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INTERVIEW: Music Legends Pat Benatar And Neil Giraldo On Their First Encounter, "The Romeo And Juliet Project," Benatar’s Long Island Roots, And More

T.J. Clemente

Neil Giraldo and Pat Benatar are performing at Bay Street as part of Music Mondays. (Photo: Travis Shinn)

Since 1979, Pat Benatar and her husband Neil Giraldo have formed one of the most successful partnerships in music history. It was a wonderful opportunity to talk to the duo for an interview for Hamptons.com. During their amazing nearly four-decade career, they have created two multiplatinum, five platinum and three gold albums, as well as nineteen Top 40 hits. They have sold over thirty million records worldwide, won an unprecedented four consecutive Grammy awards and three American Music awards.

Their undeniable chemistry was evident talking with them. Giraldo's trailblazing work as a producer, guitarist and songwriter has created some of rock's most memorable hits. These include We Belong, Invincible, Love Is A Battlefield, Promises In The Dark, Heartbreaker and We Live For Love.

So, when I asked Giraldo what was his biggest thrill in show business over the years? He said, "There are so many it would be hard to pick just one... On our first trip to Europe, many years ago after the first album, we were playing in the Hammersmith Odeon. A bunch of musicians came by, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, the guys from Queen, a whole bunch of musicians and they came backstage. There I was talking to Robert Plant and Jimmy Page and I was in awe. These guys were my heroes, I told Jimmy Page I really loved his Death Wish II movie soundtrack, the movie with Charles Bronson. I told him that I loved it and he put his arm around me and he said, 'We're going to be friends for a long time!'"

I asked Giraldo, what was the first time he ever saw Benatar? He responded, "I was looking for a singer, a good singer. It could have been a male or female, I wanted a really good singer. It was arranged and we met in a studio and my first impression of Patricia [he calls Pat - Patricia] on the very professional level. It wasn't a romantic moment."

When I asked Benatar, later in the day, the same question, what does she remember about seeing Giraldo for the very first time? Her answer was quite different. She said this, "We were both there (a recording studio on 52nd Street in NYC) to see if we wanted to work with each other. Mike Chapman (record producer) had set up this meeting being very certain that we would be compatible musically, but I am very certain something happened on that day." She then explained what she meant as only someone who tells you that wonderful how I met the love of my life tale.

She explained, "The first thing that happened was; I didn't even see him, but I heard his voice, I had my back to him and was facing in the other direction when he came into the room. I didn't see him but I heard him say, 'Can I borrow your axe man?' My first impression was, Oh my God, he didn't even bring his guitar! I was ready to be angry but I turned around and I like to say that my first reaction was not romantic, but that's not true! I turned around and I saw him and my brain melted and I tried to like compose myself and he then played one chord on the guitar and it was all over! All of my emotional reactors were going as where my musician reactors. They were all going at the same time."

Then I asked Benatar what was one of her biggest thrills in show business. Now she had not heard Giraldo's answer because we had chatted at different times and they were many miles apart, but her answer was very telling. She said, "It was a show that we did in London. Robert Plant was there and he came backstage, we hung out, we talked, it was really fun." I then told her Giraldo's similar response to the same question and she laughed and said, "That's why people say we are Siamese twins."

When I asked Benatar about who was the person most responsible for her success. Her first reaction was the usual there are so many people reflexive response, but then she thought about it longer and said, "Her name was Georgia Ruel (Lindenhurst, Long Island High School). When I was in 6th grade, she was the high school choir instructor, and she came to a recital that we did, and afterwards she said to me in four more years you are mine. She has now passed on, but she was like my second mother, she basically taught me everything I needed to know about getting here (musically). She was unyielding, she was a task master with just the sweetest heart. She taught me my work ethic. My family was working class and we had no money for voice lessons but she got me the money with a scholarship so I could study."

On the Bay Street Mainstage, Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo will share their collection of hits in a stripped down, acoustic version on Monday, August 12, at 8 p.m. A setting that will allow fans to experience the true power of the music while hearing the stories behind the songs.

However there is a bonus that follows. Both Benatar and Giraldo are contributing hugely with Bay Street and Guild Hall to present a free community event, The Romeo and Juliet Project, in Mashashimuet Park, Sag Harbor, on Friday, August 16 and Saturday, August 17.

The Romeo and Juliet Project reinvents the story of our star-crossed lovers using the power of Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo's music to remind us what happens when we forget the impact of love, equality, and acceptance. Written by Bradley Bredeweg and directed by Scott Schwartz, the show brings us into the modern, war-torn metropolis of Verona as the newly-minted Chancellor Paris takes control and promises to return the city to its traditional roots and destroy the progressive resistance. This new musical is an intricate weaving of Benatar and Giraldo's deeply emotional rock anthems exploring the question - what does it take to regain a world where peace is possible?

About The Romeo and Juliet Project, Giraldo who is extremely involved with the music, said, "The team aspect is important, I really believe we have a wonderful team. They have done a phenomenal job with the arrangement of the song. It's a different thing that I thought I would never be involved with. Just a tremendous team."

Benatar explained her contribution, "I am highly involved in it, I work with the book writer every day. We are writing, I am a producer, I am part of the book, obviously I am part of all the music, I am so in deep it is ridiculous. Neil and I are deeply hands on into this project. I am joyed about it every minute... it's so exciting. It's a whole other universe for us."

Lastly, Pat Benatar talked about her Long Island roots. "I grew up in Lindenhurst, I still have my friends from kindergarten. I still see them. Growing up when the family went to the East End we went to Riverhead. We were not rich, my dad was a steel worker, but I still remember clamming with my dad. I will always be pure Long Island."

Bay Street is located at 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call 631-725-9500 or visit www.baystreet.org.

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