A Bitch of a Beauty: My Conversation with The First Lady of American Metal Music
Written by Boris Lee
Growing up as a ’70’s-’80’s child, I was fortunate enough to be a witness to the development of the iconic cultural genre known as Heavy Metal Music. When we think of the icons who paved the way for any of us to be here today, as a part of the Heavy Metal Music community, be it as fans of the screaming melodic overtures (proudly referring to our “Head Bangin’” and “Horn Raisin’” brethren as, “Metalheads”), or aspiring musical alchemist hoping to play to audiences enamored with their “Eargasmic” spells, we generally think of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Alice Cooper, Iron Maiden, Anthrax, Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, etc.
Though the metal genre is predominately a male fronted society, similar to that of the barbaric fantasies of Conan the Barbarian, even in those fantasies an image was created that is overlooked. That is the perception of the role a female plays. Alluring and submissive was the image of the female. Then there is the female character that breaks the mold, who balances alluring beauty with a dominate presence and emotional strength that grants her RESPECT. A respect that turns the table on a male-dominated genre.
Growing up, my friends all had certain bands or artists that they preferred. Ozzy, Dio, Dokken, KISS, all had posters adorning bedroom walls and brought us into places such as Sam Ash Music, hoping to purchase instruments to emulate our musical icons. We all had an image we took on, mainly plaid shirts over our favorite band’s T-shirts, long hair, high-top sneakers, leather jackets and a denim vest.
Then, there were the girls in our cliques, who took on the images of their own icons. For some reason other than immaturity and a lack of socially developed skills of yet, most of us boys felt that the girls had no idea what was cool. Yet, reality is that inside, we (well, I at least), wanted to know what my female friends liked in Metal Music. I wanted to know why any of them thought they could sing, play an instrument, be a bad ass. Who did my “Metalettes” see as musical icon? (I am not including my poser friends, whom knew every word to “Talk Dirty To Me”, and compared Poison to the New Kids on the Block.)
One day, I got together with the girl who lived up the block from me during my freshman year of high school in Queens, New York. This girl was the optical epitome of what I perceived as Metalhead Lady. She had teased up black hair, wore skin-tight black shiny yoga-style pants, accented herself with studded belts, and the ever delicious, high-heeled black suede boots. I had been playing guitar in my garage, and though I am not one hundred percent certain if I was playing, “Iron Man”, or “Paranoid”, I recall her surprising me and telling me I was good. Once my embarrassment passed from being seen conducting my secret guitar practice, (I thought it as such, though I was in my garage, the door half up, and my Fender Champion pointed towards the opening, go figure), we formally introduced each other, and she asked what songs I knew. Those two were the only ones at that point in time.
Soon after this day, I was in my new-found friend’s room, waiting for her to put on her favorite song. With a sly smile on her face, she put the needle down on the record. I was looking at her Pro Session Stratocaster copy and observing her begin to bang her head. as the record played.
“Right From The Start”… a thrash grooved song that had a woman singing! The voice coming out from the Radio Shack speakers, was not like that of the previous female artist I had been familiar with then, such as Joan Jett, Lita Ford, and the like. It was at this moment that I was introduced to the true first Lady of American Heavy Metal music, Betsy Weiss, and the band, Bitch.
My friend presented me with my virgin Bitch experience this day. Watching her hips shake and head bang is an image that still rest well with me today. It would be appropriate, that the title track to the album, “Be My Slave” played next immediately followed up by “Leather Bound”. Though the sexual premonition overtones of the songs were the grab to the music, there was the totality of the band creating the music. Betsy’s boys know how to compliment her vocals, with blistering guitar work, and a tempo that blasted through your ears like an early seventies muscle car through a midnight forest.
“Riding in Thunder” has a heavy foot stomper rhythm riff that marries with Betsy’s vocals, creating a properly orchestrated eighties metal anthem.
“Save You From The World”, opens as a ballad with an Alice Cooper haunting tonality. The songs instrumental pace quickens and grows heavier while Betsy’s vocals time out over the music with an operatic feel, developing a devious diversity.
“Make it Real (Make it Rock)”, is exactly what Betsy did with Bitch. The song shares a message to motivate everyone to get off their ass, create a path for their own success, much like Betsy was doing herself. (And get up and rock… in all aspects of the concept…)
“World War Three”, is a “Thrashtastic” paced song with energetic riffs and powerful vocals. Betsy’s vocals are like that of Ronnie James Dio, in she does not get stuck having to sign in time to a riff. Betsy takes the vocals and leads the metal anthem charge.
There was not a single song on Bitch’s Be My Slave, that fateful afternoon, that did not open my mind to what a lady in metal music truly could be. Betsy is why I have always preferred working with a female vocalist on the limited music projects I have been involved with.
