Saturday, May 24, 2014

Pat Benatar Hits Salem with Her Best Shot

In the early ’80s, Pat Benatar had the Best Rock Vocal Grammy nailed shut.

But in 1992, the National Academy Recording Arts & Sciences couldn’t even find enough female rockers to justify the category, so it was dropped that year. What gives? Are the pickings that slim, or are the voters not looking hard enough?

“There’s a plethora of people out there,” she says. “I don’t know what the hell they were thinking, unless they were looking at commercial success only.”

Benatar, who performs with Steve Miller tonight at the Oregon State Fair, recalls 1978. That’s the year flash-in-the-pan A Taste of Honey's No. 1 disco ditty “Boogie Oogie Oogie” brought Best New Artist accolades over leading eclectic rock singer Elvis Costello.

“They’re historically based on what was popular at the time,” says Benatar, who took home statues for the 1980 album Crimes of Passion, the 1981 single “Fire and Ice,” 1982’s “Shadows of the Night” and 1983’s “Love Is a Battlefield.”

The latter was part of a string of hits including “Invincible (Theme from Legend of Billie Jean)” and “Sex as a Weapon” that became sort of feminist anthems during a rather conservative decade.

“It was very indicative of what was going on those days,” she says. “I always write lyrics from the heart. It was certainly more aggressive then. It’s just not necessary now.”

Becoming a mom hasn’t changed Benatar’s tune any, but it did take her off the road from 1993 to 1995 when she had her second child, Hana, who is now 2.

Benatar, 43, took advantage of a swing through Oklahoma City last week to show older sister Haley, 11, the site of 1995’s federal building bombing, which killed 19 kids.

“It was just horrific,” says Benatar, who cowrote “Hell Is for Children” and “Suffer the Little Children.” “When you have children of your own, it just really hits you so much harder when you realize that your baby is just as old.

“I thought it would be really a good thing to see what violence really brings you. We planted a tree at her school when it happened.”

Heroin abuse in the music industry also seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongues lately, but Benatar isn’t sure why.

“It’s very difficult to tell,” she says. “It’s always been there. It’s always been a problem…. It’s the problem du jour. People get bored. There’s nothing to talk about.”

Benatar and husband/producer/longtime collaborator Neil Giraldo try to improve the industry’s negative image by participating in charitable events like 1985’s Artists United Against Apartheid and staying “pretty outspoken and active.”

“It’s pretty much on a daily basis,” she says. “We choose to do it privately.”

But one opinion Benatar is quite public about is her impression of Chrysalis Records. Even though it was the only label she ever had worked for, parting was sweet relief in 1993.

This summer’s tour gives her a chance to hone material for the coming Innamorata album — slated for an early winter release — while negotiating with a new company.

“Anything will be better. Selling them on the corner would be better,” she says bluntly. “It was a nightmare. The company was sold two or three times while I was there. It was a revolving door. No relationships were ever set up.”

Now that Chrysalis controls Benatar’s old material, Heartbreaker: 16 Classic Performances was released this year without her endorsement.

“They just put ’em out because they can. I had nothing to do with it whatsoever. It makes you wonder how many greatest hits albums one person can have,” says Benatar, whose other collections are 1989’s Best Shots and 1994’s All Fired Up: The Very Best of Pat Benatar.

After recording an acclaimed blues record in 1991, she describes the new tunes as “rootsy,” with plenty of 12-strings, acoustic guitars and fiddles.

“This is a contemporary record,” she says. “We really had such a good time doing it. It’s pretty lyric-heavy. It’s hard to pigeonhole.”

Benatar, who compares performing to “riding a bike,” enjoys summer tours like this one. She probably is one of the only artists on the road who is coordinating the last tour date with her daughter’s first day of school.

“Haley’s been coming with us since she was a baby,” she says. “Two is a handful. They’re veterans now.”

Originally published in Statesman Journal, Aug. 29, 1996