8/22/2013 - “Greater than the sum of its parts” is an expression heard frequently in tales of great rock duos. Even so, it’s hard to imagine Pat Benatar succeeding without Neal Giraldo, and vice versa. Benatar was fighting an uphill battle to make her first album a raucous, hard-driving effort when Giraldo walked into her life in early 1979; he was a hotshot guitarist hand picked by Benatar’s producer to add some fire to the record.
It was love at first sight — first artistic, later romantic.
“When he hit the first chord, I nearly fell to my knees,” Benatar wrote in her biography Between a Heart and a Rock Place. “It was amazing — the very thing I’d had in my head and never once heard anybody play.”
“From the very beginning we recognized we were each other’s muse. … We starting playing and all these things changed,” echoed Giraldo recently. He phoned Rick Derringer, his bandleader at the time. “I said, ‘Rick, I'm not sure I'm coming back; I think I've connected in something I've always wanted.’”
With Giraldo on board, the sessions went from pristine — “I sounded like Julie Andrews trying to sing rock,” Benatar had complained — to the balls-out classic In The Heat of the Night and its breakout hit “Heartbreaker.” It was the first of a near decade of chart topping albums and singles, multiple Grammy awards and loads of MTV airplay (“You Better Run” was the second video ever aired by the channel).
But when the musical romance turned real life, their label was aghast and worried they’d become tabloid fodder. Didn’t happen; Benatar and Giraldo married in 1982 and three decades on, they may be music’s happiest couple.
With two daughters, tours came after family commitments over the years, usually in the summer months. Even though their youngest has finished high school, parenting challenges continue.
“Empty nest, yeah, but oh my God, it never stops!” said Giraldo. “I’m constantly getting emails and phone calls —‘Papa, can you get me this or that?’ But I love it. My little one is going into theater; she’s a great little actress. [And] my oldest daughter is getting into TV. … I’m a pretty busy guy, man!”
But Giraldo said he’s never thought of giving up the road.
“There is nothing like an endorphin rush of actually playing,” he said; most nights kick off with “All Fired Up,” a hit from 1988’s Wide Awake In Dreamland. “The part that’s great is we have nothing to prove [with] a body of work that stands on its own.”
Lately, Giraldo is gathering rare material from the pair’s many sessions with an eye toward eventually releasing it.
“I documented my life in audio rather than pictures,” he said. “So I had a cassette player running the whole time. … I was constantly writing, so I have a ton of unfinished songs. I was thinking I’d either finish some of them and re-release them on the pertaining record.”
Long an early adopter of new technology, Giraldo’s forward thinking helped make “Love Is A Battlefield” a hit in 1983. Originally a slow ballad, he quickened the tempo by adding a loop from the Linn Drum, one of the first electronic drum machines.
“I was always looking for new toys, new technical things. I just played with it,” he said
The label initially resisted, but the song and video both topped the charts.
“And then Don Henley came up and asked me how I did it. Then he emulated it with ‘Boys Of Summer.’ But that’s another story.”
One of many to be included in a book Giraldo is working on and hopes to publish soon. The Evening With Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo at Concord’s Capitol Center for the Arts on August 25 includes Chris Ralles on drums and bassist Mick Mahan in the on stage band.