Interview with Sally Cato of Smashed Gladys; February 2006

Smashed Gladys will always have a claim to being one of the bands that influenced those who came along later and probably stole a lot of the glory that they deserved. Fronted by the dark haired rock diva and sex goddess that was Sally Cato, they had a fairly short lived career but their music is still cited by many as being a blend of the sleaziest, trashiest glam with more than a hint of a husky Jack Daniels induced vocals.

It's another one of my long stories but through a mutual acquaintance, I ended up getting in contact with Sally and propositioning her, no not with a marriage proposal unfortunately, just a request for an interview and she duly obliged - so here it is.

GW. Sally, the band was originally formed in 1984 in Canada so how come you guys made the trek to New York and how did it all kick off from there?

SC. Bart Lewis and I met in 1979 in Canada and played in another group. Bart was from Philadelphia and so when we realized that the Canadian market was non-existent, we moved to Manhattan in 1981. In 1983, we decided to form "Smashed Gladys" At this time we began to meet the other band members that would ultimately by the members that everyone is now familiar with.

GW. You had two releases, Smashed Gladys and Social Intercourse. Some of the songs from the first album were redone and appeared on Social Intercourse again. Why did you decide to redo some of the songs and which versions do you prefer?

SC. Good question. OK - our first manager in the US was Gene Simmons of Kiss. The songs that you are referring to that were done on both our LP's were written during that time. As much as we learned from Gene, there was a great deal we needed to "unlearn" as Mr Simmons has some very personal and secular views on song writing that did not enhance our particular sound and writing style - so we used those songs as a way to consciously evolve our writing back into the direction it should have been before Mr. Simmons influence. Plus - the "Smashed Gladys" LP was a British release only and we wanted those songs released in the US as well. I really like the over all sound and production style of the "Smashed Gladys" LP. Mainly because our producer, Mark Dearnley, (who was recommended to us by Malcolm Young) is massively talented and quite a visionary. He really knows how to bring out the best in whomever he is working with. On the second LP - the band is definitely stronger - after much live playing and touring, and the songs are stronger in general - but Warner/Electra would not allow us to use Mark Dearnley to be the producer of the Social Intercourse LP. At that time, the culturally ignorant A&R staff at Warner/Elktra were all competitive about the "Hair Band" scene and wanted to use Poison's producer. Really really mediocre stuff. Poison would have sounded a thousand times better if they had had no producer. My heart goes out to them! Warner also never bothered to speak to anyone in the "Poison" camp before hiring this guy (he is so marginal I am not mentioning his name intentionally). So - after we had to have him fired from our project before we would allow him to mix the LP - The label discovered that he had been locked outside of the studio for most of the recording of "Poison's" LP.

GW. Some of your song titles were, how can I put it, less than subtle for instance Legs Up, Hard to Swallow, Lick It Into Shape. Do you think it was easier for you to break through and make a name for yourselves because you were a female fronted band?

SC. Easier was never a consideration. Anyone who has read or figured out the entire lyric content of those and many other of our songs realizes they are serious philosophy, delivered with humor and lightheartedess. Hard to Swallow - laughing at how hard life is - but hey you just have to "Suck it up" - I suppose you think that is meant to by dirty too - don't you!!!. And lick it into shape - my God - I even reference George Orwell " If you want to keep drinkin' that Victory Gin, you gotta lick it into shape" This song is about staying on top - it is about competition - "Nail your courage to the wall and tie your body to the wheel"- who's that? - probably Kipling knowing me -. The fun was tricking the establishment into thinking it was naughty - even thought it was very very sober! Meanwhile - even our youngest fans really "Got It'. And that is who legs up is about. We always wanted to make sure those kids got home ok - in the small sense and the universal sense. Did we have a couple of naughty ones just for good measure? Of course we did!

GW. How much did the record companies exploit bands back then and do you think the situation has got better or worse for those going into the music business?

SC. OK - our label was so burnt out they didn't even know how to exploit bands. You'll love this - Smashed Gladys existed for the sheer joy of being exploited. My god that was our motto! We were a publisicts dream. Where G&R and the other LA bands had to make stuff up to be outrageous, that shit just used to happen to us - here are just two examples:

1. The day our US tour was supposed to start, we decided, quite innocently, that it would be a nice pay back to all the folks in the New York scene if we had a little soiree in the Tour Bus right before we left for the tour. You know - Beer, Salsa and Chips . Anyway, our label was the Warner Brothers building in Rockerfeller Center in Manhattan. We had announced the time for our goodbye get together and had the tour bus parked right there outside the label on the street. Ten minutes into our little fun, we got shut down by the label! No, not the police, no, not security! The fucking label. If it had been Geffin we would have been all over the six o'clock news, they would have called the police just to create more scandal. Nope - not our label - hey just yelled at our manager - How fucking lame is that!

