Everyone has dreams and aspirations, but how many of us actually have the means to pursue them? In reality there are often discouraging factors in life that could be depriving art of some wonderful talented arts merely because resources or support is not available. Fortunately, there are programs such as A Chance to Rock; a Texas based non-profit program which provides lessons to foster youth. Enriching, inspiring, and planting the seeds for creativity, Rock and Roll Hall Famer Kathy Valentine knows what music can mean to any youth, after all she found her calling in Rock-n-Roll from a very young age. Taken in by the power and magic of Rock-n-Roll music, Valentine followed her own path, one which led her to become an intricate part of the most successful all-time female Rock band of ever, The Go-Go’s.
Rightly proud and accomplished, yet still very humble, Valentine jumped at the chance to raise awareness for A Chance to Rock and hopefully change the lives of others. Taking the time to talk about it, the Rock icon sat down to talk about her career, The Go-Go’s, the importance of art in brain development, plus more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in music for many decades and attained a great deal of success as a part of The Go-Go’s. Briefly tell us, how would you describe your incredible musical journey to this point?
Kathy Valentine – I think I’ve been very lucky. A lot of factors come into play to succeed; there are a lot of talented, deserving people that don’t… so luck certainly plays into it. I also know I’m good at what I do and I was very dedicated when I was young. I came up in a very different era… I don’t even know what it would take to succeed in the music business now and I don’t even know what I would tell people. The timing, talent, luck, and a combination of things really worked in my favor. I’m very grateful every day.
Cryptic Rock – Well you certainly have left a mark. The Go-Go’s are the most successful female Rock band of all-time, members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and you were a key songwriter with the band on many of the biggest tracks. Do you ever look back in wonderment of how this all happened over the last four decades?
Kathy Valentine – As I said, I’m mainly very grateful. The songwriting is a big part of it. I’m a big believer that it always comes down to the songs. If you don’t have the material that fits into people’s hearts, lives, and the soundtrack of what they are living, then your success will probably be short-lived. I often reflect and feel very grateful that I had a band like The Go-Go’s to help bring me a career of my dreams and beyond.
Cryptic Rock – It is truly amazing. Obviously, music is a big part of your life. Would you say that music helped you through a lot when you were younger?
Kathy Valentine – Yes, definitely. I wrote a memoir that came out in 2020 (All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Memoir) where I write a lot about what music meant to me as a young person and throughout my life. I write about the passion for music and every aspect of it. I felt that was an important thing to write in my book because I think with women musicians that people don’t always think in terms of what the music meant to the women who create it. I think songwriting is often like my best friend. It can be like therapy and helps me through many rough things. It’s been huge in my life and remains to be.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, and music is huge in a lot of people’s lives. Many of us could not imagine life without music.
Kathy Valentine – Yes, I think that is one thing that is universal. I don’t think you will ever meet a person who didn’t love music in some way.
Cryptic Rock – Exactly. Your impassioned love for music has led you to this really cool program called A Chance to Rock. A non-profit organization which offers musical lessons to children in foster care, how did this come about for you?
Kathy Valentine – I think as a high-profile musician in Austin, that is probably how I was approached. I didn’t know about it until they approached me, but I immediately said yes. I know what music can be to these kids. I know how music can give any kid an outlet and a way to express themselves. I know playing music engages and is very good for brain development. I did a speech for an organization that also gives music lessons to underprivileged children. I did a lot of research to speak about it and I know there are actual statistics of kids in the foster care system, who have music lessons and play an instrument, tend to be more likely to graduate from high school and overcome their circumstances. This was a no brainer to be a part of this.
Cryptic Rock – It is a fantastic program. You are part of the PSA campaign with a few other known artists. What are your contributions to this campaign thus far?
Kathy Valentine – Well, I’m not giving lessons to people, but I think the idea when you get some successful, known musicians like Ray Benson (Asleep at the Wheel), Adrian Quesada (Black Pumas), Nakia (The Voice), Matthew Logan Vasquez (Delta Spirit) and Zach Person, that it gets people’s awareness and hopefully helps get donations. The way things are now, it can be very hard to get people’s attention. I think that for people who have a cause like this it is important for them to have an audience and following to help bring viewers and awareness. That is my involvement so far. I’ve made it clear as they go forward that I’m available for whatever they might come up with that I can be useful with to help the program.
Cryptic Rock – That is great to hear. They are also offering online lessons as well.
Kathy Valentine – Yes, I think since COVID there is always that option now. With online lessons people have found another way to assure others have access to different things.
Cryptic Rock – It is good to have several options. It is important that children have access to art programs. It seems there is universally an issue with a lot of art programs being cut in all public-school systems. This is a problem across the board.
Kathy Valentine – Yes, I agree. Everyone had music class when I was in school. It’s really a shame that there are people who think there is no value in music programs. There are definitely high schools that have no problem funding sports, which I think are also great, but you don’t need to gut one program to fund another.
Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. It seems like a lot of educational curriculums turn their focus to other things. As you mentioned, music helps develop the brain. Art is important. We should be thinking creatively. For example, we cannot always think mathematically or analytically, we should be using our imagination as well.
