Interview with Betsy Bitch - Bitch, July 2011

Betsy Bitch is back. Her ’80s LA-based metal band Bitch has seen a resurgence in popularity, courtesy of the remastered and reissued EP Damnation Alley/Be My Slave plus DVD in July; her new band has been doing recent tours, festivals and has upcoming shows as well. Bitch will go down as an important part of metal history as the first female-fronted heavy metal band. Formed in 1980, Bitch quickly gained a rabid local following, particularly for their live shows, which were filled with sadomasochism and bondage themes. Betsy’s image and leather-clad jumpsuits, songs dealing with the art of pain (“Be My Slave”, “Live for the Whip”) added to their persona. They were not part of the typical glam metal scene; Bitch had a true cult following and are still proving that the band and the songs are still relevant. Speaking from her home in Southern California as her dog occasionally barked away in the background, Betsy talked about the early days of Bitch, how their S&M image got started and her appreciation for the fans’ new-found interest.

You’re credited with being the first female fronted heavy metal band in the World. Were you out to set that record or out to prove something? Did you go into the formation of Bitch with that in mind?

No. I just wanted to sing for a hard rock band. I didn’t have a design on becoming the first female singer in a metal band. I was in a band called the Boxboys and we started out doing new wave rock ‘n’ roll, kind of mainstream. Then they decided there were too many bands doing that and then they went ska and I fled that situation. It was not anything I wanted to do, it wasn’t my style. It was too androgynous. They wanted me to play down my sexuality and look like one of the guys. I wanted to stay more rock ‘n’ roll so I advertised my vocal skills in a local music trade magazine and David (Carruth) and Robby (Settles) answered my add. Originally, they had in mind for a male singer for a metal band called Bitch, but then they saw my ad and heard my voice. So, it started out as a hard rock metal band with a female singer. It was never intended to be the first of anything.

Bitch was one of the first bands to sign to the then-new Metal Blade Records in the early ’80s and you were on the first Metal Massacre LP. Is it overwhelming to you that the music still holds up today and that fans still remember you and enjoy your songs?

Yeah, it’s always flattering. I feel that it’s a great thing that we can have some notoriety. There’s so many bands that are doing this in this particular genre and it’s nice to be memorable to people and be interested in the band. It’s always an honor and I never take it for granted.

What gave you the idea for an S&M dominatrix image for yourself and the band?

That just sort of evolved. There was never really any game plan to do that. How it actually came about was we had a photo session and the photographer had us go on location to this S&M establishment called The Dungeon or something in Hollywood. We were doing the leather and studs thing anyway. He had us pose with handcuffs and riding crops so we decided it was a cool image for the band and wrote some songs with that subject matter, “Live for the Whip,” “Be My Slave.” We thought it might give us an interesting visual gimmick and angle with the specific music we had backing it up. To make us stand out a little more other than the fact of being one of the first metal bands with a female singer would give us an image. And the Betsy Bitch persona kind of followed after that.

You were an LA heavy metal band, but at that time or shortly after, it was the starting of the glam/hair metal phase. But you weren’t necessarily considered in that category. How was the scene back then as far as playing the LA club circuit?

That’s when it was really easy to be popular and have notoriety back then when that type of music in the early ’80s was more prevalent. When the glam stuff was coming out, that’s when we kind of fell into the gray area and went on hiatus and was laying low for awhile. That kind of edged out the old school early ’80s metal scene around here. Which, in LA, unfortunately things are a scene. It was sort of a fad and a phase. As opposed to places in Europe where it was a way of life for them back then. The up and coming in that time. We picked a good time to do that. It was just awesome playing with bands Slayer, Metallica, W.A.S.P., Ratt, Malice, Lizzy Borden, Armored Saint. It was great. Those were the good ‘ol days. Every night of the week there was something going on.

Who personally were your influences and what made you start Bitch with your image, style and sound?

