Pat Blythe – Women of Rock Redux – The First Five – Part One…..and music

Another piece from 2015. I loved writing these series and my research quests have only increased over time. I’ve also rearranged things a bit but kept the same general format the original column was in. Six years later there are more names to add. Originally a five-part series, I may just add one or two more “parts” to it down the road. So in all its 2015 glory, I present to you some of the women who rock.

Sharks and Itchy Backs

The music business then, and now, is a man’s world. It can be brutal and heartless. It is a world that feeds on youth, looks, vanity and naivety. Rife with lies, false promises (is that a lie?) and backroom deals…..and lots and lots of itchy backs. It’s also been described as a shark tank by more than one performer. Queen had it right. “Is that fin on your back part of the deal……shark.”

It’s also sexy, exhilarating, heady, thrilling, compelling, even glamorous to those on the outside — all those wonderful things that continue to attract and suck many down the proverbial rabbit hole. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll — everyone wanted to be part of it. Fame and adulation are powerful aphrodisiacs. Music was the key.

Draw back the curtains and most find it’s a lonely, insensitive, highly demanding industry for anyone. But for a woman, particularly in the early years, there was a whole other shade of black. It was a misogynistic, denigrating, grueling, demeaning business. For those who “made it”, chutzpah, perseverance, ability and especially the aforementioned balls, were not only applicable to the men, but an absolute must for the women. If you were passionate about music, about singing, about singing rock, this was the only route to take. Welcome to the hard rock boys club.

I salute the women who made a stand and challenged the norm in what was (and still is) the harsh and unforgiving world of rock ‘n roll. These women, and others, who have made it through to the other side (and the few who didn’t) have a left a legacy of bravado, audacity, guts, open doors and an extraordinary catalogue of music which, today, I believe is unmatched.

Everyone will have their favourites. These are some of mine.

The first five

Pat, Joan, Chrissie, Janis, Grace and many others, played significant roles in the hard scrabble world of rock. They led the way. Unfortunately we lost Janis far too soon. Their contributions are immeasurable and their voices are still listened to, and loved, even today. Here are some of their stories…..in no specific order.

Janis…..

It’s all been said. I haven’t much to add.

I do remember taking the local newspaper into my bedroom, spreading it out on my bed and reading about her death. My ears were slowly being introduced to the world of music outside of Harry Belafonte, Barbra Streisand, Glenn Miller, etc. I didn’t realize at the time who she was but I instinctively knew she was SOMEBODY important.

Janis was one of Chris’s favourites and when I listen to her voice today, her intensity, her passion, her anguish, and yes, even her tenderness send shivers down my spine. She had such a beautiful smile. A rather painful childhood, Janis found solace and release in music. Burning the candle at both ends, her flame wasn’t meant to last, but her legacy lives on in every female blues singer out there. There really is no other.

Janis Joplin – Mercedes Benz

Big Brother and the Holding Company – Piece of My Heart

Janis Joplin – Ball And Chain (Amazing performance at Monterey)

This last song was originally released by Big Mama Thornton in 1968. Janis was hugely influenced by by Thornton. Janis made the decision to not only perform the song live, but include it on her album Cheap Thrills. By doing so, Janis introduced this masterpiece to a new and different generation and made it part of everyone’s songbook. Her performance at Monterey was unforgettable. Although Thornton never made any money from the Ball and Chain, (that’s not Janis’s fault), Janis made sure Thornton was credited every time she either sang the song or talked about it.

Pat…..

This petite package with such a MIGHTY voice is a four octave mezzo-soprano voice and a four-time Grammy award winner. Trained in coloratura, the ability to sing elaborate melody, particularly in opera, Benatar’s range also includes blues, jazz and classical.

In the early 70’s Benatar sang with Coxon’s Army, a popular lounge act in Richmond, Virginia. She headed to New York in 1975 to follow her passion singing hard rock songs. Benatar’s challenge — being overly technical because of her previous training, which she quickly found was not conducive to singing rock songs. According to Benatar, “I sounded like Julie Andrews singing the Rolling Stones. It was bad. It wasn’t good.”  “…the only way to sing rock – from your gut level feelings. It’s the instinct that the best singers have.”

Pat Benatar & Coxon’s Army – Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man (1974)

Benatar was also struggling to mesh her voice with her looks to match her own rock ‘n roll vision. That all changed in 1977.  Still dressed in her spandex Halloween cat costume, Benatar took the stage at Catch A Rising Star, a NYC club she had been performing at regularly. The inner rocker roared out! The transformation from demure to kick ass rocker chick was complete, literally happening overnight. There was no going back.

From her final performance with Coxon’s Army to the cat suit that changed everything!

Benatar went on to sign a record deal, form her own band, record several multi-platinum albums, marry the guitar player (Neil Giraldo) and eventually wrest control of her career from the record company. In 2010, Benatar’s memoir, “Between a Heart and a Rock Place” was published. She and Neil are still touring together…and those pipes….they are in fine form thank you. She is definitely a….

Heartbreaker – Pat Benatar

“Love Is A Battlefield” tied with “We Belong” as her highest charting single in the U.S. I remember riding with the girls in the car, windows open, radio cranked, singing this at top volume (probably in the key of J demolished). Undeniable, even to this day.

Love is a Battlefield – Pat Benatar

Dancing Through the Wreckage – Pat Benatar

Benatar has been relatively quiet since the release of Innamorata in 1997. In 2015 she recorded One December Night for Christmas. 2017 was a slightly busier year. Benatar record Shine in support of the 2017 Women’s March and collaboratedwith Linda Perry for the song “Dancing Through the Wreckage” from the movie soundtrack Served Like a Girl. She’s still got it!!!

