From 1981 into the early 1990's, Terry O'Leary created a future underground legacy with her bands Leather Angel and Jaded Lady. With her incredible vocal range and fronting all female hard rock bands, it was hard not to notice her. Add in how beautiful she always looked in her sexy leather outfits, she was sure to be remembered. Over the years not a lot of information has emerged about Terry or her bands. The albums live on with timeless rock songs like Rock N Roll Ain't Pretty and Break Free. She was also one of the interviews in the cult favorite Decline of Western Civilization: The Metal Years. I was lucky enough to catch up with Terry and hear her take on her life back then and what she has been up recently.
Thank you so much for doing this interview! I know you have a long history in music and unfortunately there just isn’t a lot of concrete info out there. Let’s start by hearing your background. Were you raised in California? If not, how did you make it to Los Angeles?
T: I was born I New Jersey but my family moved to California when I was 7 so I really feel like I grew up here.
Did you always sing and did you play any instruments?
T: I always remember singing in my bedroom as a kid. It was a safe place and I felt connected to it. I have always loved “throwing myself” totally into singing. I never played any instruments except I learned very basic piano and later was a music major in Jr. College so I learned a lot more about music in general.
What made you want to start a band and was the idea always for it to be all female?
T: Actually, I did not start the band, I joined the band. I had been in cover bands since I was 17 with guys. It wasn’t until I was in the Sandy West band for a “minute”, that I met other female musicians and auditioned for Obsession, who was looking for a new singer.
Who were your biggest musical influences in terms of hard rock singers and performers?
T: Robert Plant was my first favorite singer as Led Zeppelin was my favorite band. The female singers of that time I also loved ie, Ann Wilson (Heart), Chrissie Hynde (Pretenders), Pat Benetar, Martha Davis (Motels), etc. It was the late 70’s, early 80’s. I just love female voices in general, although my next favorite singer was Chris Cornell. Loved him……
Obsession was the first incarnation that eventually became Jaded Lady. Tell us the background on how Obsession started, how you found the members, and what life was like at that time. I also read Nikki Sixx created your logo, is that true?
T:Obsession was already a band looking for a new singer and I joined them. Obsession would become Leather Angel and then two different line-ups that became Jaded Lady. Life at that time was busy and fun. Yes, it is true that Nikki suggested the logo to us. We had to audition for Nikki and Tommy in order to open up for them. That’s how we met them.
In 1983 Obsession changed their name to Leather Angel and released an EP called We Came to Kill. I know it’s been said you were not happy with the production manager, Keith Dyson, and the overall sound of that EP. I am interested in knowing how this recording came about and from your perspective, how this effected the band:
T: We were lucky for the opportunity. It may not have come out as well as we would have liked but at the time, it was a good tool for the band to get greater exposure. Keith Dyson was our manager.
Tell us how you became a five-piece lineup and what is was like touring with Ratt, Lazz Rockit, Steeler, Black & Blue and Hellion. During that time period, were you treated well by the other bands or did you find there was some sexism?
T: We weren’t a 5-piece band for long. Generally, our line-up was 4; guitar, bass, drums and me. We did not tour with those bands but we did play on the same bill with them. I don’t think we were treated any differently. It is a competitive business and all the bands were out to “make it”, working hard to promote themselves. We did the same.
Leather Angel had a strong presence on the legendary 1980’s sunset strip scene. Can you tell us some good memories and stories that stand out from that era for you?
T: Leather Angel and Jaded Lady both had a strong presence on the strip. We worked tirelessly to advertise and promote our upcoming gigs. There are a lot of crazy memories from those days. It was more a lifestyle then anything else. It was what I did every weekend unless we had a gig. Anything that worked to promote the band in some way was very important.
