By Bill Templeton/Music Maker Magazine, April 1983.
In 1978, Neil Geraldo was just beginning to gain a little bit of personal recognition for his talents. Hed been playing the guitar since he was seven years old... professionally since he was fourteen, and for the last ten years Neil had been playing in high school groups, local club combos and soul bands. Through perseverance and determination, he and his various musical configurations had managed to release regional 45s in Cincinnati, Cleveland and assorted locales throughout the East and Southeast. In 1978, on the strength of two years of performing in his first big time tour with part time rock legend Rick Derringer, Neil Geraldo was finally becoming noticed.
On stage, in those days, Geraldo was like a lot of other young guitarists trying to make the grade - he was hungry. He played with a fiery passion fueled by the will to succeed, or more importantly, to just be given a chance to strut his stuff; a chance to show what hed learned during his impressionable decade on the road; a chance to demonstrate to anyone who might be interested that he had what it took to make a career out of what most people had a hard time sustaining as a hobby... music.
Geraldos ascension was pretty much by the book. Play and learn... continually, until someone noticed and you could move up another rung. That someone, in this case, was Rick Derringer, but Geraldo committed one fatal mistake during his apprenticeship with Derringer. Something he hadnt fully counted on. The kind of judgement error that anxious up- and-corners usually and conveniently forget about... Geraldo showed up the boss! (Number two in the Dont list, right behind messing with the bosss wife). So, as a result of Nells inspired and unintentional determination, he was demoted to piano player on the one LP he recorded with Derringer, Guitars and Women, and later given his walking papers.
This would probably be the end of a sad story in most circles, but it was to later turn Into the proverbial silver lined cloud for Geraldo. Because while Neil was packing his bags, Rick Newman, famed proprietor of New Yorks Catch A Rising Star, was on the other side of the continent closing a deal between Chrysalis Records and his new-found star, Pat Benatar. In order to facilitate the recording of Benatars first album, a full-time band was needed, and this is where Neil Geraldos name resurfaced, this time from the lips of ace producer Mike Chapman. It was Chapman (well known at that time for his production work with Blondie, among others) who suggested Neil, not only as a lead guitarist, but as a complete musical director, as well.
It was a match made in heaven. Literally! As it turned out, Neil would eventually marry Pat, binding their relationship on both a personal and professional level. The lyrics to the bands third LP Precious Time are ripe with references to the duos intimate ups and downs, as it was recorded at the crossroads of the groups career. Having solidified their commercial position in the marketplace with In The Heat Of The Night and, especially the platinum plus follow-up, Crimes of Passion, both Benatar and Geraldo who were new to, the rigors of rapid success found themselves at their wits end. They had just finished a grueling tour that, at one point, found Geraldo playing his guitar with a broken wrist, casted to the elbow of his picking hand, and at another point found Benatar flat out cold on a Lakeland, Florida, stage (due primarily to exhaustion). Their newfound relationship was on the skids, with both parties living in separate houses, and the only thing to look forward to was another hit LP and another long, seemingly insurmountable tour.
That they kept their collective heads and held the band together at all is a testament to Neils and Pats desire to survive within an industry that is notorious for burning out the creative resources of its young early. A long-awaited break was the most helpful factor in allowing the Benatar Band time to regroup and allot themselves some necessary breathing space. It was during this period that Neil and Pat realized that their relationship was indeed the most important thing they had going, so they consummated their bond In manage. Probably figuring that with the Crimes of Passion and Precious Time tours they had already braved the worst the rest was Easy Street.
During this rest period, however, Geraldo was still hard at work on outside projects. Following the Precious Time tour, Neil worked a rare (for him, anyway) session/gig with Kenny Log-gins (on High Adventure) and handled the first in a series of production chores on the successful John Waite (ex-Baby) solo LP. Neil directed and produced the Benatar Bands most recent release, Get Nervous, and has recently assisted in producing an HBO special which will feature the band live in concert. The bands 1983 tour is now underway, and, on top of all this, Neil has just designed a guitar that should be on the marketplace by the years end.
The following interview was conducted during a break in the filming of the HBO special slated to air some time this summer.
