Gary James' Interview With
Patty Smyth




In the early 1980s this group enjoyed chart success with "The Warrior", "Goodbye To You", "Love's Got A Line On You", "Hands Tied" and "Beat Of A Heart". That group was Scandal and fronting Scandal was Patty Smyth. It's been sixteen years since we've heard from Patty Smyth, but now, just in time for the holiday season, Patty has released a new CD titled "Come On December". Patty sings "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas", "The Christmas Story" and "Do You Hear What I Hear" to name just a few of the standards. She also includes some new, original Christmas songs, "Come On December", "Walk With Me" and "Broken".

We talked with Patty about "Come On December" and her time in Scandal.

Q - Patty, I would imagine that these Christmas songs you're singing on this CD, and I'm talking about the standards here, sound better with the passage of time. Nobody writes songs like that anymore.

A - I think that's probably true, although we did write a couple of new songs and I've been trying to conquer that. Keith and I wrote a song called "Come On December", which is a new Christmas song and another one which kind of relates to the veteran thing I'm doing. There's a song called "Broken". I kind of think at Christmas it's hard for a lot of people. Every time at Christmas time we see the guys who can't come home. They come home and surprise their families and it really just does me in emotionally, so I wrote the song called "Broken", which is sort of a Christmas song, but it's really more than that. But "Come On December" is just a full-on Christmas song. There's nothing like the four or five great standard Christmas songs that you love to sing. I kind of feel like I don't always feel like listening to all of the Christmas records there are. I really try to strip it down and keep it simple and let the songs speak for themselves.

Q - The only two recent Christmas songs that come to mind, and they're not all that recent, is Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmas Time" and Dr. Elmo's "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer".

A - (Laughs) I actually think the one that Mariah Carey does, I don't know if she wrote it, I think that's a pretty good Christmas song. She's not the only one that recorded it. I can't remember the name of it. At least it's new. It's pretty good. It's up-tempo. "All I Want For Christmas Is You". That's what it is. I don't know who wrote it. Maybe she did. It's a relatively new Christmas song that's pretty good. I think Mariah Carey is a good singer. She did a good job with that. I like John Lennon's "Happy Xmas"

Q - But that goes back forty-six years.

A - I know. (Laughs) But it's still younger than Mel Torme's (song).

Q - Or Gene Autry or Bing Crosby.

A - Yeah. Exactly. They're hard to write and people don't try to write 'em. That's the thing. So, each Christmas I try to write one and I'm gonna keep that goin' until I get it.

Q - It's been sixteen years since you put out a CD. Why did you think of a Christmas theme?

A - I've always wanted to do it. It seemed like an easy thing to do. Initially it started out with somebody else doing it with me. I was in L.A. and he was a guy I was doing some work with. He got into scoring for TV shows and placing songs. He got an agent to place songs into television and film. So, he said, "Look, why don't we cut a bunch of Christmas songs and then when Christmas comes around I'll see if I can put one in a TV show." So, we did it in August. I have a home in California but right before I came back to New York where I live most of the time, he got a placement for a version of "Silent Night" that we did on C.S.I. So that's how it started. We didn't really do it the way I wanted to. So, when I came back to New York and I was working with Keith, we started adding more songs to it and then I started stripping stuff away so it became more of an American type Christmas record. So, that's how it started. I got one in a TV show and then it was like, "I always wanted to do it, so let's do it."

Q - Are you going to be touring behind this Christmas CD? Kenny Rogers, for example, tours with his Christmas show.

A - Well, I did a Christmas show last year in New York and I'm going to do one on December 14th again. I'm going to do one in New York. I may do one in L.A. It depends. I'll do a couple of charity things, but I don't know that anyone does a Christmas tour. Maybe they do. I don't follow Kenny Rogers, so I wouldn't know he was doing a Christmas tour. It might be something to think about doing in the future. I don't know. I think I'd have to make a couple more Christmas records to do it. (Laughs) You can't just do it with one (CD).