2. The other one that I will share is - We were booked for three nights into a bar on an Air Force base in Lawton Oklahoma (don't know if I spelled it right - but it was the murder capitol of the US as that time). Now the problem with small venue tours is the sound/monitor systems suck. Being that we are so loud that we rival Motorhead in decibel output, if I go two or three nights without adequate monitors, I blow out my voice and then we can't work for a week. I live my life preventing that from happening. One of the things I do when I realize the system is fuckedi is - I increase my stage antics. So here I am onstage in Lawton fucking Oklahoma realizing that there is no fucking sound! "All right then", I say to myself as I look around for things to climb on or in or over. Lovely! There appeared to be a wonderful metal bar in the ceiling running across the front of the stage dividing the band from the audience. At the start of the first guitar solo, I backed up, took a running leap, jumped into the air and grabbed the bar in the ceiling. Well! As I go into a full swing, the whole fucking ceiling came down. The place went berserk! Everyone joined in! We were an instant hit! Long story short - our tour bus and truck were run out of town that night by a squad of police cars! Any other label would have milked that all over the press! Our label just yelled at our manager. Many bands may have had a "bad boy" rep - but Smashed Gladys - the only one of em with a "Girl" WAS the real bad boy band - hard to avoid when you come from NYC! Of course the final straw was our reason for leaving the label - now remember there have been other women in hard rock/metal. None have ever gotten this far in the US market, as a band member as apposed to being a solo performer ( like Lita Ford - god love her - she got screwed too) than we did. If we had been allowed to continue we would have changed the industry forever. Anyway - we got back from our middle venue tour and our agent called (our agent was the president of ICM - the largest booking agent in the world at that time) to tell us that he had gotten us the opening slot on the Iron Maiden Stadium tour starting in Florida the next day. Now - most labels would realize that history had just changed, this had never happened before and that they had a free natural publicity campaign right in front of them and the chance to make a fucking fortune. They had a potential new audience as well. Once again - the label was so imbecilic that they would not allow us to go on that tour. WE WALKED OUT ON A 2.5 MILLION DOLLAR DEAL. The last thing I said to them was - if you can't support our first l.p. with more professionalism, I am certainly not going to give you 4 more.

The good news is, there is no more music industry and labels don't matter as they have no power. There is no touring market unless you are either The Stones or you like to play bars. Main stream music is embarrassing. If you have a band and you want to get a following - you now have the internet - so you can determine exactly the style you want for your career. Of course sending your demos to Steve Jobs wouldn't hurt either!

GW. Where did the name Smashed Gladys come from and why did you also refer to yourself as the Cast of Nasties?

SC. We wanted a name that had whimsy. Was timeless - in the vein of Pink Floyd or Strawberry Alarm Clock - so we mixed a bunch of elements - Elvis Presley's mothers name is Gladys, my aunt who danced in the circus with snakes name was Gladys - combined with the word "Smashed" such a lovely word smashed - implies so many great visuals - well the combination just made us laugh! We loved it!

Actually - it was originally a journalist who referred to us a Cast of Nasties, and I think they were referring to the endearing and yet devilish nature of our personalities.

GW. Which other bands were around that you were playing and gigging with at that time?

SC. You probably won't believe me - but that's ok. When we started there was Motely Crüe and Def Leppard and that was it. They already had deals and were well established. I worked on the Crüe's first video. Later they would come to many of our shows in New York and were very supportive. Other than that there was no scene - nada- zip NIL! When we did our British release, I think Poison - who were the LA pioneers - were just releasing their first LP. Smashed Gladys had to single handedly start a New York rock scene. That has to be one of the most difficult tasks on earth. Everyone here is so dance and jazz oriented - either that or punk/thrash. Metal was just not trendy then!!! But it was still alive in the 'burbs. So - we managed to get a club in the East Village to give us a night and we did massive amounts of promotion and mailing lists, and putting up posters (this part of our story is probably the biggest story of all and we could write a book just on this!). Anyway - we went from 300 a night to 1,200 a night in four months - we had guest hosts like Ace Frehley and others, Radio support you name it. But to get it really rolling we had to some how prove that there was a scene - not just one measly band! So - all of us would go to clubs searching for cool bands, and we would tell them what we were doing and ask them if they wanted gigs and press and the lot - of course they all looked at us like we were crazy - Why would another band offer all that to them?? There must be a catch!!! No - there was no catch - it was all about the power of numbers. And so Circus of Power, The Pharaohs, Adam Bomb, The Cycle Sluts and a host more joined the newly formed Manhattan Metal Scene that started at the Cat Club. Eventually Limelight and Danceteria and a few other clubs joined in.

