Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo’s Invincible Partnership

Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo have achieved one of the rarest feats in the music business: They’ve played together for four decades and counting. With her soaring voice and his inimitable guitar playing, their remarkable partnership has resulted in a long string of hits, including “Heartbreaker,” “We Live for Love,” “You Better Run,” “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” “Treat Me Right,” “Shadows of the Night,” “Fire and Ice,” “Love Is a Battlefield,” “We Belong,” “Invincible,” and “All Fired Up.” This year also marked their 40th wedding anniversary.

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Given that history, their story seemed ripe for turning into a theatrical production. They mulled over that possibility for years, but doing a “jukebox musical” didn’t seem quite right. Then they heard about a show featuring their songs that was running at a Los Angeles dinner theater, with a book written by Bradley Bredeweg (creator of the TV series The Fosters and Good Trouble).

Instead of merely doing a straightforward telling of Benatar and Giraldo’s story, Bredeweg had lined up their famed songs in such a way that the lyrics told the story of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Impressed with this imaginative spin on their work, Benatar and Giraldo decided to join forces with Bredeweg to create an even more ambitious version of the musical. 

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The result, Invincible: The Musical, ran from Nov. 22 through Dec. 17 at The Wallis’ Bram Goldsmith Theater in Los Angeles. For the show, Benatar and Giraldo were deeply involved, serving as producers. Benatar also worked on the book with Bredeweg, while Giraldo handled the orchestration and co-arranged with Jesse Vargas.

Watching their songs come to life in this setting was a highly emotional experience for Benatar. “It was shocking,” she says. “The first time I heard ‘Promises in the Dark’ sung in the theatrical fashion, I just cried. It was amazing to hear songs that you wrote [performed] in a completely different genre.”

Giraldo believes that audiences will be equally astonished when they see this musical because the songs are “mixed up and changed.”

“The melodies are all the same, but the instrumentation and orchestration are different so that they get a little bit deeper, and a little darker at times,” he says.

Finding innovative, unexpected ways to present songs has always been Giraldo’s modus operandi. “I always want to challenge the audience, because I challenge myself,” he says. “I want them to not quite understand what’s going on. Not quite. Because if you can get them to not quite understand, in time, when they do get it, they’re going to be in love with that [song].”

He admits that this approach has often led to conflicts with record company executives, though. “They’d always say the same thing: ‘Why can’t you just do what you did on the last record?’” Giraldo recalls. “Well, because I did that. I want to do something different. The only time I didn’t do that [was when] we went from Crimes of Passion [1980] to Precious Time [1981]. Those two records were very similar in context. After that, I kept changing.” For example, after finding massive success as rock artists throughout the 1980s, he and Benatar created a jump blues album, True Love, in 1991.

Neil Giraldo and Pat Benatar (Photo Courtesy HighRise PR)

For both Benatar and Giraldo, creating wide-ranging material seems like a natural undertaking because they each became deeply involved with multiple musical styles from a young age.

Growing up just outside of New York City on Long Island, Benatar admired rock acts such as The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix. She also liked the Motown sound. At the same time, she began intensive training to become an opera singer. “So it was a hugely diverse upbringing,” she says. “I have been in so many different genres that when it came time to do [my own] music, I wasn’t boxed in. I didn’t follow the rules because, for me, everything was OK.”

Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Ohio, Giraldo’s childhood was much less structured. “I was a very sick child; I had all of these neuroses and I hardly went to school,” he says. “The only thing that gave me hope was music.” Learning by ear, he started playing guitar when he was 6 years old. By the time he was a teenager, he’d also added piano and drums to his repertoire. Street smart and naturally talented, he kicked off his professional music career in an impressive way when he joined Rick Derringer’s band in 1978.

The next year, producer Mike Chapman (famed for his work with The Sweet and Suzi Quatro) recommended that Benatar should hire Giraldo for the band she was forming. Benatar remembers that she was immediately smitten with Giraldo. “He looked like a god, OK? So that was already trouble,” she says with a laugh. “And then he played one chord. One. And I knew. That was it. I knew.”

Benatar had been frustrated because nobody would listen to her when she said she wanted to be like Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant. Instead, music executives kept trying to convince her to emulate the era’s successful female pop/soft rock singers such as Linda Ronstadt and Olivia Newton-John. But with Giraldo in her band, she finally felt she had the right lineup backing her as she inserted an edgy snarl into her operatic vocals.

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Giraldo also encouraged her to write her own material, which hadn’t occurred to her before. “I never wrote any songs until he and I met,” she says. “It was the first time that anyone had ever asked me, ‘What do you want to say here?’ I was like, ‘What? I could actually have a voice?’

“I realized that this was a no holds barred situation,” Benatar continues. “It opened everything. All of a sudden, my voice, this voice that you know, started to emerge. Once I realized the power of being able to write the words that I was singing, that was it.”

Working with Benatar was equally important for Giraldo, as he found her extensive formal classical training meant that she was able to handle even his most ambitious ideas. Being in her band also gave him an outlet for his songwriting: He wrote “We Live for Love” for her 1979 debut album In the Heat of the Night (which also spawned the hit “Heartbreaker”).

Benatar and Giraldo still find that they complement each other musically to this day, with their lengthy personal history giving their songwriting even more depth.  “Musically, there’s so much going on in there because not only are we songwriters together and players together, we’re also married, we’re lovers, we have children, we’re grandparents,” Benatar says. “There’s a lot going on.”

She says they write together every day – but not in the same room. Often, a song starts with Giraldo writing a melody on the piano, and then he’ll hand that snippet off to Benatar, who likes to write lyrics. They’ll continue working separately, passing the song back and forth. “Then we come back together and see what each of us got with the catalyst that we just gave each other,” Benatar says.

Though they have touched on topical issues with their songs, they favor certain timeless themes. “I think the subject of love and heartache will always be there,” Giraldo says. “Songs that are deep and try to twist a love story are kind of where I live.”

Benatar and Giraldo’s instincts have proven correct, as their track record shows: So far, they have released two multi-platinum, five platinum, and three gold albums, as well as 19 Top 40 hits. They have sold more than 36 million records worldwide and won four Grammy awards.

This year, they’ll receive what is arguably their highest honor yet, as they’ll be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on Nov. 5 at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Both of them make it clear that they aren’t interested in making a big fuss over this achievement, however. 

“It’s great to be acknowledged,” Benatar says of this induction, “but they’re acknowledging a body of work that’s already been done. It doesn’t have any actual relevance right now. The fans are having the most fun. That’s my favorite part of all. They waited so long, and it means so much to them. It means a lot to us, too, but not in the way that you would think.”

Giraldo agrees that this type of honor is secondary to the work itself. “When you go in to make records or write songs, you’re not thinking about awards,” he says. “You just want to do the best work you can.”

With that guiding principle, Benatar estimates that she and Giraldo have written 200 new songs in recent years – but, she adds, “I don’t feel like I need to put these songs on a record.” She notes that Go, released in 2003, was the last studio album they released, “and I have no desire to make another one. I just don’t want to go in [to the studio]. I won’t do it unless it feels right. I can’t force it.” But fans shouldn’t despair, because if they attend a performance of Invincible: The Musical, they will hear four new songs that Benatar says were written specifically for that show. 

And, as Giraldo adds, there’s certainly more music to come. “Truthfully, I still don’t believe I did the best work yet,” he says. “I still think it’s still out there somewhere.”

Photos by Travis Shinn / Highrise PR

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