By: Brent Stroud
Kathy Valentine is a musician and songwriter and former member of the hugely successful and influential band, Go Go’s. She was the principal writer of hits “Vacation” and “Can’t Stop the World” among others. She was not only a member of the first all female band to write and perform their own songs and top charts but she was shortly a member of British band Girlschool in England, started the first punk band in her hometown, Austin, TX, before moving to LA starting another band, The Textones eventually landing in Go Go’s, and she hasn’t stopped.
She has continued creating and performing in bands since, between Go Go’s reunions and tours and pursued a degree later, becoming a public speaker. In recent years, she recorded a solo record with contributions from various musician friends including Ace Frehley among others and was inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame by Debbie Harry and members of Blondie. She continues to perform with her longtime band, The Bluebonnets, as well as recently doing some acting and she has a memoir in the works. Kathy Valentine moves forward.
Brent Stroud: What kinds of things were early influences?
Kathy Valentine: Like everyone, music was huge to me. When I picked up guitar, I knew that’s how I was going to get by in the world, I knew that I would always play. As a new musician, Keith Richard was huge to me, because it seemed do-able, what he was doing. I picked up right away that it was about taste and style, and that practice would get me chops, but taste and style were the key. Keith taught me that. The Stones were probably my biggest influence, because of the variety of songs they produced. It fit in with how I experienced music growing up in Austin; a big spectrum of styles and clubs and bands formed my music education.
BS: I’ve heard that you started to play guitar after seeing Suzi Quatro in England, can you talk about what that felt like?
KV: I was playing some guitar, I had a nylon string acoustic and was learning the basic folky songs and chords. It hadn’t occurred to me to put what I was learning together with the rock n’ roll I loved until I saw Suzi on TV. It had not occurred to me that a woman could be a rock musician in a band–I’d only seen female rock singers. My favorite bands were all male.
BS: How was your experience pre Go Go’s musically with your first bands, The Violators and The Textones?
KV: I had a couple of bands before the Violators, I started having bands right away with my school friends. I also started writing songs right away. The Violators were inspired by the punk bands I’d seen in England when I was over there one summer. I met the girls from the band Girlschool–they were called Painted Lady at the time, and we started jamming and playing together. When they replaced me with Kelly Johnson I went back to Austin to start the first punk band in town. The Textones came about in LA, we were homesick for Texas–Carla and I, and we thought of that name. It wasn’t a punk band, more rock and roll and pop and influenced a lot by Rockpile, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Dr. Feelgood, that whole scene.
BS: You just played with Sylvain Sylvain (New York Dolls) at a show in Austin, how did you relate to a lot of the more raw stuff and punk coming out in the 70s? Also, how was playing that show?
KV: I wasn’t in the know in the early-mid 70’s about Iggy, the Dolls, the Velvet Underground and all that hip stuff. It just didn’t filter down to my world. I got to discover these bands after the fact, and of course, the music was and is as vital anytime you get into it as in it’s release time. I knew Lou Reed before the Velvets, and discovered Iggy from 1977 Lust For Life album, then went backwards. The Dolls I didn’t know about ‘til the 80’s! I knew David Johansen before I knew the Dolls. I love discovering past scenes and artists and bands that didn’t reach me before. Playing with Sylvain was a blast, I’d do it anytime anywhere!
BS: The Go Go’s reached huge success with songs you were principal writer on (“Vacation”, “Can’t Stop The World”) and reached a lot of success shortly after you joining, what do you think you brought to the band?
KV: I think I had as much effect on the band as the band had on me. I really think that. The Go Go’s definitely made me a better songwriter. Charlotte and Jane had hit a vein prior to Beauty and the Beat and wrote a fantastic collection of songs. A lot of songwriters have a singular intense time of their best material, and that was theirs. It set a standard that we always tried to live up to, which was super hard. I brought rock cred to the band, and so many behind the scenes contributions that go unnoticed and unknown I couldn’t begin to list them all. I have a great ear for arrangements, music parts. I helped with guitar stuff. I brought ideas and material that kept the band going–arguably, there might not have been subsequent albums to Beauty and the Beat without me in the band, but you never know!
BS: Since The Go-Go’s, you have kept busy with other bands (Blue Bonnets, Delphines) and solo album, “Light Years” (2005). Your garage, glam, blues and also all female band, The Blue Bonnets, played the other night. You’ve said you enjoy being a part of a band and prefer it, what makes that special?
KV: I like being a team player, and being part of a chemistry. I’m not prolific enough, nor vocally capable of carrying out an artistic vision completely on my own. I’ll make a solo record in the future, as I did once in the past, but that’s more to experience the freedom of making all the decisions and not having ideas be subject to others’ approval. I don’t do solo stuff because I have a desire to be “out front.”
BS: Do you prefer an all female dynamic?
KV: I don’t prefer it–I’ve had great experiences working with guys in bands too, but I like working in female bands for a lot of reasons. I’m an only child, and it feels like a sisterhood to me. There’s a humor and vibe between all gals that’s hard to beat. And also because I don’t think there are enough women who choose to start bands, and stick with it, so I like to always be out there hoping to inspire more!
BS: What makes music great, in your opinion?
KV: I like having an emotional response to music. I always say that great music has to have either soul or balls, preferably both.
BS: How does it feel to have been a part of one the most influential and successful female groups in rock and roll history and made a career of doing this?
KV: It’s one of my most proud accomplishments, but it feels like long ago and that there are new challenges I’d like to make a mark on the world with. I feel extraordinarily blessed to have been able to have the career I’ve had.