A three-piece that never got pigeonholed into one style, Concrete Blonde was one of the rare harder rock groups in the late '80s and early '90s to be fronted by a female singer. Johnette Napolitano's undeniable voice -- gritty, passionate, honest to a fault -- made quite an impression on the legion of fans that remember Concrete Blonde as among the best of the college-rock acts to precede the alternative boom. Beginning in 1982 as the act Dream 6, Napolitano and guitarist James Mankey kicked around the L.A. club scene for five years before landing a contract with I.R.S. Records. While its self-titled debut yielded the punky MTV hit "Still in Hollywood," Concrete Blonde didn't crack the top 20 until its 1990 album "Bloodletting," which contained the plaintive anthem "Joey."
"Chicago, and it was years ago. It was 116 degrees, and we had to drive in our RV from New Mexico to Chicago. Chicago has always been a good town for us ... and the show was sold out. We had a crew that was -- let's say -- 'substandard.' ... It was so hot -- and I had my cat on the road with me -- that I had to put my cat in the refrigerator in the RV. We blew a couple tires, and it was hell getting tires on the RV because it's an odd size, and it's Sunday or whatever. And the crew kept going, 'Let's blow the gig.'
"And I'd say, 'We can't blow the gig.'
"We got there just as the opening band was coming off, and we loaded the stuff in. The record company rep was there, and she said, 'We just flew in all the retailers from Canada.'
"She tells me this before a show, and I got nervous. And I shot back some tequila and hadn't eaten all day. It was just too much. When I got out there, I hit the floor. Uh-huh. And I felt really bad. I felt worse than bad.
"I got letters that were like, 'You heroin addict ...'
"Shit, I've never had a needle in my arm in my fucking life. I'm not a heroin addict. It was just a lot of stress, and a lot of heat, and a lot of pressure. And I just didn't handle it right."
— Johnette Napolitano, Concrete Blonde
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