Explain how Leather Angel transitions to Jaded Lady. We know there were 3 demos made as Jaded Lady. Can you walk us through that time period when each of those were made and what was going on in the band’s life during this time:
T: Leather Angel had parted ways with our previous management and we desired to become a 5-piece band. We added guitarist Danelle Kern to our line-up. The musical direction began to shift a bit and Debbie decided to leave. Also, our drummer left as well and moved up to northern CA. I honestly don’t remember the exact timelines but then we were fortunate enough to have Kerri James become our drummer. This is what prompted the name change. We revamped things and played our first gig as Jaded Lady in 1985. Unfortunately, Kerri had some health issues and was no longer able to play. Now we had to look for a new drummer which took some time. In the interim, Danelle left for another project. Cathy and I continued to look for musicians. That’s when we found Mary Jo La Roche who knew of a guitarist, Sylvia Cei, and the second line-up of Jaded Lady was born. We made our debut with the second line-up of Jaded Lady in 1987.
Tell us how you came to be interviewed for the cult classic Decline of Western Civilization: The Metal Years and how do you feel when you see it these days?
T: I believe, if I remember correctly, a producer working on the show saw us at the Troubadour and that is how we became involved. It was an honor to be part of the project. Although, when watching the premiere, I recall feeling very saddened by the dark side of things which was prominently portrayed in the film. It was a part of the whole experience. I am grateful for everything I experienced during those days.
Jaded Lady leads you to a solo career and a project known as Thigh High. How did these projects come about? Are there any recordings of either of these?
T: Jaded Lady attempted getting back together in the early 90’s. We began writing songs together again and rehearsing. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out so Sylvia and I decided to put a demo together to start a new project, which we were going to call “Thigh High”. We recorded that demo but Sylvia had an opportunity to join a project which had a lot of backing, so she chose to do that. I then started writing with a guitarist friend and although we wrote many songs together and played many coffee houses as a duo (a very different experience), we were never able to get a whole band project together. Around the mid-90s that project came to an end.
What changed for you personally in the 1990s when grunge hit?
T: When I started writing songs after Sylvia left, the style of the music changed dramatically. It was much more melodic and although still in a rock vein was not as heavy. I didn’t follow what was popular but honestly, was following my heart with what was in front of me. I enjoyed writing those songs too, as one does when you’re creating your own music.
You always had a really street/badass/sexy look that people often referred to as the female Motley Crue. Style was so important back then. What was your philosophy at the time on image and do you feel like your image was helpful or hurtful in the long run?
T: The image grew over time. I became more and more daring as I became more comfortable in that role. It’s just how I felt at the time. I don’t know if it hurt or helped, it was honest and we were having a great time. That’s all that really mattered.
Do you have any regrets about your career? Are you still singing?
T: I do not have any regrets. I had an opportunity to follow a dream while doing something I absolutely loved. I worked as hard as I could to make that life something sustainable, into a career that I desired to do for a long time. Who would regret that? I loved every part of it; writing, rehearsing, promoting, just being a part of something I believed in. It was my life and my goal for more than a decade.
A few years back I was in a cover hard rock band for a few years which was super fun with some friends but I am not currently.
Have you considered reuniting the band and trying to play some of the revival festivals?
T: Honestly, I don’t know where all of the women who played a part in Jaded Lady and Leather Angel are, although more recently, I have reconnected with a couple. If it were possible that would be great, but I know not all have continued with their instruments.
Tell us what happened after you left music. What are you up to these days?
T: Life happens and the landscape of my life today is very different. I still love hard rock music, I always will. I did from the first time I heard Led Zeppelin around the age of 12 to this day. It is my heart’s passion along with other things as well. There is nothing like that energy and connection. Everything that I’ve been through helps to make up the woman I am today and as I stated earlier, I am very grateful for that.
Finally I like to ask all musicians I interview this. What was your best “Spinal Tap” moment?
T: Hmmm, not sure how to answer this one but one thing does come to mind. We played a party once, and since it wasn’t at a club, I decided I could party too. It wasn’t a good idea and many years later a tape of that show wound up on the internet. I was awful (I cannot sing when I am drunk). There were so many shows that I would have been proud to have been my legacy along with my band mates but not that one. So, there’s the irony and my “Spinal Tap” moment.