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Fabulous Flip Sides celebrates Pat Benatar with Neil Giraldo interview

Father’s Day fun with producer, arranger, guitarist, keyboardist and songwriter Neil Giraldo, the musical partner and husband of Pat Benatar, who he lovingly calls Patricia, and father of their two girls, celebrates their music and his Cleveland roots.
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Neil Giraldo and Pat Benatar, publicity photo

Neil Giraldo and Pat Benatar, publicity photo

GOLDMINE: Neil, you and I are both white haired husbands, fathers of daughters, and music lovers originally from the Greater Cleveland area. I grew up in Euclid. When my wife Donna and I got married in December 1979 on your 24th birthday, as “Heartbreaker” was debuting in the Top 100, we briefly lived in Parma, before leaving Ohio. Donna, our daughter Brianna and I moved back in the late 1980s to Mayfield Heights when your fifteenth Top 40 single of the 1980s “All Fired Up” was in the Top 40.

NEIL GIRALDO: I love Mayfield Heights. I also lived in Parma, being part of an Italian family, I think all the Italians moved to Parma because it sounded like an Italian city. So I grew up in Parma very close to the city line for Cleveland.

GM: Parma is also the home of Drew Carey, and where we bought our piano with our wedding money at Grabowski’s Music, from my college classmate Dan Hrdlicka from the band Circus and later Eric Carmen’s band. It was good to see successful Clevelanders of our generation do well in the 1980s. Donna and I would watch Drew Carey on Star Search and when “We Live for Love” was released as your second Top 40 single, forty years ago, it was great seeing your name on the label as the songwriter. Patricia’s high vocal notes are so nice on that song.

NG: It is kind of dreamy. “We Live for Love” has a very special meaning as that was the first one that we wrote and became a hit single, although the label kept misspelling my last name as Geraldo.

GM: Both “Heartbreaker” and “We Live for Love” began each side of your debut album In the Heat of the Night, released in the second half of 1979, the same time that the debut album was released by our Cleveland music friends Breathless, Jonah Koslen’s band, with Rodney Psyka on percussion.

NG: Rodney and I had a band called Thrills and Company. Rodney and Gary Jones were both in the band Freewheelin’ and I saw them playing at The Mistake and went there with Frank Amato. I loved Gary Jones’ playing and I loved Rodney’s percussion playing, but I didn’t think I needed a percussion player. I asked Gary to join the band and Rodney kept coming around saying, “You guys really need me” repeatedly. I told him he could show up at the rehearsal but that he wasn’t in the band and he wouldn’t go away. So I finally said, “OK, come on in.” He is a tremendous guy and really added a lot by tightening up our rhythm section.

GM: I enjoyed Frank Amato’s 1980s band Beau Coup with their Top 100 single “Sweet Rachel,” written by Dennis Lewin.

NG: I have been enjoying Dennis’ podcast Turning You on to Classical Music and have learned so much from him while staying home during this pandemic.

GM: You and Patricia have just released the gentle single “Together” where she sings, “Distance will keep us together.”

NG: With this global pandemic, we are all in it together. In challenging times it sometimes helps to seek out beauty, hope and positivity. Creating music leads us down that path. We wrote this because we are all hurting, struggling and grieving. We hope, in some small way, that this lifts spirits and heals hearts. Patricia and I are wishing everyone blessings, strength and love. We are all the same and need to be kind to one another. I bought gift cards to one of my favorite restaurants and gave them out as I want this restaurant to stay in business.

GM: The first time I saw you and Patricia perform was in Lowell, Massachusetts in 2015 and you sounded great, but the first time I saw you perform was before you met her. In the 1970s there was a Peaches Records and Tapes on Pearl Road near Parma, a second store at Southgate in Maple Heights, and finally a third store on Vine Street in Willowick, which opened in 1978 and where I worked. One afternoon Rick Derringer came in and asked me if I was coming to see his band Derringer that night at the Painesville Agora along with The Guess Who, post-Burton Cummings. I went and that was my first time watching and hearing you on that suburban Cleveland stage.

NG: I think I got hit in the head with a beer can that night. I learned so much from Rick.

