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Along came a Spyder

WANT TO GO?

Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo

WHERE: Clay Center

WHEN: 8 p.m. Sunday

TICKETS: $40, $55, $75

INFO: 304-561-3570 or www.theclaycenter.orgCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There are a lot of great rock 'n' roll stories. How Neil Giraldo got the nickname Spyder isn't one of them.

The heavily tattooed rock guitarist explained, "Patricia and I were walking around someplace, and we saw a sign that said Spider's Dinner Club.

"It was black and yellow, and she asked me, 'Don't you like black and yellow?'"

Giraldo told her, "Um, yeah."

So, she pointed at it and said, "I'm going to call you Spyder."

Somehow, the name stuck, and the 56-year-old has been using it interchangeably ever since. What didn't really stick was the name Patricia. Only a few people use that one. Most everybody else knows her as Pat Benatar.

The couple, married 30 years now, performs Sunday night at the Clay Center.

Benatar -- best known for a slew of arena rock hits like "Hit Me with Your Best Shot," "Love is a Battlefield" and "Heartbreaker" -- and Giraldo met in the late 1970s. At the time, he was finishing up work on a Rick Derringer record when he got a call from an executive at Chrysalis Records.

"He said they'd signed a girl who wanted to put together a band and record, but she'd tried working with some people and nothing seemed to work."

The record company asked him to see if he could do anything.

Giraldo said they hit it off immediately.

"She wanted a partner, and it was perfect: we were each other's muse. I made her work harder, she made me work harder, and we were a perfect combo -- kind of that Mick Jagger/Keith Richards, Robert Plant/Jimmy Page dynamic."

As a partnership, Giraldo did a lot more than play guitar. He arranged music for Benatar, helped choose material for her and her band, wrote songs and produced 11 of Benatar's 12 albums.

"It never felt like I was the side guy," he said. "It was sometimes portrayed that way, but it was never the way it was."

As his wife's producer, he had an enormous amount of freedom and responsibility.

"I always heard the records finished before anyone else did," he said. "I heard it in my head. The trick for me as a producer was to communicate what I heard to the other players and get them to play it."

From the very beginning, he and Benatar worked closely together, but he never thought it was weird when he found himself dating the boss.

Giraldo laughed and said, "It was inevitable. It couldn't be stopped. We were together all the time and love just kind of happened."

The couple married in 1982. They have four daughters together, which is why the guitarist ended up with so many tattoos.

"I got the first one when our first daughter was born," he said.

He added a new tattoo with each new baby.

"...And then the godchildren.

"It's a whole life story," he said. "The tattoos started with the oldest daughter, and now I get kind of itchy around November or December. It feels like the right time to get another one."

So far, he's managed to quell the urge for five years.

The hardest part of what he does now is the travel.

"That's the part that wears you down," he said, although he acknowledged that these days it helps that they have a good road crew and road manager. "It makes it very good."

The kids don't come on the road like they used to.

"We had a private jet for a while," Giraldo said. "We used to strap our first daughter in her seat, and she'd hold up her hands during takeoff."

He sounded like he missed that.

"Our youngest just turned 18. They don't really come out that often."

He added, "Maybe the grandkids will."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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