Kathy Valentine – Yes, any innovation is going to come from a creative mind. Music can be very mathematical as well, in fact, a lot of musicians tend to be very good at math. I don’t necessarily think – when it comes to well-rounded, well-developed people – it serves anything to limit it. Without getting political, I do believe it has become a very political thing. I do believe that there is a certain mindset of certain parties that just don’t value art in the same way.
Cryptic Rock – It is unfortunate and hopefully there will be a change. Hopefully everything in general will stop being so politicized. It is just tearing us apart.
Kathy Valentine – That is quite the understatement. (Laughs) It is really a terrible thing what things have come to.
Cryptic Rock – Most certainly. So, you started music very young on guitar and then turned to bass. What led you to guitar, and then bass?
Kathy Valentine – Anyone who knows my career knows I became a bass player to join The Go-Go’s. I started out on the guitar, I’ve been playing guitar for years, and it is in fact my main instrument. It’s all in my book and it’s really a wonderful story. A lot of people have told me they bought my memoir thinking that being the time in The Go-Go’s would be the most important part, but most people found the journey to getting there is the most interesting part. It goes into why I became a musician.
It is kind of a long story; I don’t know if I can give one answer. I knew as soon as I picked up a guitar that is what I wanted to do. I knew that is how I wanted to make my way through the world and be in the world. I can’t really tell you why. I think when people are lucky enough to find something they feel passionate about, if they have the means, they will pursue it. That is whether it be dance, drawing or writing; writing has always been very important to me too.
I don’t know if I can say why, it is just when you know, you know. For me it’s just something I feel very present with. I feel very present when I play, very in the moment, and I’m not thinking about a lot of things. I always liked Rock-n-Roll when I was young. From my childhood I liked listening to the radio and singing along. As I got to be an adolescent I loved Rock-n-Roll, and as soon as I got a guitar and started playing, I thought… why can’t I be in a band?
Cryptic Rock – Right, you just know when you find your passion, and thankfully you followed that. Since you have been a part of Rock-n-Roll for so long, when The Go-Go’s were coming up, there were not as many female Rock bands. It almost feels like in the past a female band was treated like a novelty, which is unfortunate and sad. Do you feel like we have made progress for equality in Rock-n-Roll for men and women?
Kathy Valentine – There have definitely been a lot of female bands, but with the success on the level of The Go-Go’s or The Bangles, I haven’t seen that. I think there are still not enough women starting all-female bands. It’s always a numbers game. If you take three-hundred bands, one of them might have the goods; and most of those three-hundred bands are probably going to be guys.
Having said that, what I have noticed is there are a lot more female musicians working in the business. Maybe they are not starting all-female bands, but they are working in the business. It is now commonplace to see a major act have women playing in the band. That was not the case when I started out. I had no choice but to start a band. You didn’t see women playing bass, guitar, or drums. You saw women being the lead singer sometimes, but you didn’t see them that often hired on tours. Now you can see anyone from Beyoncé to Harry Styles to Pink or Lenny Kravtiz, and there are women who are working musicians in these bands. That’s a wonderful new change.
Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. That gives more opportunity and creates more equality in music. It is puzzling that anyone would pass over a band because they were all female; good music is good music.
Kathy Valentine – I don’t think anyone doesn’t want to see women play. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t go see a band if it was women; if you like the music, you like the music. The music or the note doesn’t really care what the gender of the person playing it is. It’s either good or not good. People either like it or they don’t like it.
I just think it’s really about visibility. When we were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I did my speech accepting it for the band, that is what I said. I said if more women were inducted there would be higher visibility, and you see it, and you feel like you can be it.
Cryptic Rock – Makes perfect sense. Hopefully we will see more women musicians get more visibility.
Kathy Valentine – Yes. I can’t even imagine how many young girls were at Harry Style looking at his female bass player, female drummer, and female guitar player and thinking… maybe that is something I can do, or, maybe I can be in Harry Styles’s band one day. It’s really about visibility.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, something like that can inspire a whole new generation of female musicians. Last question. As someone who has been a part of music for so long, you have seen a lot. You also came up in a lively Punk Rock scene. In your opinion, do you think the Punk ideology is dead?
Kathy Valentine – I think Punk Rock meant a lot of different things to different people. I don’t think every single person into Punk Rock was rebelling against class inequality like they were in England. I think one of main things Punk Rock did was open the way for women. The Punk Rock phenomenon era really helped women drift toward music because it was much more accepting. It was not only embracing of women, but gay people… it was just a much more open time where people felt like anybody could do it.
It felt like in the ’60s or ’70s you had to be a Rock God to do it; it felt like you had to be Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, or Jimi Hendrix to be in a band. Punk Rock made it that anybody can be that. I don’t know if I can answer the question, because I don’t think Punk Rock meant the same thing to every punk rocker. Some people just liked the fashion or the hair. There were really political bands, more artistic Punk bands, or more fun cartoonish bands. There was a whole microcosm of elements, it wasn’t just one thing, I think. Overall, with Punk Rock there is a certain aura of youth and rebellion that has always been used going back to Little Richard and Chuck Berry.