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Original girl-rocker Pat Benatar recalls the Richmond roots of her multiplatinum recording career. 

A Precious Time

Pat Benatar with Leon Milmore
New Innsbrook Pavilion
Wednesday, July 7
$5
965-7922
www.innsbrook.com

Pat Benatar sounds genuinely excited about returning to Richmond this week during her 20th-anniversary tour. She speaks quickly and asks about old haunts and pals from her stay here in the mid-'70s — the period just before she became the famous '80s rock 'n' roll tough gal with a heart of gold.

"I can't wait to get to Richmond," she says by phone from a tour stop in Sioux City, Iowa. "I had such a great time."

Benatar has certainly been around the entertainment and traveling block since those days between '73 and '75, but she easily recalls the scene where she took her first professional steps.

"It's probably really quiet still," she says with a laugh. "But that's where I started singing professionally. It's a big place for me…[and] sentimental for me."

She notes that she hasn't been to Richmond since a Coliseum date sometime during her '80s zenith. Those were the days when Benatar sold records by the truckload and "Love is a Battlefield," "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" and "Heartbreaker" kept her in Billboard chart heaven. During those years she snagged the Grammy for Best Female Rock Performance four years in a row and she earned six platinum albums. The newly happening MTV channel played her videos relentlessly, and Benatar became an example for many women as an aspiring girl rocker and a goddess to guys who simply liked the way Benatar could sing and strut.

But before all that, the Richmond area was Benatar's temporary home after she moved here from Long Island with her first husband. With a grimace in her voice, she recalls a short stint working at a bank in Hopewell and playing a "sleazy" Petersburg restaurant. She remembers doing "the dinner set" at the Holiday Inn by the airport.

"Can you imagine? The 'dinner set?' It was a nightmare," she says, once again raising an easy laugh. "But that's where I cut my baby teeth."

After quitting her bank job, she recalls taking voice classes for a year at Virginia Commonwealth University. She and a roommate shared some rented digs on Hanover Avenue in the Fan, and Benatar remembers the early Fan renovation; she says her house was one of the only habitable ones on the block. She doesn't recall the exact apartment address but figures it was closer to the Boulevard than to VCU. "I remember it was a long schlep [to school] on the bike," she says.

At night, she played at Sam Miller's in Shockoe Slip with Coxson's Army, and the band managed to make some local waves. Benatar recalls that between eating "great pancakes" at a joint called Uncle Remus' and hustling gigs she started getting restless. She read about a club in New York, Catch a Rising Star, where newcomers were encouraged, and she decided to make a move. The story of her departure may differ depending on who tells it, but Benatar says she and the Coxson bass player struck out for the Big Apple after deciding it was the natural move.

"I was 26 and ready to rock," Benatar remembers.

The singer made her mark and signed a record deal within a couple of years; she moved to Los Angeles to record her first album, "In the Heat of the Night," in 1979 and was big-star bound. Her hit-filled album, "Crimes of Passion," followed in 1980 and reached No. 2 on the U.S. Charts. Her next album, "Precious Time," reached No. 1. Hit records followed throughout the '80s.

These days Benatar lives with her two daughters and husband/guitarist Neil Giraldo in a quiet beach house near Los Angeles. She's just released a three-CD collection of hits and rarities, and there's a new record set for September.

Benatar says she's lucky and works when she wants; she can enjoy both her children and a continuing career. During the summer when the kids are out of school she can crank up the tour schedule and for the rest of the year she can be mom.

"I really enjoy the kids ... it's great to get to be a rock chick half the time and the other half drive a car pool."

Benatar says she still loves playing live. Her two-hour-plus show is a "piece of cake" because she works out every day, and at age 46, still weighs in at 95 pounds.

"I'm an old girl but I'm hanging in there," she says.

One big thing has changed about touring, however. These days she and Neil bring the kids along. The 5-year-old loves it; her mom says she wants to play tambourine on stage. The 14-year-old, however, sees the experience through more critical eyes; she can't accept the fact that the old folks are still rockin'.

"She's mortified … she's humiliated," Benatar says with a chuckle and some motherly understanding. "We're such
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