walking testament to good genetics (despite the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle), who – in my humble opinion – looks even better now than when she released her debut album in 1979 (and, she was fine in 1979, folks). And she’s kept the pipes. She has kept the whole package intact – and again, from my perspective, I think she might even sound stronger now.
Hey, come hear for yourself and join Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo at House Of Blues in N. Myrtle Beach, SC on Tuesday, June 30, 2009. Doors open 7:30pm. For ticket info call 843-272-3000 or Ticketmaster 843-679-9333; or visit http://www.houseofblues.com or http://www.ticketmaster.com
This article also appeared in the June 18 – July 2, 2009 issue (Page 25) of Alternatives and Coast NewsMagazines (www.myrtlebeachalternatives.com).