MusicMaker: Although youre involved in everything from production to composing, youre primarily known as a guitar player. How did you first pick one up?
Geraldo: It was mostly my father. Being first generation Siciliano, my father always loved the guitar and singing. He would say, Why dont you play guitar?, and Id say, Aw, I dont want to play guitar, I want to play baseball or football. But I finally got around to it when I was about seven years old. All that time around my house there was a lot of Elvis Presley being played. My mother loved Elvis Presley and Sam Cooke, so I would play that kind of stuff. As It happened, I was more interested in singing that stuff than playing it, but the music gets subconsciously embedded in your mind, like the guitar style of Scotty Moore or whatever.., it gets implanted. Early on I was influenced by the Yardbirds, because that was a real English style of rock.
MM: How about your first pro gig?
NG: I remember the first gig I played was in a bar in Cleveland. I was pretty young, 15, I think. My Uncle Tim was in a band and hed always sneak me in the bar early to help move equipment. The club owners always thought I was there to move amps around, and then theyd find out I was In the band. That started it all.
MM: What kinds of music were you playing then?
NG: Yardbirds. I remember we had to play Nazz Are Blue about 9,000 times. But wed play the Yardbirds, Sam Cooke, James Gang, some weird stuff, actually. We had a good time. It was really wild.
MM: How did your parents feel about your being 15 and playing in the bars?
NG: Absolutely hated it! They didnt think Id love the guitar as much as I did, I guess. I didnt think so, either. But everyone goes through that time period with they think they know everything. Its tough for all adolescents, and I was no different. I gave my parents a mess of shit and a hard time, besides doing something as wild as playing in bars. I mean, Id be gettin In trouble all the time, comin in late, stayin up all night, then skipping school to jam all day. I played in a lot of bands. I went and lived in Florida for six months and played in a lot of bands down there. In Cleveland we used to release 45s and singles, yknow, just regional things, and take them around to the record stores and stuff like that.
MM: How did you get hooked up with Rick Derringer?
NG: Well, I was playing bass In a bar and somebody told me that Edgar Winter needed a bass player, so I said, Yeah, sure give him a call, It might be fun for a while. So the guy comes back and says that Winter doesnt need a bass player but Rick Derringer needs a guitar player, and I go, What, are you nuts? Im a guitar player! The guy says, Well, I never heard ya, and I said, I know you never heard me, who cares? Can you call him back and see if you can set something up? So he says, sure, and I went up there and I didnt come back.
MM: What convinced Rick you were the man for the job?
NG: He was auditioning a lot of guitar players, but I think the thing that made Rick want me was my attitude. I was a little different from everyone else that was there. Besides, I could play the bass and piano, and I could sing a little bit, so I was like a utility man, and I think he liked that idea.
MM: The first time we spoke you told me that Rick wasnt too comfortable with your stage presence, your gyrating and scene-stealing and all.
NG: Yeah, to a point that was true. It wasnt so much my guitar playing and stuff, because I think Rick always knew that eventually I would be becoming stronger as a guitar player and Id. have to go out on my own. But he taught me some very valuable things. And what happened was, when I started coming through like that, as far as my own individuality, it became very difficult to get myself represented on the album with Rick. Because hes the main player, you back him up, and thats what I was to him... a utility man.
MM: How long were you with him?
NG: Two years. And almost all of that was on the road.
MM: Did you find yourself getting more aggressive on stage with Derringer?
NG: Not really. I was basically the same. Rick always liked what I did then. He liked it cause I was wild, I was dancin, doin whatever I wanted to do. He liked that to a certain extent. Because It pumped him up. He was, maybe, feelin he was getting older and he had this young blood pumpin him up. Which is a very smart thing to do. And I could see his point for that. But I really havent changed much from the clubs I was playing at In Cleveland, wild like a maniac. And when I joined Ricks band.., actually theres no difference.
MM: You must have found it frustrating to tone things down for the benefit of Pats band.
