Neil “Spyder” Giraldo’s latest home studio employs a plethora of analog hardware around Avid’s Pro Tools and composing keyboards on an Argosy Console Dual 15 Workstation. MALIBU, CA—Neil “Spyder” Giraldo, the first guitarist to appear on MTV, the man who played all of the guitars (and the bass) on Rick Springfield’s 1991 chart-topper, “Jessie’s Girl,” and who has played guitar on every record by his wife, Pat Benatar, does not regard himself as a virtuoso guitar player. “I consider myself more an arranger and a producer; I use tools to create music and songs,” he says.
As his career first took off and the money started rolling in, instead of buying guitars, Giraldo began collecting studio equipment. “In the early days, I was buying Pultecs and Fairchilds and EMT 250s. I was buying studio gear, because I felt like the studio was my home. I felt really comfortable in it, and I wanted to have really good analog gear,” he recalls.
Although considered a guitar virtuoso by many, Giraldo’s first professional recording gig was on piano— on which he is equally adept—with Rick Derringer. As he has noted in past interviews, there was room for only one guitarist in Derringer’s band, so Giraldo moved on, subsequently running into producer Mike Chapman, who put him together with a singer he had just signed to Chrysalis Records, Pat Benatar.
Benatar’s 1979 debut album went platinum and produced several Top 30 singles, including one written by Giraldo. They have since worked together— with Giraldo typically taking on the roles of producer, arranger, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist— on a dozen albums, many of which have been certified gold or platinum, spawing over a dozen Top- 40 singles, while also earning Benatar four Grammys. They married in 1982.
It was a single from Benatar’s third album that earned Giraldo the distinction of being the first guitarist seen on MTV. “You Better Run” was the second song played on the new channel, right after the Buggles video, “Video Killed the Radio Star,” which does not feature a guitarist.
With the gear he has amassed over the years, Giraldo has built and outfitted a studio at every home the couple has bought over the past 33 years. “Every time we buy a house, we’re in there for five years. I go there, look at it and build another studio. The new one’s kind of cool because it’s a barn,” he reports.
Located on the 11-acre grounds of the couple’s latest home in the mountains north of Malibu, the barn features a 25-ft. x 25-ft. recording area with an upper story that Giraldo uses for writing (he’s also working on a couple of books) and administration. Previously using an old wooden table for his gear, he recently purchased an Argosy Console Dual 15 Workstation to support his composing keyboard— an Akai MPK88—and some of his outboard collection, including Pultec, Tube-Tech and UREI units. “I still have a Neve sidecar,” he adds. “I have all this old, vintage gear. It gets a little difficult when you don’t have it where it should be.” A new Argosy roll-around rack houses a GML EQ and some Neve modules. Barry Rudolph, a producer, engineer and industry journalist, recommended the Argosy studio furniture, he says.
Giraldo, who records to Avid’s Pro Tools, is working toward the finished product from the very first track. “If you’re recording something I hope you picked the right key, because more times than not that’s going to be your master. Stay away from all that Pro Tools editing and just live with the moment you’re trying to capture. Any time I’ve tried to recreate [a demo] it’s never been successful, so when you can, make sure it’s clean enough.”
The monitor set-up is in flux at the moment, he reports. “I’ve tried so many different things. I just need something fresh and new. Volume is important, so I’m trying to get a good 12-inch with some nice top end, something that I can crank really loud. Maybe to be true is not as important as just pure volume for performance. I don’t have any problems with neighbors, so I can blast it!”
The latest project to go through the studio is a Christmas album that includes songs co-written with Scott Kempner of the Dictators and the Del-Lords, a band Giraldo produced in the 1980s. “We got along so well, we became brothers,” he says.
But the album will not be full of the usual Yuletide spirit: “It’s more about what happens in people’s lives towards the end of the year, where things are going to end, and things are going to start new, a fresh new year. There’s going to be a dark side to it, there’s going to be a humorous side to it. I’ve been wanting to do that for a while.”
Like the proverbial shark that has to keep moving forward to survive, Giraldo rarely looks back when he launches into a new project. “I love the fact that people still want to hear the songs. I’m proud of what I did in the past, but I look forward. I looked forward back then; I was never in that moment of time. I always want to be somewhere else,” says Giraldo, who still regularly tours with Benatar, playing more than 100 shows every year.
He is constantly writing: “It’s the curse, it’s the blessing—it never stops. I wear myself out sometimes. I’ll be doing something else—building a chair, fixing my shed—and I’m in there a while and, uh oh, here it goes! I’m back in the studio and the wife’s going, ‘What are you doing? I thought you were outside!’”
He has also started on what will be Benatar’s first album of new material since 2003. “It’ll be pretty adventurous, taking a lot of risks. Patricia said, ‘Spyder, go into the studio and do whatever you want; be fearless like you used to be.’ I can do that.”
Argosy Console, Inc.
Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo