Sally Cato Interview

October 18, 2010

Interviewer: Benjamin W Barney

Heavy metal has always been dominated men, even more so in the mid ’80s when Sally Cato was trying to make her mark on the hard rock scene with Smashed Gladys. Capturing the interest of Kiss’ Gene Simmons, Smashed Gladys seemed poised to smash through the stereotypical metal boundaries, but the ‘old white boy network’ that controlled the music business in the decadent ’80s wouldn’t let that happen. In this exclusive interview vocalist Sally Cato gives us a glimpse of what can go wrong in the world of music even when it appears the stars are already aligned.

Sleaze Roxx: Hello again Sally, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. I was wondering how many units the Social intercourse record sold?

Sally Cato: All I know is… the album was released on April 15 of that year and by July we had sold 70,000 units.

Sleaze Roxx: Was the record deal with Elektra good or did the band get screwed over?

Sally Cato Sleaze Roxx interviewSally Cato: That is a big question. There is a lot of detail in that answer… let me try. OK, when you go for a record deal you have to prove you have a following — which we did, possibly a bigger one that most of the unsigned competing NY and LA groups — with the exception of Poison, who were at about the same level as us, except that we already had a British album available. Next, you have to have someone represent you to the record companies… like an agent, manager or lawyer. We had a lawyer, who was hard working, but inexperienced. We knew all the big name agents in the metal world, and they all came to see us.Next, if a record company shows interest, you make a deal with them and at that time, now that you have a deal memo, you go out and get the best manager possible, one that makes the record company feel confident that they have enough clout and money to get you on the best tours, buy the most amount of radio support, etc.

Well, as a band, my partner and I wrote just about everything. The guys in the band dedicated every waking hour to humping gear, playing live and the whole nine yards. The business side I did pretty much alone. I got the lawyer, I got the agent, I made all the contacts, I dealt with the record company contacts and negotiations… and during this entire time I maintained relationships with all the big management companies. Two people were responsible for signing Smashed Gladys to Electra — the Vice President and the head of A&R. This was a pretty big deal. Both of these guys had some pretty heavyweight bands that they had signed.

Problem was, the president of the label, who had once signed some pretty huge acts, decided that he was not going to let us sign the deal UNTIL we had a manager. This was unheard of, especially since it was common knowledge that we were courting every manager in metal. By doing this he sent a huge message to the industry that read that he did not take us seriously. The money we got was standard for that time. I had already secured a great agent — he was the president of ICM — the largest agent in the world.

Next we had to choose a producer. They would not let us use the guy who did our first LP, they would not let us contact Mutt Lang, or any other decent producer. They, without asking for a reference at all from Poison, put us with the guy who produced their LP. We ended up having to fire him halfway through the project, and then Electra found out that Poison had locked him out of the studio for their LP and had virtually produced the album themselves… and because of legal contractual obligations, they had to put his name on the record.

Then we had to tour — and this is where it gets unreal. At the time of our record release, there were not many stadium tours out yet. Guns N’Roses was with Iron Maiden and that was about it. So they sent us out to headline in medium sized venues until a stadium slot came up. After three months of touring we came home, and that night our agent called to say that since Guns N’Roses were now touring with Aerosmith that the Iron Maiden opening slot was open, and that we were going to be taken to Florida to start opening for them in two days.Of course we went through the roof. It was perfect! At the same time we were told that Poison were getting ready to tour and were looking for an opening act as well.

Sally Cato Sleaze Roxx interviewAt about 3:30 that day we got a call from Elektra saying that the president would not support the Iron Maiden tour and that we would not be going out again to support our album. We had already started to take Poison up on their interest in us as an opener when we discovered that Elektra had blown that for us too.The president of the label was not going to let us succeed simply because I was a female… this was made clear. Now think about it, has there ever been a female heavy metal performer who has made it to the size of say Steven Tyler, Axl Rose or Bon Scott? No… and the old white boy network who controlled things back then were going to make sure it stayed that way.It’s just fine though, because we have more female performers now than there have ever been — and they come in shapes and styles that never even existed before. Look at Pink for example. Yay!

So we walked into the president’s office and demanded that if they could not behave like professionals that they release us from our recording contract immediately. This took about a week… getting our publishing back though, took three years.

Sleaze Roxx: Social Intercourse was recently re-released on Wounded Bird Records. Was the whole band involved in the process?

Sally Cato: Who is Wounded Bird? No.. when you sign a contract like a record contract, unless you are already very powerful like Led Zeppelin or AC/DC, the contract is transferable. Meaning that the label can sell it to whomever they want providing that new company honor all of the royalty agreements that are in the contract. Basically they still have to pay the artist under the same rules as the original contract.

Sleaze Roxx: Did Elektra Records put up a fuss about selling the rights or did the band have the rights to the CD?

Sally Cato: In most cases, the record label owns the masters. Meaning, they own the physical recording, NOT the songs. After five years you can record the songs again for whomever you want.

Sleaze Roxx: Have you ever thought about releasing a live show on DVD?

Sally Cato: If I ever get around to transferring and editing all the footage.

Sleaze Roxx: Lots of bands put extra unreleased songs on their re-released CDs. Does Smashed Gladys have any songs like Outta My Mind just lying around?

Sally Cato Sleaze Roxx interviewSally Cato: Apparently someone has stolen some of our unreleased personal demo tapes and created what they call our third album. We had nothing to do with this and have no idea who put it out. While this re-release was going on, I had an Australian company try to buy our catalog… including a request for unreleased material. I contacted Elektra to talk about this company who wanted to buy the masters, I could not get a return phone call from Elektra. Later on I learned that they had sold the masters to someone else.

Sleaze Roxx: After Social Intercourse was originally released in 1988 did Elektra do much to promote it via radio play or magazine ads?

Sally Cato: Minimal. Record companies by law can’t do anything about radio. It is up to the manager to buy different sized blocks of air time — which for example, Skid Row had 6-8 months or air time purchased before their first album was released, this way it was guaranteed to be on heavy rotation starting from the release date. This was paid for by their management. That is why what Elektra did, by making us get a manager before we were signed, was so destructive and crippling.

Sleaze Roxx: What major bands did Smashed Gladys tour with?

Sally Cato: Ace Frehley, Cheap Trick… I can’t remember right now.

Sleaze Roxx: Are there any good tour stories with those bands you would be willing to share?

Sally Cato Sleaze Roxx interviewSally Cato: The best story was in Cincinnati. We were playing with The Killer Dwarfs and it was a great theater and a rockin’ town. Guns N’Roses contacted us and said they had a night off and were coming to the show. All I can say is that there were three buses parked outside that theater from 6pm until 9am the next morning. I think Cincinnati is still talking about that night!

Sleaze Roxx: Was there only a North American tour or did you do any overseas touring?

Sally Cato: No… I couldn’t leave the country at that time because I was waiting for my green card.

Sleaze Roxx: If an event like Rocklahoma asked Smashed Gladys to play a set, for the right price, do you think the band would do it?

Sally Cato: You give me the right budget to put this band back together and we would be there in a heartbeat.

Sleaze Roxx: I heard Smashed Gladys played and drank at the Cat Club and Scrap Bar in NYC a lot. Are there any places like that in NY now?

Sally Cato: No. And… we created the Cat Club!

Sleaze Roxx: Are there any newer sleaze bands that you listen to now?

Sally Cato: The Heavy, Jet, Lady Gaga, Pink, Black Crowes, AC/DC, AC/DC and more AC/DC. If they have the guts to be themselves, I am right there supporting them!

Sleaze Roxx: You now own a successful business in NY. Is there anything you would like to promote about it here?

Sally Cato: No. I just make art, but now it is a different kind.

Sleaze Roxx: Again thank you Sally for your time .Social Intercourse is one of the best sleaze rock albums ever you and the band should be proud.

Sally Cato: Thanks Benji.