January , 1980
By Sharisse Zeff
Blazing Rocker Sweeps Country
You've got to have something very special to make it in the music business today.
You've got to be able to set fire, to burn with a presence that transcends sight and sound. This is how female rock sensation Pat Benatar has been blazing her way across music halls from coast to coast.
"I really want success," said Benatar, as she relaxed backstage after an incendiary performance at Norman's Boomer Theatre December 15th.
"I've told myself that I am going to do it. I know it. But then as you start doing it, you start wondering, 'I don't know, maybe I'm not going to do it.' I didn't expect this record to do as well as its doing right now. You don't expect your first album to do that."
Benatar's debut album, In The Heat Of The Night, has been drawing rave reviews as it steadily climbs the charts across the country. The entire album projects a new direction in music.
"When I did this album, I just wanted to sing songs about the other side, not getting dumped on by a man. You know, the other side of life in case you did the dumping or you got dumped on. I don't care. It's a big change," explained Benatar who's been divorced herself.
"I'm not a hard-nosed girl or anything like that. I like flowers and things. I would say the music reflects my personal life, a part of my personal life. I mostly thought it was time for someone to do it."
"Low-key or laid back I am not. A lot of women singers today seem to be saying, 'If you love me then leave me, I'll die. I say, 'If you love me then leave me, I'll kick your ass."
Benatar claims her fresh impact is due to the fact that she never listened to other female vocalists. Her influences, she says, come from such rock singers as Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, the Who's Roger Daltry, and Foreigner's Lou Gramm.
"I try to be strong and masculine on stage, like them, but somehow it comes out being very feminine," she said.
Chrysalis Records signed Benatar to a contract last year. Some allege that her notoriety is the result of a promotional campaign by the record label designed to cash in on her sex appeal.
"I don't feel that Chrysalis is 'sexploiting' me at all," responded Benatar. "However, I know that I'm not ugly and I know I don't 'wear a lot of clothes on stage. And I know that this is a good selling point. So I know that we are probably using it to sell records.”
"In the long run, I don't think that that's what sells records. If you're good, you sell records. That's what initially gets their attention," said Benatar, pointing to her picture on the album cover, "And that's fine. I don't try to cover it up."
Benatar's band is comprised of Neil Geraldo, lead guitar and keyboards; Roger Capps, bass; Scott St. Claire-Sheets, rhythm guitar; and Glen Hamilton, drums. Benatar sings, but prefers not to play an instrument during a concert.
"I don't play anything except a little keyboard-to write. I like to have my hands free to move around. I don't like to feel locked into an instrument so I can't move," she said.
In The Heat Of The Night features Benatar singing songs written by such artists as Nick Gilder, Alan Parsons, and the team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman.
Two of the songs on the album, "My Clone Sleeps Alone," and "So Sincere," were written by Benatar and Roger Capps.
"Before the album was finished, I just never was really interested in writing things like that. But once you write one song, all of a sudden you think, 'Well now I can write.' So you start going wild, you start writing.”
"I don't want to do all original material ever," said Benatar, "because there are songs out there that I want to sing that are not mine. Other people write great songs. I'm only learning to write so I want to do other people's stuff."
Benatar does not want anyone to get the wrong message from the music she sings. “When I see people out there goin’ ‘yeah,' girls goin’ ‘yeah,' I just don't want them to miss the point. The point is there is another side to love and being caressed and there are a lot of women who don't get caressed. For that reason, I just hope they don't miss the point."
From an early age, singing has been a part of Pat Benatar's life.
"I always sang, like when I was a little kid," she said "I was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Long Island. And then I was doing theatre and stuff like that."
"I started performing professionally in Virginia and then started doing cowboy clubs and things like that. Then I made the switch to this kind of music about three years ago."
Her performance at New York's famous showcase for young talent, Catch A Rising Star, helped launch her career.
"Catch A Rising Star is a good place to try anything out that you want. It gave me a lot of space to do anything that I wanted, which led to this," said Benatar, referring to her album. "It was like kindergarten. You go and learn to go to school. It's great." Benatar is currently touring the smaller concert halls across the U.S. Despite the tremendous success her music has enjoyed, the physical strains of the road can wear on you, especially if you're only 4'11'.
"It's hard," Benatar replied. "Physically, it will kill you."
Yet, she appears to have a good time on stage.
"It is exhausting, it is real thrilling and you get real tired. But it’s fun and I like if you get to play all of these different places and see all these people and it's great. "You know, sometimes you don't think that anyone ever bought your record," Benatar confided. "No matter what people tell you, you think every night, 'No one's going to come.' Then you are sold out. "Like tonight, we were a little surprised because we are usually sold out. I said, 'Oh no, what's this going to be like 'cause there's not a lot of people?' Usually when there isn't, it's hard to get them going. But these people were great. It's a real surprise."
With the market of female hard rock singers few and far between, it's inevitable that the names of Blondie's Debbie Harry or Patti Smith would pop up when talking about Pat Benatar. She has even been called a female Bruce Springsteen.
"If you've got to be compared to anybody, it might as well be Bruce," replied Benatar. "I love Bruce, I think he's great. But I don't try to emulate him. I don't try to emulate anyone. Debbie and I know each other. We're nothing alike at all.”
"People are constantly making comparisons," said Benatar. "They used to, when I sang a couple of years ago, compare me to Barbra Streisand. People have to make comparisons."
Benatar says her second album, slated for a June release, will be along the same line as the first vigorous rock and roll.
She has already co-written five songs with Neil Geraldo. Three more songs that may appear on the record are Paul Revere and the Raider’s "Just Like Me," the Rascal’s "You Better Run," and Ritchie Valen's "Come On Let's Go."
"When writing or selecting other people's songs," said Benatar, "I don't think like what's going to be great on the radio. I wouldn't know a hit if I fell over one I just don't know, but I do know what I like to sing.”
"I'm getting there. I'm working on making it. I really feel great. There's more to more. I want to do film, I want to do as much as I can. I'm sure as Hell going to do as much as I can to be good. I want to survive.”