The ‘Heartbreaker’ kid Neil Giraldo and Pat Benatar found their sound, and the rest is history

By John Benson

Dedicated is a word that has long described guitarist Neil Giraldo.

Not only has he been by the side of his wife and rocker Pat Benatar for more than 30 years, but he began his career in earnest respecting the idea of the gig.

Take for instance in the early ’70s when the Parma native was in a band with Roger Lewis and future Michael Stanley Band member Kevin Raleigh.

“We had to do a Youngstown gig in the winter, and I talked to Kevin and said, ‘Are you sure we should do this gig?’” said Giraldo, calling from Biloxi, Miss. “The roads were closed due to snow. He said, ‘We’re booked; we got to go.’ We drove all the way there, and the place is closed. So we turned around and drove home.’”

Even though Giraldo admitted thinking it was a waste of time, he maintained an element of professionalism. That Midwest work ethic led to an opportunity to join Rick Derringer’s group and eventually become the band leader for an up-and-coming female artist. Little did he know that job would last for decades.

In fact, next year marks the 35th anniversary of Bena- tar’s debut effort, “In The Heat of the Night.”

“It seems like it was made yesterday. I remember every moment of it,” Giraldo said. “Patricia and I were partners from the very beginning. I was basically the person who really helped create the sound, and obviously she added so much to the mix with being a powerful vocalist. The harder I played, the more she tended to compete with that. I loved making that record.”

Speaking to the era of when that album was released, Giraldo said initially the record was a failure with its two lead singles dying at radio. That’s when the label released “Heartbreaker,” which at the time was called too guitar heavy for the disco-friendly sounds of radio.

Then a West Coast station took a chance on the hard-driving song, and Benatar quickly became an artist on the rise. Soon, the rock couple was enjoying exposure on a then-struggling cable network called MTV.

Not long after, Benatar was in constant rotation for songs such as “Love is a Battlefield,” which featured the singer famously leading a group of working girls in dance moves down a street. Giraldo said the choreographer from that shoot went on to work with Michael Jackson for “Thriller.” Another popular Benatar video was the WWII-based “Shadows of the Night.”

“I hated that,” Giraldo said, laughing. “We were the Americans — the wife and I — and a couple of guys in the band were Germans. That was the video where we decided no more historical costumes.”

Today the only history Giraldo and Benatar are reliving is music from their platinum catalog. Fans can walk down memory lane at the group’s Friday show at Covelli Centre.

As for the future, Giraldo remains optimistic the family business will remain active for a while.

“I don‘t know — as long as people keep liking it, we’re going to keep playing,” Giraldo said. “We love it so much. We’ll keep going until they don’t want us anymore.”

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