Q - The fact that you're donating the proceeds of your CD to the Combat Veterans Of Iraq And Afghanistan and people who were at 9/11 would lead you to believe that someone in your family is in the military or was in the military.

A - Well, I mean my father, my uncles, were all in the military. I had an uncle go to Vietnam and when he came back he was not the same person. I remember that. Being a kid in New York during the Vietnam War, that had a pretty huge impact on me. I saw how badly treated they were and then we had all this living in New York and being here on the morning of 9/11, I became tight with my fire fighters in the neighborhood. A lot of people have been going to war since then. Even before, starting with Desert Storm, actually before 9/11 I guess. The thing that I found really upsetting, and I kept reading about this series in the New York Times, that we're losing more veterans at home than we are in combat because they're taking their own lives. That to me was just heart breaking. So, this organization I'm raising money for is called Head Strong 'cause they offer free mental health care to these veterans and they offer it to them fast. There's no red tape. They don't have to go through all the bureaucracy of the U.S. government and the V.A. (Veterans Administration). They actually have come up with a form of therapy that is basically curing these guys of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) which pretty much a miracle as far as I'm concerned. When my dad, and he had a lot of younger brothers; my father died when I was a kid, the younger brothers went into war 'cause they were emulating their fathers in World War Two. Then they came back and just got crushed 'cause everybody was so anti-Vietnam. It was such an about-face, but I went in and did a video for the song "Broken" that I wrote. I did it in the VFW (Veterans Of Foreign Wars) in my old neighborhood where my family is from, way at the edge of Brooklyn. It was really interesting to talk to all of those veterans who had been in the Korean War and World War Two and Vietnam and so it was pretty wild to talk to all of these guys. You still see how some of them are so shook up and still can't talk about stuff. So I guess it is something that speaks to me. I'm not sure why, but my father was a paratrooper. My Uncle Jerry, like my father, was a paratrooper. So I guess it's there and I am honestly a patriotic person. I admit it.

Q - To be a recording and touring artist in the early 1980s was to be in a good place at a good time. MTV had just started. The drinking age in many places was 18, not 21, so bars and nightclubs were happening, right?
A - Yeah. The drinking age in New York was 18. I don't even know when that changed.

Q - Maybe in the mid-1980s.

A - I still think that's a mistake. But yeah, I think it was a good time. People were selling a lot of records. It was a hard time probably to be a female. I think it's easier to be a female recording artist now, not that it's easier to be a recording artist at all now, but I think there's a lot more women who are dominating the music scene then there were then. Rock 'n' Roll was a good ol' boys club and there were like three chicks. It was like Chrissie Hynde, Pat Benatar and then me for a while. That was, I guess, the challenge.

Q - Did Columbia Records do right by you and Scandal? Did they promote you enough? Is there something they did you didn't like?

A - I think they were a great label. I will always consider myself very lucky to have been on Columbia Records. It's an iconic label. I think they did try to help us. I think what happened was, we made our own home-made video. It went on MTV. We made a video and it got us signed. We made a video of a song called "Lyin' On You", which was not the one that we ended up doing for "Goodbye To You". So, we were doing demos for CBS, Columbia, and when they saw this little video we did they signed us. Then we made the "Goodbye To You" video for like $1,500. It cost nothing. At that time, Pat Benatar had a record out. My record wasn't getting added. They wouldn't play more than one chick. They just wouldn't do it. So, I went on this promotion tour for like eight weeks, trying to get these program directors to add my record, and then MTV was just coming up. MTV got a hold of our record. I guess Columbia sent in a copy of my video and that's what gave us the hit "Goodbye To You". We really were a product of MTV because it went to number one in each city, but not at the same time. So, the song never really charted high, but it was a big hit for us weirdly enough 'cause it was a top MTV video. So, my point, getting back to Columbia, is that was like the birth of videos. When "The Warrior" came out, that was where I feel like they kind of just pressured me into doing this like concept video which I did not want to do. They had a new video department and they hired this chick who just made me look about as bad as I possibly could. When I saw the video to "The Warrior" I begged them not to put it out. I didn't want them to release it. I wanted them to do a 'live' video like on stage, a performance video. A Rock video. They didn't think that would be interesting. Whatever. So, it turns out "The Warrior" was a Top 20 video of 1984. So it was okay, but that is where I feel like sometimes they were just trying to, I don't know. If it's not broke, don't fix it. How I appealed to people was standing there singing like in the "Goodbye To You" video. That was a performance video. I believe that was my strong point. It still is, to play 'live' and sing in front of people. I think that was something where there were a couple of decisions they made mistakes. They were trying their best. It wasn't for a bad reason. They were just experimenting. Sometimes you make good choices and sometimes you make bad choices, but that's just part of trying to figure it all out. So, I don't have any judge. I feel like they did try to help me and did put a lot of money behind us.