GM: I was particularly amazed by your performance “Promises in the Dark” at the Lowell show in 2015. The song has a soft start and then becomes intense.

NG: It was originally written as a ballad on piano. When I took the song in to rehearsal, I thought the lyric was pushing itself to have more of an aggressive approach, so we switched it over.

GM: In addition to the work Patricia has done with you over the years, my best friend John, also from Euclid, sent me a copy of the Harry Chapin Tribute concert tape with Patricia singing Harry Chapin’s “Shooting Star,” which was my favorite performance on that recording. On the flip side of “Promises in the Dark,” which is “Evil Genius,” the beginning reminds me of her delivery on “Shooting Star” and your lyrics tell quite an interesting story, like Harry Chapin’s “Sniper,” and is unfortunately even more prevalent today with what has happened with mass shootings.

NG: I had this idea. I was reading the papers all the time about all these serial killers who have disturbed minds and I thought I would write something and make it theatrical in a way. I handed it to Patricia and said I had a melody done, wrote some more words and we finished the song together. Part of the song and what I do as a producer, a musician and an arranger is that I wanted the music to tell a story and that is why there is a long musical mid-section. I wanted to spread it out and make people think and build up a bit of an intensity. It was a shot at being theatrical.

GM: I love how the opening lines sets up the song, “They were so ecstatic when the letter arrived, a certified genius at the age of five. They planned his future so carefully. He was everything they hoped he’d be.” You powerfully dealt with mental illness on this song as you had with child abuse on the prior album with “Hell is for Children,” which I have always been surprised that it wasn’t a single.

Neil G flip side

Pat Benatar

Flip side: Evil Genius

A side: Promises in the Dark

Top 100 debut: October 3, 1981

Peak position: No. 38

Chrysalis 2555

NG: I love “Hell is for Children.” I have an eleven minute version of that song recorded. There are a lot of songs that never became hits that I felt had special meaning to them. The most important thing you can provide as a musician is the song. It is not about individual performances. It is about the sum of the parts that you put into it.

GM: One of the most fun songs that you have done is your “Ooh Ooh Song.” It has an echo, the video is a lot of fun, and Patricia reminds me of Dexy’s Midnight Runners with the dungarees that she wore.

NG: I love doo wop. Dion is my king of Italian singers. I wanted to do some sort of a song that had some sort of a doo wop feel to it with the same kind of changes. When Patricia and I wrote it I didn’t have any kind of lyrics and when we went to the chorus, it was just oohs, and became “Ooh Ooh Song.”

GM: You mention Dion, Donna and I saw him at the Cleveland Agora in 1978, a few months before I saw you in Painesville, when Dion’s Return of the Wanderer album was out with his version of Tom Waits’ “Heart of Saturday Night” on it. What a great show.

NG: He is the king of The Bronx. I just love his voice. He is spectacular.

GM: Are you daughters Hailey and Hana musical?

NG: Hana is. She is a singer-songwriter and actress and has been doing acting auditions. She is very talented. Our oldest daughter Hailey has two babies now. I’m a grandpa and being one is phenomenal. Hailey is really an entrepreneur and very creative with art design and clothing. She is all these things, also super talented. I call her Gina and she is really being a beautiful spirited mother right now.

GM: On another family member, Donna and I send our condolences to you on the loss of your dog Tooie.

NG: Thank you. That just destroyed me, and it still does. When I walk through the house, where she used to lay, it tears me up. I would always give her a kiss as I was walking by. It was really difficult. She had quite a spirit. Just looking in her eyes was so different. I have had many dogs before, but nothing like Tooie. She just connected with us. She was around me all the time. I just loved her, and I miss her every day. She was a boxer, pit bull mix. She was a rescue that Hana found. They were going to destroy her and bought her for twenty-five dollars. Tooie was the sweetest and most beautiful dog that we ever had. Thank you and your family for your support of Patricia and my music. Take care, pal.

Look for more from Neil Giraldo in an upcoming print issue of Goldmine highlighting more of his work with Pat Benatar, Rick Derringer, Rick Springfield, his upcoming book and Christmas album, and his company Three Chord Bourbon with a focus on charitable giving.

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