Leather-clad, whip-wielding, cleavage-baring heavy metal firestarter Betsy Bitch rolled in like a hurricane in 1981. The artist formerly known as Betsy Weiss was living in Los Angeles, fresh off a stint as the singer in a ska band called the Box Boys, when she joined forces with guitarist David Carruth and drummer Robby Settles (and eventually bassist Mark Anthony Webb) to form an S&M-themed metal band called Bitch. After their song “Live For The Whip” landed a coveted spot on the first Metal Massacre compilation alongside Metallica, Ratt, and Cirith Ungol, Bitch became the first band officially signed to Metal Blade Records. To put their early ’80s status in perspective, Metallica and Slayer opened for them.
Of course, that was back in an era when women in metal were given even less support than they are today. And Betsy was the vanguard, fronting an otherwise all-male band for audiences composed mostly of men there to headbang and pound beer. In the studio, Bitch solidified their risqué reputation with 1982’s Damnation Alley EP and 1983’s Be My Slave. (The latter was infamously touted by noted killjoy Tipper Gore as a scourge on America’s youth, during Gore’s ridiculous Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) campaign of 1985.)
Nearly four decades later, Betsy is back in the spotlight via the new box set Bound For Hell: On The Sunset Strip. Released via the Numero Group—a label mostly known for its excellent soul reissues—the set features the early Bitch track “Damnation Alley” alongside killer ’80s flash metal cuts from Black ’N Blue (featuring future KISS guitarist Tommy Thayer), Armored Saint, Lizzy Borden, Hellion, Jaded Lady, and Leather Angel.
“There weren’t that many of us ladies back then, so our first instinct was to be competitive,” Betsy Bitch tells CREEM over the phone. “But after we thought about it, our next instinct was to bond.”
CREEM: What do you remember about the very first Bitch gig?
BESTY BITCH: It was at midnight at the Troubadour [in Los Angeles], on a Sunday. I believe it was May 3, 1981. Dante Fox opened up for us, who went on to become Great White. They would not leave the dressing room while I was getting changed, so my sister had to shield my body from them. [Great White singer] Jack Russell was leading the brigade on those antics.
But I remember loving being up there with the guys and thinking we had something really special. It wasn’t quite there yet, but it was the nucleus of something really good. I even have it on video. It's all grainy and dark, but we look good, and we look like we know what we wanna do. It just needed to be honed a little bit.
Do you think of Betsy Bitch as a character? Is there a difference between Betsy Bitch and Betsy Weiss?
Of course. If there wasn’t, there would be no reason to even have a band or a stage persona, because where would the line be drawn? Betsy Bitch is a hard rockin’, dominant woman who breaks out the whips and chains and sings about bondage and discipline. But it took a while to evolve. I see those early videos of us, and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing up there yet. When the songs started to get written about more risqué subject matter, that’s what really defined the character.
Betsy Bitch is a hard rockin’, dominant woman who breaks out the whips and chains and sings about bondage and discipline.
Bitch was on the first Metal Massacre compilation alongside some of the first officially released songs from Metallica and Ratt. How did that change things for you guys?
We got a lot more attention because it was released internationally. We hadn’t really played anywhere but L.A. at that point, so it definitely put us a little higher on the heap than the other L.A. metal bands. Some obviously took it to greater degrees than others, like Metallica—who opened for us in San Francisco in 1982, as a matter of fact. But that compilation was a great vehicle for all the bands on there.
Slayer’s first proper gig was opening for Bitch, wasn’t it?
Yeah, that’s right. It was at Woodstock in Orange County, I think. I remember it being packed and all the headbangers were up front, lots of leather jackets in the audience. Slayer opened up for us again out in Pismo Beach, at this big auditorium by the sea. That was packed, too.
Your mom’s house was one of the regular party houses after shows. What was that like?
Yeah, my mom’s house in Studio City was the big party house. I lived there, too, at the time. It’s still standing, and she still lives there, and we still have parties there. She’s got a pool, and we had my birthday party there on August 1st. We set up, and played, and had people jam with us. But yeah, some legendary parties happened there with Slayer and Metallica and Armored Saint.
There’s a story in the Bound For Hell: On The Sunset Strip liner notes about Dave Mustaine breaking Phil from Armored Saint’s leg at one of those parties.