Q - Did anyone ever confuse you with Patti Smith? Did they ever mis-spell your name?

A - Not when I did a show. I did interviews in Europe where some German guy thought I was Patti Smith, which was pretty funny. He had all these pictures of Patti Smith and I'm sitting in front of him. This is like 1991. I'm like, really dude? You can't tell the difference? So, it was pretty funny.

Q - In the mid-1980s Scandal was playing to some very large audiences. Where were you playing?

A - We were playing in all of these arenas. We were on tour for nine months. We opened for everyone from Hall And Oates to The Kinks to John Mellencamp. We played The Cow Palace in San Francisco. We were playing in front of 20,000 people. We were doing some festivals that were outside where there was even more than that.

Q - Was Jon Bon Jovi a member of Scandal?

A - He wasn't a member of the group, but he was in The Power Station and we knew him 'cause he was living above The Power Station 'cause his cousin owned it. So he was in that video I told you about. We didn't have a guitar player yet. We hadn't found Keith Mack yet. So, he pretended to play guitar in that video, "Lyin' On You", which actually got us the record deal. So, he's in that. (Laughs)

Q - Who came up with Patty Smyth And Scandal?

A - It was Scandal. I just wanted to leave Scandal. I didn't want to be partners with my partner in Scandal anymore. Nobody came up with it. It just became Patty Smyth And Scandal recently because it hasn't really been Scandal. After we did Bands Reunited, it couldn't just be Scandal 'cause half of Scandal is dead now. I only have one guy with me who's from the original band.

Q - But, who came up with Scandal? What's the story behind that?

A - No freaking clue. I don't have any memory of coming up with that name. I don't know whose idea it was. I've no idea. It's a pretty bad name though. (Laughs)

Q - Is it true you were asked to front Van Halen?

A - That is a true story, yeah. I was eight months pregnant and not something I really wanted to do. Although that history got re-written, but the truth is, he asked me and I said no. But I don't think he wanted Sammy Hagar to look like second choice, so I never really spoke about that until recently. Now it doesn't matter.

Q - The person who asked you had to be Eddie Van Halen, right?

A - Right. Exactly.

Q - Why did Scandal end? Did the band go on without you?

A - No, it didn't go on without me. Zach Smith and I just didn't get along. We just never did. We were like oil and water and eventually the band just pulled apart. My drummer went to play with Billy Idol and that was a big devastation to me 'cause he was like one of my favorite players in the band. I was just like, "Fuck it! I don't want to deal with this guy anymore." I just want to have fun, but I was supposed to do that first record. "Never Enough" was supposed to be my last Scandal record and then they decided to put that out as a solo record, which was upsetting to me. That's something Columbia did that I didn't really like. The producer and other guys were working for Columbia too, so they had a lot more power and influence than I did at that point and so it came out as a solo record. They always figure you're an ego maniac and just want it to be your name, but I like having a band. I've had the same band for the last eight years, the guys that I play with when I go on the road now. It's great having a band, but I just really didn't get along with the guy we started Scandal with. We still don't get along. (Laughs)

Official Website: PattySmythAndScandal.com


© Gary James. All rights reserved.


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