Formed in 1980, Bitch were a Los Angeles heavy metal band that seemed destined from the start to upset people. From the controversial name to the BDSM imagery and song titles such as “Live for the Whip” and “Be My Slave,” Bitch went out of their way to stir up trouble.
Frontwoman Betsy Bitch (real name Weiss) was and is a force of nature. Often referred to as the “First Lady of American metal,” the singer is a tough-talking New Jersey transplant who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. To this day, she struts the stage, whip in hand, belting out lyrics while eyeballing the crowd. A Bitch show is a sight to behold.
Bitch released two EPs and three full-length albums between 1982 and ’89 (the third album was recorded under the name “Betsy” in an attempt to reach a wider audience), and there hasn’t been any recorded output since.
But Bitch continue to play out, and this week they’re celebrating both Betsy’s birthday and the 35th anniversary of the Be My Slave album at the Whisky, a venue in which the band finds itself fairly regularly.
“That was one of our last Bitch gigs, at the Whisky, and I do a lot of the Ultimate Jam Nights there,” Bitch says. “I go there a lot, too. I’m a good patron. We’re glad to be celebrating the 35th anniversary of Be My Slave at the Whisky. It’s a great place to play. On the exact day of my birthday, no less. I’ll be turning one year older and swinging my whip at the same time.”
The lineup of the Bitch band has changed over the years, but the current group has remained fairly consistent since 2014, with Chris Cardenas on guitar, Angelo Espino on bass and Scandal West on drums. The singer says that, for this gig, the set will be heavily weighted toward the Be My Slave album, though treats from the other records will be snuck in. More exciting is the news that they’re working on a new record.
“We are writing new material,” Bitch says. “We have songs that we need to fine-tune, perfect and record. Lately, we’ve been doing all these throwback festivals where they really want to hear the old-school stuff. So we’ve been revisiting a lot of that.”
The 1980s metal movement has been justly criticized for blatant objectification of women on the sleeve art and in the videos. That was arguably no more apparent than right here on the Sunset Strip. But Betsy Bitch was playing by her own rules, taking the power back.
“Being a woman in an all-boys club definitely got us more attention, so there are no regrets there,” she says. “It was definitely a positive thing and it got us noticed. The fact is that we could back it up with the songs and the talent and remain on the same level. It worked out well, and it got us the attention we needed at first to get people’s attention.”
They certainly did get people’s attention, not least with that name.
“When we first started out, it was a bit more taboo than it is now,” Bitch says. “That was actually the mindset behind the Betsy album, that maybe the name Bitch was holding us back because it was more risqué back then than it is now. But no, what more perfect name for a female-fronted heavy metal band than Bitch? It’s always been my favorite band name. I didn’t even want to change it to Betsy, it was just sort of an experiment. You hear it all the time now. It’s not bleeped out now, you won’t see asterisks after it in print. It’s more widely accepted now, I think.”
Looking back on her wild and enviable career so far, the singer points to shows with artists as revered as Armored Saint, WASP and Lizzy Borden as highlights.
“We were definitely part of that early-’80s metal scene that attracted all the fans,” she says. “Something memorable that pops into my head is when Metallica opened up for us in San Francisco. Slayer opened up for us in Northern California, too. Both those shows were great. Packed with metal fans. That early-’80s thing stands out. There was nothing like it, and there never will be probably.”
Bitch remains active in the Los Angeles metal scene, though she says much of the newer music is a bit too hardcore for her tastes.
“I think now the definition of metal is like speed metal or death metal,” she says. “I classify us as like metal lite, I guess. We really want the emphasis to be on the songs and the hooks. We still want to be heavy, but we want to be melodic. As much as I love hard rock and heavy metal, a lot of the stuff that’s new and coming out these days is way too fast and furious for me.”
That said, she never really classified Bitch as hair metal, despite the fact that her band often got lumped into that scene in the ’80s. Not that she didn’t like some of it…
“They were still good, even though they were a bit of a departure from what we had been doing,” she says. “The bands that could back it up with music did, but a lot of them were just pure fluff. There were some who jumped on the bandwagon. The bands that were good were good, like Warrant, Poison and Bulletboys. They got lumped into that hair-band heap when those bands were a cut above. So it’s a double-edged sword. The ones that jumped on the bandwagon because they wanted to get signed too, those were the ones that were dispensable to me.”
Call it what you will, but we’ll get a good selection of Bitch tunes at the Whisky, led by a frontwoman who always puts on a great show.
“You never know what will happen at a Bitch show,” she says. “I’m sure a lot of me will be hamming it up onstage, talking to the audience and cracking corny jokes.”
Bitch play with 3 Days in the Grave, Justifiable Treason, Warpath, Fallen Fury and Question? No Answer at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 1, at the Whisky A Go-Go.
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