I can’t say that any body in that specific hard rock or heavy metal style influenced me. My major influence in getting into music ... I’ll always credit Alice Cooper. He was my hero. When I first started getting into music when I was 13-14 years old, he had that persona, the character, along with the great music and songs and awesome band. That’s all I aspired to be. He was and always will be and continues to be my major influence. I have him tattooed on my left bicep. If it weren’t for Alice Cooper, there would never have been a Betsy Bitch. I also remember a long time ago before I was even in a band going to see the Runaways. Seeing a bunch of girl rockers up there, particularly Cherie Currie — who was cool and tough, fronting a band but still sexy and feminine. I said to myself, “I can definitely do that.”

Metal Blade has put out a new DVD, what can fans expect with this?

They took some videos from different shows that we did back in the ’80s at the Roxy. There’s some new footage of what we just did in Europe a few weeks ago at Keep It True festival. There’s going to be a T-shirt in there. There’s some bonus tracks that we recorded during the Be My Slave sessions that never made it on the album. There’s a little something for everybody there.

It’s great that you’re still associated with your original label Metal Blade and Brian Slagel.

I just sang at his 50th birthday party. He had a private party in the downstairs room at the Key Club on the Sunset Strip, which used to be Gazzarri’s. We put together an all-star Metal Blade band with myself and Joey Vera on bass and Marten Andersson from Lizzy Borden. I got to sing “Cold Ethel” by Alice Cooper. Other people in pretty high power realize that there’s still a love for Bitch out there.

You were an important part of ’80s heavy metal history. Are you happy about the resurgence of popularity with Bitch now and with the re-release of your album’s and the DVD do you think you’ll be doing more shows?

Oh yeah, definitley. My band, who is now a different lineup, is actually Anger As Art, is now my Bitch band. We just came back from Europe. We did three days in Holland, two in Belgium and the Keep It True festival in Germany. The fans, the metal appreciation over there is just incredible. It’s just an honor to be a part of it. When I was talking about here in LA, when the early ’80s were sort of known for metal being prominent here. But over there it’s just a way of life and they just love it and it never dies. Now that some of the ’80s bands are coming back it gives them a new resurgence of that out there. It’s like a rejuvenation. Even though they’ve always loved it. All the bands are coming back for the festivals so now they’re re-loving it. So, it’s great to be a part of.

With all the new interest in the band, will you be writing and recording new material?

Yeah, we’re talking about it. The guys I’m playing with now, Anger As Art, they’re more thrashy. So, some of the stuff the guys have written over the years is more applicable to Bitch. So, we are talking about writing some new material. If we get the playing live stuff out of our system, we have some shows coming up with Malice, if anyone remembers them.

What’s next for you and Bitch?

Well, I’m excited about the Be My Slave re-master coming out. Hopefully that will generate some tour interest. It’s just nice to be back, not that I ever really went anywhere, we just kind of laid low for awhile. Unfortunately my original drummer Robby Settles passed away from Leukemia a year ago last May. So, that was hard. He was also my brother-in-law. My original guitar player David got married. I don’t know what he’s doing musically these days. But he’s supportive of me carrying on with Bitch and he went to the last show we did locally and was so impressed with what Anger As Art has done with our music. I’m sure we would have Robby’s blessing with the continuation of the band because the guys do the songs justice and then some. We want to continue with this lineup, wherever it takes us. I’m still appreciative of the fact that people are so interested in Bitch and still want to hear me sing and the fans are still out there. And that’s a great thing at this stage of the game to still have that longevity. Thanks to everyone, including you for wanting to interview me, I appreciate that. I never take it for granted and I look forward to more.

Bitch - Be My Slave/Damnation Alley

Label: Metal Blade Records


Betsy Bitch - Vocals
István - Guitars
Jay Dean - Guitars
Steve Gaines - Bass
Robby Settles - Drums (RIP)

Be My Slave/Damnation Alley (2011)
A Rose By Any Other Name (EP, 1989)
The Bitch is Back (1987)
Be My Slave (1983)
Damnation Alley (EP, 1982)


Interviewed by Kelley Simms