Chrissie…..

Best known as the lead singer for The Pretenders, Hynde’s name has become synonymous with the band as she remained the sole original member through the band’s lifetime. Originally from Akron, Ohio, Hynde moved back and forth to the U.K. a couple of times, first in 1973 and again in 1976. She was involved with The Clash and The Damned in their early years and played in a couple of other short-lived bands. After several rocky starts and with the support of Dave Hill from Real Records, she finally formed The Pretenders in 1978. The band’s moniker was inspired by the Sam Cooke version of The Great Pretender.

The Pretenders

They released their first self-titled album, The Pretenders, in the spring of 1979, followed by an EP called Extended Play, later that summer. After losing two members — Honeyman-Scott died of heart failure in 1982 and Farndon drowned in his bathtub 1983 — The Pretenders were down to two people. Band members came and went in the subsequent years but The Pretenders went on to release eight more albums before folding for good in 2008.  Hynde has continued to record, releasing her first solo album, Stockholm, in 2014 which debuted at number 36 on the Billboard 200.

Hynde’s distinctive contralto captures you the minute she opens her mouth. In October 2019, Hynde released, Valve Bone Woe, an album of old covers including The  Beach Boys “Caroline, No” as well asa jazz version of Don Raye and Gene De Paul’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is”. The album includes her interpretations of songs by Frank Sinatra (whom she sang with on his 1994 album Duets II), John Coltrane, Nick Drake, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Charlie Mingus, and others.

You Don’t Know What Love Is – Chrissie Hynde

The Pretenders – Brass in Pocket

The Pretenders – Don’t Get Me Wrong

Caroline, No – Chrissie Hynde

Joan…..

Frequently referred to as the “Queen of Rock ‘n Roll”, touted as the “Godmother of Punk” and the Original Riot Grrrl”, Joan Jett (born Joan Marie Larkin) was one of the founding members of The Runaways. She was also one of the executive producers for the 2010 biopic film by the same name.

After The Runaways disbanded in 1979, Jett formed her new band, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts releasing their first album, “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” in1981. This was followed by Album in 1983 and Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth in 1984. A further seven studio albums were released; the most recent is Unvarnished in 2014.

Jett is still very much a part of the entertainment machine and continues to perform while building a long list of credits acting in movies and TV productions. In 2018 Jett was the subject of a documentary, Bad Reputation, which traced her career from the Runaways to the present day. The long list of interviewees for the film included Cherie Currie (former bandmate), Chris Stein (Blondie), Michael J. Fox, Pete Townshend (The Who) and many more.

Performing with Nirvana

She fronted the remaining members of Nirvana for a performance of Smells Like Teen Spirit when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. Initially I gave my head a shake. But when I stopped to think about it for more than 10 seconds, I actually started to consider ….maybe….possibly it could be a good fit. My assumption was confirmed when I watched the performance. Only Jett could front Nirvana.

Joan Jett – I Love Rock ‘n Roll

Nirvana with Joan Jett – Smells Like Teen Spirit

Joan Jett – I Hate Myself for Loving You

Grace…..

With a music career spanning 40 years, Grace began performing with The Great Society, moving to Jefferson Airplane (replacing Signe Toly Anderson) and finally the renamed Jefferson Starship. Slick stopped performing in 1989. Her last studio album with Starship, No Protection, was released in 1987. She firmly believes that audiences don’t really want to see aging rockers poncing about on stage, particularly women, firmly believing rock ‘n roll is for the young in body.

Old people don’t look good unless you really fuck with yourself and go to a plastic surgeon and do all that kind of stuff, and then you look like a freak. But nobody looks good when they get old. Yeah, you’re getting older, but what the hell can you do about it? Nothing. So you may as well ignore it as best you can and just be who you are, be who you were, be who you continue to be.” – Vanity Fair 2012. Slick will be 81 this year.

Slick is a gifted and popular artist, working in mixed media, not wanting to be tied to any specific style. Her best selling prints and originals are, not surprisingly, the paintings of the Alice in Wonderland characters (especially the White Rabbit), and portraits of her colleagues in the music industry. She’s still performing….just not on stage. The iconic white fringed tunic she wore for her Woodstock performance rests in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

Jefferson Airplane (Grace Slick) – White Rabbit, Woodstock, 1969

Jefferson Airplane (Grace Slick) – Don’t You Want Somebody to Love

These women and their songs bring back so many memories, reminding me of special moments in my own personal history. I admire and respect their work, their fortitude, their passion. They have inspired me, touched me and made deep impressions on me. I love their voices and the songs they sing.

Cheers!

Today’s podcast is a conversation with Brandon Gregory. Singer, songwriter and guitarist with Toronto indie band Drop Top Alibi.

https://luvthemusic.podbean.com

=PB=

Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

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little-red-headed-dancing-girl

“Music and photography….my heart, my passions.” After an extended absence —  33 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry — Pat has turned her focus back to the music scene. Immersing herself in the local club circuit, attending the many diverse music festivals, listening to some great music, photographing and writing once again, she is eager to spread the word about this great Music City of ours…..Toronto. Together for 34 years, Pat also worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who, beginning in the early 70s, photographed much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, BB Gabor, the first Police Picnic, Buzzsaw, Hellfield, Shooter, The Segarini Band….) as well as national and international acts. Pat is currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, 20 of which are a photographic history of the local GTA music scene beginning in 1974. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance! 

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