The nine-teen-eighty-three Bitch release, Be My Slave is a follow up to their nine-teen-eighty-two debut, Damnation Alley. The five songs that appear on the original recording are all killer, no filler, old school metal tempo changers that stand up to the test of time.
Though there are other ladies in the metal music genre who have been graced with more commercial success, nobody, and I mean nobody, did what Betsy Weiss did, with Bitch. She was the first.
Beginning with imagery, Bitch was the band that took the sexuality of the female, and turned it from warm to… inferno. Betsy brought a look that was equally alluring and daring. Bitch challenged and shattered the preconceived perceptions of, “Men Rule Metal”. Bitch did something that KISS did in the seventies, in being certain they stood out from the generic pack. Betsy Weiss took the role of fronting a metal band and balanced her vocals with a physical presence that was not being done by any woman at the time. While images of male dominance over female slaves were abundant, Bitch proved that the roles can be reversed with successful results.
Betsy Weiss took the reality of a woman having the ability to be as talented and strong as a man and slammed it in your face. Betsy took melodic vocals that most associate with a Pat Benatar and placed it over a style of music normally associated with men holding a symphonic mass over horn raising minions. It was Bitch, that many of the female Metalheads of my childhood looked up to, and got strength from, much as us boys connected with the energy from male fronted bands.
As I am writing this article I am listening to Bitch. The album, The Bitch is Back. This would be the band’s biggest commercial success partially because of the idiocy of the P.M.R.C. (Parents Music Resource Center), who are infamous for the witch hunt fashioned actions against music and other forms of creative freedom. The album boasts songs equal to anything off Bitch’s previous releases. “Skull Crusher”, “Do You Want to Rock”, “Hot and Heavy”, “Storm Raging Up”, “Me and the Boys”, are “Riff-tastic Grooves” befitting to this or any time in metal music. The title track to the album is a self-explanatory cover of the Elton John’s song, that Betsy made her own.
Bitch would follow up with the nine-teen-eighty-eight release, Betsy. The album is an underrated classic worth a listen. With songs like, “You’ll Never Get Out (Of This Love Alive)”, “Devil Made You Do It”, and “Turn You Inside Out”, the album deserves more credit for what Betsy brought to the table and overall production quality. Though the album was not a major success compared to the bands previous releases, this could truly be blamed on an over-saturated metal music market. Metal music was entering a phase where carbon copies and one-hit wonders were getting as much attention as the icons to the genre.
Betsy and Bitch are an intricate part of metal music history. From being a part of the legendary first press compilation LP Metal Massacre, the launching point of Metal Blade records and starting line for Metallica and other bands, to opening the freedom of creative expression for women in metal music, Betsy and Bitch have earned their iconic status.
Betsy Weiss lyrics say things that are on the female mind, yet some shy away from vocalizing. Bitch had the balls to create a different path, rather than tread down previously paved roads.
Bitch set the standard for females in metal music today. Yes, there are other ladies of metal music, yet Betsy Weiss is The First Lady of American Metal Music. She is the foundation in which many ladies in metal today base themselves on. Smaller yet rapidly growing female talents such as SirenHex, or more commercially successful acts, such as Halestorm, would not exist today without Betsy Weiss and her band, Bitch.
With my passion for writing about metal music renewed by the opportunity with Metal Babe Mayhem, I reached out to Betsy Weiss for an interview. As fate would have it, Betsy agreed. It is my honor to present my conversation with the First Lady of American Metal Music, Betsy Weiss.
BL: Welcome, Betsy. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. Let’s begin with whom were your earliest influences in music? What brought you to the creative direction you chose in music as a vocalist?
Betsy Weiss: My major musical influence now and then has always been Alice Cooper. If there were never an Alice Cooper, there never would have been a Betsy Bitch. I have always wanted to be in the spotlight and I knew I had a voice that, if developed properly, could carry me there.
BL: Is the image you created as a female front woman in music a more shock concept, personality statement, or a combination of several factors?
BW: All the above. But the music is the number one priority. That said, I always felt that an interesting character portrayal onstage gives the live audience a good visual to take away as well. I want to give the fans a memorable visual image and live performance that complements the music.
BL: After leaving a few garage band projects, you joined and fronted the Boxboys. What are the most memorable differences for you in fronting the Boxboys versus Bitch?
BW: The Boxboys gave me my first real stage experience, so I give them credit for that. They started out as a rock/new wave band, and then the members decided there were too many bands doing the same thing at the time, the late nine-teen-seventies. So, they switched the musical direction to Ska. I gave it a shot for a while, but came to a mutual agreement that I just wasn’t cut out for the music and dramatically toned down image. The guys were real nice and friends of mine, so there were no hard feelings. I had a great time playing with them. It was my first real experience in the recording studio, as we released a couple of singles on a record label, one of which was featured on a major movie soundtrack.