That was when Dave Mustaine was still in Metallica. We went back to the house after a gig—I think it was us and Armored Saint at the Troubadour—and we were partying in my mom’s den. Somebody put on Motörhead’s “Ace Of Spades” and everybody started slam-dancing and dog-piling. Dave Mustaine ended up on top of Phil Sandoval’s ankle and broke it. They had a gig the next night, and Phil had to play sitting on a stool with his ankle all bandaged up.
Was your mom at these parties?
Oh, yeah. She was our manager. She went to all the gigs, and she knew all the guys. Everyone loved her, and she partied along with us. There was a time when her mom—my grandmother—lived there, and she’d come to the gigs, too. And then she’d be partying with us, wearing her Bitch t-shirt and sitting next to the guys from Slayer. I have pictures.
Your dad used to play in jazz bands with Buddy Rich. Did he encourage you when you started out?
My parents divorced when I was pretty young, and then I moved out to L.A. from New Jersey with my mom and sister, so he wasn’t around for the conception of all that. But my mom was super-supportive. She’s an actress and was a theatrical agent and did PR, so she was in the business. My dad was still supportive, though. I saw him a couple times a year. He actually played the sax solo on the title track from [Bitch’s 1987 album] The Bitch Is Back.
Dave Mustaine ended up on top of Phil Sandoval’s ankle and broke it. They had a gig the next night, and Phil had to play sitting on a stool with his ankle all bandaged up.
You saw the Runaways at the Starwood in L.A. back in the day. That must’ve been incredibly inspiring.
The Runaways were girls up there rockin’, you know? When I saw them, I wanted to do what Cherie Currie was doing—and she did it very well. She had a lot of charisma for such a young girl. She was very confident. It was very inspirational at the time.
Did you ever meet [Runaways manager] Kim Fowley back then?
Oh yeah. I used to see him out all the time at Rodney Bingenheimer’s club. Everything Cherie said about him [in her book Neon Angel] is true. He was a strange dude. But he got the Runaways on the map, so that was a good thing.
Runaways' bassist Jackie Fuchs claimed he raped her. He had a reputation for being pretty lecherous with teenage girls.
Yes. He actually wanted to put me in a band called the Orchids when I was 15. They ended up going another way, but he was at Rodney’s all the time. It was all ages, so all the girls used to go and dress up in their groupie gear, so he would just kinda go there and shop for young girls. I was into the whole glitter scene at the time, and I dressed the part. I was a cute little jailbait groupie-wannabe back then. He saw me and liked my look, but he never made a pass at me or anything. It was more like, “Hey, baby—I wanna put you in showbiz,” that kind of a thing. But yeah, he was lecherous. I saw him in action.
You were in a ska band called the Box Boys in the late ’70s. What was that like?
Well, it didn’t start out as a ska band. It started out as new wave rock, more like Blondie or Berlin type stuff. We actually had the same manager as Berlin. The guys in the band decided that there were too many bands trying to do the same type of thing, but ska bands were pretty obscure at the time. There was just Madness and the Specials and not much else. So, they decided to take it in that direction to try and maybe get more attention. The whole vibe changed and the whole way they wanted me to look changed. It wasn’t me, and they knew it wasn’t me, so it was a mutual parting of ways. But that’s a good thing because that’s how Bitch came about.
You went over to the dark side with heavy metal.
[Laughs] Well, I was always on the dark side. That’s why I didn’t fit in with the Box Boys. When I left, I immediately advertised [myself] as “charismatic singer looking for [a] melodic hard rock band” or something like that. David Carruth, the founding guitar player of Bitch, saw my ad in the Music Connection, which is like a local trade paper out here. He and Robby Settles were already hooked up, and the rest is history.
How did you end up calling the band Bitch?
They already had the name in mind. It was originally gonna be an all-male band called Bitch. Then they decided it was better to have a female front-person. They thought I was gonna be offended by the name, but I loved it immediately. I got to be Betsy Bitch, who I thought of as Alice Cooper’s female counterpart.
And how did the bondage stuff come into the picture?
It was there from the beginning because our very first song was “Live For The Whip.” From there, we decided to give the band a definite image and some props that we could put on a show with. So, the guys started to write more and more songs and I started to make the lyrics more about that kind of subject matter. We knew we had good music and good musicians, so we wanted an image that would really turn people’s heads. And it worked. It got Tipper Gore’s attention with the whole PMRC thing.