GW. What was the reason that Smashed Gladys decided to call it a day?

SC. See answer to the earlier question - plus we kept going for several years after we left the label. We were in and out of many deals - The entire industry was really going belly up a that time - touring (the way I remember it growing up) had virtually shut down people were getting desperate. Finally, we were going to do a deal with Atlantic with Mick Ronson producing - a marriage made in heaven! We had always been a fan of his arrangement style and had spent many years studying his work on our own. Within 2 months of this deal being finalized, Mick was diagnosed with cancer and passed away shortly after.

GW. Do you still keep in touch with any of the other members of the band?

SC. Some of them yes.

GW. Like all good things, the real glam scene eventually came to an end as well, yet years on we're still talking about that particular era. What made that part of the eighties special or memorable for you?

SC. That is a had question for me as my context is different from yours. I grew up in the world of all that was Aladdin Sane and Alice and T-Rex and Roxy combined with Zep and Purple and AC/DC. So I am a natural by product of that. I guess it was just an accident of fate that Smashed Gladys came to age at the time of what you call an '80s Glam scene. I still love what I always l loved and as far as I am concerned I like hard rock that looks as sexy as it sounds…. What do I miss about the '80s - well New York had a night life then - they have since shut it down and are now trying to shut down CBGB!

GW. Have you ever though about doing a reunion Smashed Gladys show for old time's sake or would you rather just let the memory live on the way it is?

SC. It is budget prohibitive. If it weren't - I 'd be the first in line.

GW. You're now quite a successful business woman Sally. Can you tell Glitzine readers what you do these days?

SC. This is rather funny - As most musicians will attest - one needs to have a side job while one is on their way up! I am a designer. Have been since I was literally a child. I created the image, logo, marketing campaign and LP covers for Smashed Gladys, as well as the Cat Club materials. Now I have a design firm in Midtown Manhattan where we create marketing and merchandise materials for Broadway, Touring and sometimes West End shows. Without judging the type of entertainment I am working on at any given time, I get to help people who have sometimes spent there entire lives working on something, in a way that hopefully helps them or at least shows respect for there effort and courage. Most recently Eric Idle and I created the Spamalot book, and I create most the books for the other shows as well. Just be warned - Spamalot is not typical West End Theatre - it is DEFINITELY rock and roll - it is hysterical as it thumbs it's nose at all things theatre - while blowing most theatre away! Grant you will LOVE it!

GW. What sort of music do you listen to these days?

SC. AC/DC, AC/DC, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Zep, Pink Floyd, Bowie, Queen, Scissor Sisters, Electric Six, Dandy Warhols, Hindi/Bollywood Pop, so shoot me - I love Cheryl Crow! - great fucking lyricist, Jet - and for humor - The Darkness!

GW. A little birdie also told me that you and Bart are also in the Aerosmith video for Walk this Way - is this true?

SC. Once again - as a designer, I worked on a ton of MTV shoots - as an assistant art director and sometimes as a make up artist. I had done make up on two of RUN DMC's earliest videos. When one of my best friends landed the director gig for Walk This Way, he told me that Steve and Joe and the Run guys had decided that rather than have two bands, they wanted the shoot to look like a "Jam". So they wanted a rhythm section from yet another band and asked if Smashed Gladys wanted to do it. That is how it happened. Bart, JD, and Matt are in it - I am there, but not on camera as I was part of the crew. But this began our friendship with Steven Tyler.

GW. I also hear you like to travel to London. What is it you enjoy about the UK and next time you are over can I buy you dinner?

SC. Most of my family are there. My Mum and Dad had emigrated from the England to North America in the 50's. Although I was born in Canada, we travelled a lot so I went to school in Los Angeles and after that in Portsmouth and back to Toronto. I think Britain is one of the most beautiful places on earth and I would be greatly saddened if I didn't in fact have a chance to have dinner with you next time I am over there!

GW. Sally, it's been a complete pleasure, I feel as if I have achieved part of a dream that I never thought I would fulfill so can I just thank you once again for doing this interview but just before I go, one last question - do ya still enjoy a Jack Daniels from time to time?

SC. I do - can't speak for my stomach though!

Interviewed by Grant W.