BL: What do you feel are the downfalls and achievements technology has brought to the recording industry today? In today’s creative world, with technology at your fingertips, do you feel a recording contract with a record label serves much purpose anymore, or is there a promotional machine still head banging away by having a recording deal?
BW: I think both apply. Record companies are still an important business and the lifeblood for bands in terms of releasing material and touring. However, with the advanced technology of home studios and the power of the Internet, there’s no reason a band can’t record and release their own material, promote it, and eliminate the middleman and the expenses incurred with that.
BL: During the PMRC hearings in nine-teen-eighty-five, Be My Slave’s album cover was used as an example to assist illustrate the PMRC’s case to the senate. How did you feel about this at the time it took place versus after, when it appeared the PMRC helped band’s gain more exposure than deflect youth away from purchasing albums?
BW: The PMRC and Tipper Gore gave us some of our best publicity to date. She toted our album cover to all the senate hearings, quoted our lyrics, and that “Warning: Adult Content” sticker on our albums only made the public want to buy it more. I thought it was just another ridiculous example of government interfering in areas they have no business trying to control. It’s a personal choice. If it offended anyone, they needn’t purchase or listen to the music.
BL: The album Betsy, presented a name change and slight repackaging of the band’s image, taming it. Why the changes?
BW: The Betsy release was our first experience with outside songwriting. We wanted to try a bit of a more polished sound and felt some outside music and lyric influences would help achieve that goal. We never changed the name of the band. The release was titled Betsy for the one project, so people would listen with an open mind, leaving behind preconceived notions the release would be all hardcore headbanger material.
BL: Your fan base is loyal. How does it feel to have such dedication from the admirers of your music? How did it feel when you first saw a fan with your image tattooed on them?
BW: I never, ever take for granted our fan base and I appreciate them immensely, especially considering the fact we’ve been around so long and have not really released anything new in a while. It’s great to know the fans are still out there supporting us and the bookers still seek us out for playing shows.
My first encounter with a Betsy Bitch tattooed fan was meeting my dear friend, Andre Taran, who has the full image of the Be My Slave album cover on his entire back. It’s humbling, flattering and all of those adjectives. Since then, I’ve been sent several photos of people who have my image tattooed on them. Words can’t eve express how great it makes me feel. I know where that feeling of being revered comes from because I’m on the other end of it with my Alice Cooper tattoo on my left bicep. So I know it comes from great admiration and that’s awesome.
BL: Bitch played their first show at the Troubadour in nine-teen-eighty-one. From taking the stage that night to this day, what’s the greatest fear you have to overcome as a performer to take the stage? Is the exhilaration the same today as it was then after overcoming that fear?
BW: I’ve never had a case of stage fright nor have I ever feared anything about performing. I guess if I had to answer that, I’d say a couple of times I’ve had to sing with a cold. I was apprehensive my vocals wouldn’t be one-hundred percent. But there’s never really been anything for me to overcome. I’m a lot more confident onstage than I was that night at the Troubadour, that’s for sure, and I still experience the same thrill when I perform.
BL: Do you prefer the larger festival style shows or smaller more intimate gatherings when performing today?
BW: I like both, but the festivals are awesome. There’s nothing greater than looking out and seeing a veritable sea of people.
BL: Rumor is there is new Bitch material in the works. Would you elaborate on the project, please?
BW: My band, Bitch, which comprise Chris Cardenas on guitar, Curt Remington on bass, Scandal West on drums, and myself on vocals, are currently writing new material. The method in which we do it is, the guys come up with the music and I write the vocal melody and lyrics. We have several new songs being composed.
BL: New music from Betsy and Bitch sounds amazing. For the female musicians and artist starting out there today, looking to you as their influence and idol, what advice can you give for staying on their chosen creative path?
BW: Just stick with it and have confidence, because there are a lot of others trying to do the same thing you are. Focus on the one thing that makes you unique and attracts people’s attention. Make sure you have the talent and ability to draw people to want to watch you. If it’s not a perfect talent at first, work on it, it will, in most cases it will improve.
BL: Thank you, Betsy, for taking the time to take part in this interview. I look forward to what the future holds for Bitch.
Do you want to rock? Make it real, and have yourself a heavy metal breakdown in damnation alley, and listen to Bitch. Crank the volume to ten. Stand up for rock and tell your parents and neighbors when they complain, you’re a hot and heavy headbanger, they will never understand.
To find out more about Betsy Weiss and Bitch, check out the links below.