NG: It was frustrating to do that. But I believe it was the right thing to do. There was a lot of heat goin around about trying to take away from Pattys performance, which was never in anyones mind. All we tried to do was come out like we really are and not be insincere or fake or try to fool people, like were not having a good time. So that was very frustrating. But what they didnt understand is what got Patty and ourselves there. When we played in little bars we kicked some shit. We were kickin bottles around. Or jumpin on tables Patty would be goin wild. And it really got us where we are today and it made me real frustrated to tone it down. So this year its totally different were going , back to the way we should be. Were wild as hell. Wild. The HBO thing gives a representation of the way the whole tour has been goin up to this point. Its been very, very good.
MM: Im glad to hear youre going back to the uninhibited performances.
NG: We went back and I wouldnt have done it any other way. I felt kind of bad, like we slighted the audience in a way, by not giving it all on the last tour the last two tours. The kind of energy we had for the first. I really was goin through a complex thing in my mind. I just basically put my head down and nose-dived and said, O.K., Ill just ground it out this way, its O.K. Until I just got so frustrated and so mad that Patty and I were saying Goddammit, were being stupid. Were being like an aged band that just doesnt know what to do with themselves.
MM: It was very hard for you at the time?
NG: It was very, very tough. I didnt even really want to do the (Precious Time) record at that point I was very mad. I was walking out every five minutes. I was very disappointed. I like the way it came out, though. Some things really show what that record is about. Like Promises in the Dark, Precious Time and even Fire and ice. It was just very tough for everybody, though.
MM: That got smoothed out by the next album?
NG: It got smoothed out after the tour. Thats when I went and produced the John Waite record in New York. When I came back with John, who I learned a lot about and who was really wonderful when I came back from New York to California to get ready to do the record, I said, Listen, this is the way were gonna do it this time. Lets go. Then it was back to the way it was in the beginning, which made it feel great. And it sparked much better now than it has for the last couple of years.
MM: How does your record company and management view you doing something different?
NG: They like the idea, obviously. If it works for them, theyll love the idea. Obviously Im gonna try to achieve success of a large level. But I dont really absolutely need it and the management or record company would be happy as long as I keep the Benatar band moving and keep this up to standards that weve always tried to achieve. I think Ill be able to do anything.
MM: Looking back on the LPs, how do you feel about them in retrospect?
NG: With the first record, I dont think we were even a band at that point. We had the different drummer. The drummer that played on the record played great on the record, but as soon as we started rehearsing it wasnt cutting it. We thought we had to have something stronger. But for that record it was really great.
MM: Because of the strong influx of female artists at the time, were you surprised by Pats success?
NG: I didnt know what was gonna happen and then when it started going completely wild it was a shocker. You dont have any idea at that point, but you never think about a huge success, which did happen. But on that first album, the band wasnt really together. It was a band but it wasnt really a group until it started touring. As soon as that tour was done, it came time for Crimes of Passion, which was the time for me to get it really going. The pressure started being applied In that respect. I was wild, I was stayin up so late. The first record had a lot of tunes already picked. Pattyd already chosen, Chapman already chose some songs, so for Crimes of Passion we wrote more songs. Why should we do other peoples songs when we can represent our own, and translate them our own way? So we started writing them, but I think I would do something different on that second record If I had another chance.
MM: Pat had implied that she wasnt all that happy with it, either.
NG: I think the selection of the songs on the record were the best they could possibly be at that time. I just feel a little disappointed with Hell Is For Children. I wish I could have gotten an even stronger performance with that. I think the performance of that is great; its tremendous. But I always believed that we could have even done it a lot better.
MM: But overall?
NG: I think It did satisfy the band. There was an extreme amount of pressure at that point. It was the second album and the record company is saying, This is the most special album. And then the third one is really important. Then, Hey, the fourth one! Little ways to make you nervous. But that (Crimes of Passion) was the most important one at that point because we did so well with the first record and nobody really knew what was gonna happen next.
MM: The old sophomore jinx?
NG: Yeah, that was tough. That was a really tough place to be. We tried our best and we were lucky to be commercially successful.
MM: The third LP, Precious Time was even tougher, wasnt it?
NG: I think that was a point of confusion In everybodys life and in everyones thinking. I mean, I was confused, Patty was confused, we didnt know what the hell we were gonna do, relationshipwise. We didnt have time to sit back and think we were on the road constantly, 24 hours a day. And we knew that when we did this record wed have to go out and tour and I wasnt becoming a big fan of touring in that situation. It was getting weird for me. It was getting weird for Patty and everyone else in the band, and everyone gets affected when myself and Patty are having a tough time. You know, if Im having a tough time, the band will show it.
