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Neil Giraldo Interview: Battling Nerve Injury, Rocker Soldiers on with Pat Benatar and Journey/Loverboy Tour

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Neil Giraldo

Four-time Grammy winner Pat Benatar and husband Neil “Spyder” Giraldo are hitting the road with legendary rock band Journey for a concert tour that’s set to span across the US with stops in Seattle, New York, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Jacksonville and many more cities. The Canadian rock band, Loverboy, is also part of the stellar performance lineup.

Known as one of the most influential couples in rock, hits by Benatar/Giraldo include “Love Is a Battlefield,” “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” “Heartbreaker,” “Promises in the Dark,” and “We Belong.” The powerhouse duo has been married and making music together for more than thirty years. Their groundbreaking path of success includes a collection of multi-platinum albums, Top 40 singles, Grammys and American Music Awards, plus rave reviews and countless sold-out concerts.

“I couldn’t cut a fried egg with a fork. I thought my career was over, and I’d just end up being a writer. There was no way. I couldn’t hold a pick. I couldn’t play. I thought my life was over. It was terrible.”

Giraldo serves as producer, arranger, co-writer and lead guitarist for the iconic singer. The acclaimed multi-instrumentalist is also known for helping shape the distinctive and renowned Benatar sound. He helped create chart-topping hits for John Waite, Rick Springfield, Kenny Loggins, Beth Hart and many other artists. In the 80s, Benatar and Giraldo ranked among the most heavily played artists on MTV. Their video, “You Better Run,” from the Crimes of Passion album, was the second video to ever air on the television network, making Giraldo the first ever guitar player featured on the channel.

Benatar and Giraldo have sold over thirty million copies of their twelve original albums along with two live records and an anthology. In 2003, the CD, Go, was released, the first album of new Benatar/Giraldo songs in seven years. Benatar released her autobiography in 2010, Between a Heart and a Rock Place. In between albums, the extraordinary pair enjoy devoting time to their two daughters, philanthropic/charity work, production projects, writing, touring and managing their vitamin company.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Neil, how’s the tour going?

Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo

Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo (Courtesy of Neil Giraldo)

Neil Giraldo: It’s going pretty good.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m looking forward to the concert August 27 in Birmingham.

Neil Giraldo: Yeah, you sound like you’re from Birmingham. Yeah, you are. Can’t fool me (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Funny (laughs). How did it come about that you and Pat (Benatar) are touring with Journey and Loverboy?

Neil Giraldo: That happened because our agent is always trying to put together a package for the summer that would work well for a larger size venue so to speak. They were talking to people, and they asked us, “What do you think about Journey?” I said, “Well, I think that could work okay because they’re different than we are.”

Journey is a great band and they have a lot of great hits. We’re a great band and have a lot of great hits. Same with Loverboy. It makes sense. We’re more aggressive, I feel. We’re a little more east coast kind of aggressive, and they’re more west coast. The idea is to try to get something that everybody can have a good time listening to so a person won’t walk out on one band and come back in on another. It has worked well.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Can we expect a nostalgic tour of the 70s and 80s?

Neil Giraldo: Well, no, not altogether. We have some new stuff in our set. Originally, when I made the records, I tried to make them cinematic. I tried to put things in different places with different instruments and tried to arrange it neatly, tightly, so you have all these little elements going on. When we play live, we’re more aggressive, more harder edged, so we still add those elements that we used when we made the recordings, but they’re harder, so which is better or gets you more excited? We’re coming out swinging, baby!

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you play the “Heartbreaker” solo live the same as on the record?

Neil Giraldo: You bet! I do it, and then I keep going, and then I get stuck (laughs). I did it in one take. It was funny. Remember that girl, Suzi Quatro?

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, she was the first female bass player to become a major rock star.

Neil Giraldo: Okay, she and her band were in the studio working next door to us, and I went out to get a glass of water and saw her. I said, “I’m just getting ready to do a solo. Do you want to come in and listen?” She said, “Sure.” The whole band came in and listened, and I did it in one complete take. So, yes, I do that same solo.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What are some of your favorite solos you are performing live?

Neil Giraldo: We’re not doing “Precious Time” live, but that’s one of them. I like that solo because I’m not a shredder so to speak. I can’t really play that fast and do that stuff. I look at it more toward melodies, and I always thought that when you make a record if there was a break from the singing, the solo should be a melodic and memorable one so a listener wouldn’t get bored. Then, when the solo was done, the vocal would start again.

When I did the song, “Precious Time,” I told the band, “Here’s our break in the middle. I’m going to play a solo. You’re going to play thirty-two bars of just the rhythm. I’m going to play a solo.” They asked, “What are you going to play?” I said, “I don’t know until I play it.” Then, I just worked out a little something and did it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I read that Pat doesn’t like to sing, “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” in concert.