She hauled your album out on TV to let America know what a bad influence you were on “the children.”
[Laughs] She gave us some of our best PR. We were very prominently featured in that whole fiasco. Our album was one of the top five she brought with her whenever she went to speak on behalf of the PMRC, whether it was the congressional hearings or just a press conference. She held it up proudly along with the WASP album. And then a senator quoted the lyrics to our song “Gimme A Kiss” at a congressional hearing, which is a song about being sexually aroused by abusive behavior. Everyone was in on it, but Tipper Gore started it, so I thank her for that.
Did you actually own all the bondage gear you’re pictured with on the cover of the Be My Slave album?
Some of it was donated, but some of it was mine. I still have the cat o’ nine tails I’m holding up on the cover. I use it at every show.
Is it true that guys used to write to you asking if you would be their dominatrix?
Yeah, that was in the days of fan mail. There were a few guys who had no idea I was even in a band. They just read something somewhere and I guess skimmed over the part about the music and just thought I was gonna come over and whip their ass.
Your song “Damnation Alley” is in the Bound For Hell box set, and it’s also the title track from your 1982 debut. What inspired it?
Our guitar player, David Carruth, wrote it about the L.A. music scene, about how you can work hard and play your ass off and still not get the recognition that you think you deserve.
Did you feel any competition with the other female-fronted metal bands on the Strip back then, or were you supportive of each other? I’m thinking of bands like Hellion and Leather Angel, who later became Jaded Lady.
I actually know Ann Boleyn [of Hellion] better now than I did back then. We weren’t friends. We’d see each other at parties and shows, but I think we kept our distance because there was a certain degree of competition. I never felt that myself, but I kinda got that from her. Now that we’ve become adults, I guess [laughs], we’ve changed our dynamic and we’re happy to see each other. We played a show with Hellion a few years ago.
Leather Angel is a funny story. When we used to play at the Troubadour, Leather Angel would stand up front—all four of them side by side—and they’d pelt me with ice cubes while I was singing. They’d badmouth me and whisper about me, but then suddenly we just became friends. We all realized how ridiculous it was.
Leather Angel would stand up front—all four of them side by side—and they’d pelt me with ice cubes while I was singing. They’d badmouth me and whisper about me, but then suddenly we just became friends.
You never did anything to get back at them?
No, that’s not my style. I hate to say it, but you started it, ladies!
I understand there were some women in the audience who weren’t too happy that their boyfriends were Bitch fans.
Yeah, the girls used to stand in [the] back and the guys were all up front. The girls were all mad that their boyfriends were into the band. That was fun. I secretly liked that part of it.
Did you ever get into it with any of those women?
No. I’m a lover, not a fighter. I’ve been in one fight in my life, back in junior high school. The other girl ended up dragging me across the football field by my hair. But it’s funny because now it’s totally different. All the women are up front like, “You go, girl!” They’re very supportive.
What about the other side of that? You were one of the first women to front a metal band, a notorious boys’ club.
I was in the trenches with the rest of them, and I stepped up as well as any of the guys, so I felt like it was easy for me to fit in. I felt accepted in the boys’ club. I was tough—I wasn’t some wimpy girl trying to pull it off. I did pull it off, and I did it well. I felt maybe some of the journalists and critics didn’t take me so seriously at first, but that didn’t bother me because the fans and the guys in the band accepted me, and that’s what was important to me.
There was no exploitation whatsoever, and I never felt the people who went along with it were exploiting me, either. I wanted everyone to play the game with me.
In 2022, it’s easy to look back at the album covers for Be My Slave or The Bitch Is Back and think, “She’s being exploited by the male gaze.” But it wasn’t like that, was it? You were doing what you wanted to do, owning your own sexuality.
Everything you see was our choice, our ideas—from the band name to my cleavage on the cover, to the provocative material and image that went with it. That was all orchestrated by us. There was no exploitation whatsoever, and I never felt the people who went along with it were exploiting me, either. I wanted everyone to play the game with me.
So that’s you on the cover of Damnation Alley as well?
You mean my cleavage? Yeah. And that was before I had a boob job, too! [I got a boob job in] 2005 or 2006—something like that. I decided I wanted to get hotter in my 50s. [Laughs] We should do an updated cover with the new rack, right?