MM: How did you feel about the third album?
NG: I thought it was good at the end when we got done with it. I said, Yeah, this is good. I singled out special songs that were very important, and the rest were, I considered, some of the weakest material I ever wrote. I was just in total confusion. I couldnt get it straight in my mind what the hell I should be writing, what I should be doing. If I write a lyric that in some way is gonna make Patty feel uncomfortable about singing, its gonna make me stop and not do it.
MM: Are you primarily responsible for the majority of the lyrics?
NG: Id say, maybe 75%. Sure, I do quite a bit of the lyric writing. We write together, Patty and I.
MM: How do you write, keeping your responsibilities in mind yet liking different kinds of music at the same time?
NG: Thats where Patty is the equalizer. She likes pop songs. She likes commercial songs, she also likes the weird stuff, but she really loves the pop things and the hard rock side, too. When I come in and I say, Hey, I like this, lets play it backwards or something, shell go, No, forget it, get a drink or something. So well equalize it out. Well maybe use a little of it and then well throw a little away. Well just use half of it. But the band will be branching out and opening up some in the future. If I dont decide to do it myself. It would just be tremendously too weird and the record company would chop my legs off or something I think we will eventually approach that, though. That may be becoming a bigger part of the music because Im really worried about being stagnant. I love change Id like to change with every record.
MM: Do you think you might have to do something on your own, like a solo LP, to get that kind of satisfaction?
NG: I think so. Im absolutely certain I will, I mean it. I dont know when I dont have to do it. But I really feel like I want to do it. Its getting real close to that point now so Im sure within the next year and a half, there should be something new.
MM: The fourth album, Get Nervous, how did you prepare for it?
NG: I think its the best record weve done. I really feel strong about this one. I like the addition of the keyboards I thought they helped out a great deal. Weve always had them, I play keyboards, but I dont play any, good I just screw around on the damn things. So we got like a real guy to come in and play keyboards. I can take the weight off myself be more of a producer get more performance from everyone else and not have to worry about myself playing the other guitar, the keyboards and all that. I dont want to do that anymore.
MM: What about the future? Any more production jobs lined up?
NG: Yeah, some things now but I have to go through so many tapes to really sit down and see. I like the idea of new artists.
MM: How did the John Waite LP come about?
NG: That was Chrysalis idea. Along with John.
MM: Was that to keep you happy, as a growing artist?
NG: No, not really. The record company always felt the Babys were a great band but they needed more zip, more punch. They needed somebody to be around to help with the songs, to arrange, to do that end of it. So what happened was Jeff Aldridge thought it would be a good idea for me to do the job. I was young, the same age as Waite. I was hungry...
MM: You went for a much fuller sound on that LP?
NG: Absolutely. I tried like hell every moment to open it up as wide as it could be.
MM: Why are you so interested in producing?
NG: I think thats an obsession with me not being able to sing as well as I would like to. Since I cant sing, I really admire singers more than any guitar player, any keyboard player, any instrument. I cant do it. I love to hear great singers. So when Im with a band and Im producing, when the person does something great I lose my mind, I go wild, thats just such a charge for me to see that happen. It makes you feel wonderful that you helped bring that out of them, and what this persons capable of doing is beyond anyones thinking.
MM: Can you see yourself becoming strictly a producer in the future?
NG: I dont see myself not playing. I dont think that will happen. The facility for which I will incorporate that is kind of hard to think about.
MM: Are you the type to dive into a field, learn the most you can, then move on to something new?
NG: Kind of. In a way thats true. Yes.
MM: So you may even move on to other things besides production?
NG: Youre right. I mean, I will do my little fun stuff in my spare time. Like I told Pat, when she asked me what I wanted for Christmas, that a video camera would be great. But Im gonna take pictures of my dog. Im gonna get it to growl and show his teeth and look real serious and stuff, and then Im gonna go in my little room and put music to it. I dont know what Im gonna do with it. Ill do my own little Fellini movie.