Neil Giraldo: Yeah, she likes doing it. She plays it up a little bit, but she’s okay doing it. You know, how many times are you going to sing, “You’re a real tough cookie with a long history and before I put another notch in my lipstick case?” I mean, come on. She just goes, “Come on, already!” Or the best one is, “Hey Spyder, hey Pat, are you going to hit us with your best shot?” Oh, good grief. That’s like, “Okay, next.”

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Right (laughs). Neil, you picked up the guitar when you were fairly young.

Neil Giraldo: Oh yeah. I was six or seven.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you take lessons?

Neil Giraldo: Just for a very short time. I hated playing the guitar. I hated the lessons! I think it lasted a couple of months. I really hated it.

Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo

Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo (Courtesy of Neil Giraldo)

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you learn to read music?

Neil Giraldo. I did. I had to learn to read when I started learning the guitar. I hated it so much, and then I started playing piano, and that’s when I started to read music more than guitar. On piano, it made sense, so I learned to read, but I still can’t really read. I get the idea of it all, but if you put that music in front of me, I’d be a mess.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was playing with Rick Derringer your first job when you left Ohio?

Neil Giraldo: It was the first one. I left Ohio to go to California, and I played a lot of local bands there. Rick Derringer was the first professional job, correct.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you leave Rick to join Pat?

Neil Giraldo: Well, we went out on tour for about a year. We came off of tour, and Rick wanted to do another record, so we did, and I played more piano than guitar. The record was finished, and that’s when I got a phone call that said there’s this young girl from New York that wants to have a partnership with a guitar player. She has tried on occasion to get the sound right, and she kept failing. She just couldn’t get the right people around her. I was in Woodstock, came down to New York to meet her, and the rest is history. We’ve been a partnership from day one. That story will be told more poetically in the book I’m writing.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, we’ll talk more about the book later. You are credited with creating the “Benatar sound.” Is that because Pat was making the transition from cabaret to rock?

Neil Giraldo: That’s correct. In other words, she had a beautiful voice. When Patricia sang high, it was very clean, but it wasn’t rough. It didn’t have that explosive kind of sound to it because she never had instrumentation or the kind of attitude you needed to live in that type venue. That’s when she met me. I’m a very aggressive guitar player. I love chords, and I love the sounds of things versus my own individual playing. I’m only interested in the song, so when I’m playing three chords (A, E and D), I’m going to play those better than anybody you’ve ever heard. When I start playing those chords, I want that person to be singing.

At first, Pat wasn’t quite doing it. I said, “Wait a minute. Let me try to do this, and let’s work on this a little bit. Raise the key, and we’ll do this.” Then, she started to get it. I was like, “Holy crap! Okay, here’s what we’re going to do next.” Then, I just based the sound around like a four piece band at first, and I just added elements, and from there, we just kept creating, if that makes sense.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, it does. There were so many female rockers in the late 70s and early 80s. Why did Pat stand out in the crowd?

Neil Giraldo: Well, we were a rock band. In 1979, we opened up for a few people. We came out there throwing. We have a beautiful girl on stage singing. We have a band that’s so aggressive. The look alone is making people pay attention. That was like that in the beginning. We opened up for Eddie Money a couple of times and for a guy named David Warner. They’d come up to us and say, “Can you not do this like that anymore because I can’t go on after you if you’re going to play like that! You can’t do that!” So, it was obvious, you know?

My wife’s beautiful; she has a great voice and stage presence. Whether I was there on not, she would’ve been successful. Would she have been the same type of person? Probably not. Together, we created a certain thing that individually we wouldn’t have been the same. There is no question about that.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You produced “Love Is a Battlefield.” How different was the song after you got your hands on it?

Neil Giraldo: When I’m creating anything, I usually try to completely mess it up and rebuild it again. That song was a very slow, melancholy ballad. It almost put me to sleep. As soon as I heard it, I said, “Nah. It should be real fast. I want it to sound like Bo Diddley.” I hear songs finished before we start them, too.

Sometimes people get mad and go, “Why are you getting frustrated?” I’d say, “I’m frustrated because you’re not hearing what I’m thinking.” They’d say, “How am I supposed to hear what you’re thinking if you don’t tell us?” I go, “Oh, yeah, sorry.” Then, I have to tell them. But, that was just … I heard it a different way. I thought it should be fast. I just kind of did it, and it worked.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is it tough for you and Pat to write songs together?

Neil Giraldo: No. I actually walk around the house with a guitar, and I’m always writing and scribbling words down. I give her an idea. I usually start most things. I’ll start something and give her a title, a few lines, a verse or chorus and a little melody. Then, I’ll walk away. But, because I have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), I’ll come back about it and fifteen minutes later, I’ll say, “I’ve got another song.” She’ll say, “Get away from me! Why don’t we finish the one we have first?” I go, “Okay.”

I’ll go away, and then I’ll come back and have another idea, and she’ll say, “Get away!” It works very well. Then, she’ll do something brilliant, and I’ll go, “Ooh, I love that!” I’ll take it and be inspired, and do more to it. So, we’re really very easy with it. It’s great. It’s very simple.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are there many arguments?

Neil Giraldo: No. We agree on mostly everything. There are some things we don’t agree on, and then, I kind of let them go because I’m a passive guy. I don’t want to get in an argument. Besides, she’ll verbally win anyway, so I give up (laughs). I say, “Okay, you win.” It ain’t worth the battle.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I assume that might be the secret to your happy marriage.

Neil Giraldo: That’s exactly what it is. She’s always right. That’s it (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Who’s the domestic one?

Neil Giraldo: She is. But, we both cook. We cook like the way we write and the way we make music together. She’ll be doing something on the stove, and I’ll go in there and put some other ingredient in just to change it up a little bit, and then, we’ll have it, and she’ll say, “Wow, this is really good.” I’ll go, “Yeah. You did a really great job.” She’ll say, “I know. It’s really good.” She won’t know, and I won’t tell her (laughs). But, we both cook a lot. She does mostly everything else. In our personal life, she controls. I’m more the music guy in this relationship, but she’s more on the family, personal side. She takes care of all the personal stuff. She’s great. She loves it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is your daughter, Haley, still in the music business?

Neil Giraldo: She’s not anymore. Haley does jewelry and fashion design. She gave up on that stuff.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is your other daughter involved in the industry?

Neil Giraldo: She’s acting in theatre. She’s a brilliant actress, and that’s what she’s studying. She likes music as well. It’s nice. I like them to have their own kind of thing. It seems to be working.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Let’s talk about your book.

Neil Giraldo: It is an autobiography, and it isn’t. I’m writing it more as a story and more with prose, more poetic. It’s not really about me. It’s about the story. It’s about life and how things in my life in this story occurred and how it can give people hope. I was born and wasn’t breathing. I had the cord wrapped around my neck. I was not living, and the doctor brought life back into me. That’s why I’m called Neil instead of Nunzio. I was going to be called Nunzio, but the doctor that delivered me was named Cornelius, and my parents were so grateful that he gave me life that they called me Neil.

The story is about just to be able to get through neuroses and all these weird things that nobody really knows about and how fate played such a big important hand in the success of our lives. It’s more written about a story than it is about an individual. “Me” is not that important.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sounds like a very interesting story. Are you having any problems with the pinched nerve in your arm?

Neil Giraldo: It acts up every once in a while. It’s an ulnar nerve entrapment. I might have to have surgery in December of this year. I’m not sure. It acts up when I get too aggressive when I do too much and when I play too hard. If I don’t ice it and don’t take care of what I’m supposed to take care of, I pay for it.

My sports doctors tell me, “Spyder, you’re like a pitcher. Make sure when you’re done playing, you soak it for twenty minutes in an ice bath, wait an hour, soak in an ice bath again, and take the ibuprofen.” I hate having to think of myself as an athlete, but you kind of have to at this age.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It’s basically caused by the repetition of bending the arm while playing the guitar?

Neil Giraldo: Yep, with the guitar and the piano. The banging of the piano is the same repetitive thing, and it tweaked the nerve really bad. I couldn’t cut a fried egg with a fork. I thought my career was over, and I’d just end up being a writer. There was no way. I couldn’t hold a pick. I couldn’t play. I thought my life was over. It was terrible.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Wow. Tell me then, what do you and Pat do to relax?

Neil Giraldo: I like to play golf, so I’m playing as much as I can. She likes to read. I love to read as well. She likes to write. She is just a great person. That’s all I can say.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Perhaps someone should do a film on your lives.

Neil Giraldo: There are people who have talked to us about that. One of the cool things about the book and story I’m doing is that there are things that people don’t know about and never knew. They’ll find out more from me than they will from her book. It’s not dirt. But, you’ll read it and go, “Holy cow! How did that ever happen?” Again, it’s inspiration. Inspiration is what it’s really about. It’s about inspiration for people. Hope. People need hope.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Absolutely. Do you have plans for new music after the tour?

Neil Giraldo: I’m working on a Christmas record with a lot of different artists. Patricia will probably be on two songs. It’s all original. It’s not like “Frosty the Snowman.” It’s going to be about heartache, love found and lost and found again and all the things that happen in the holiday season. We will do another record soon once I figure out what kind of direction I want to take it in. Next year, we’ll have something. I’m sure of it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Pat will hit a milestone birthday in January. Do you have any surprises planned?

Neil Giraldo: I think we need to go to Italy. If we go, we need to stay (laughs). I don’t know. Since I am Sicilian, we may stay. I’m like, “Crap, we’re old.” She keeps saying, “Spyder, did you ever imagine you’d be with a sixty year old woman?” I go, “Holy crap! What’s the right answer to that without getting in trouble?”

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sometimes no answer is the best answer (laughs).

Neil Giraldo: That’s what I do. No answer is coming from me (laughs).

© 2012 Smashing Interviews Magazine. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the express written consent of the publisher.

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