Bianca Halstead, 36; Leader of Betty Blowtorch
By RICHARD CROMELIN, TIMES STAFF WRITER
Betty Blowtorch's six-week tour ofU.S. rock clubs was supposed to conclude with a New Year's Eve show at the legendary Whisky on the Sunset Strip. Instead, it ended early Saturday on a New Orleans-area highway, where the Los Angeles band's leader, Bianca Halstead, died in a shattered Corvette.
Halstead, 36, was a passenger in a car driven by Brian McAllister, a Chicago-area fan who had befriended the quartet. They were returning to the group's hotel in the early morning after a show at a New Orleans club when the Corvette, traveling in excess of 100 mph, sideswiped another car, slid into oncoming traffic and was hit by another vehicle, authorities said.
Halstead died instantly, the other driver was injured and McAllister was hospitalized in critical condition. Criminal charges against McAllister are pending, state police said. Betty Blowtorch was a high-profile presence in a recent renaissance of the Los Angeles hard-rock scene, joining such acts as Texas Terri & the Stiff Ones and Coyote Shivers in a brigade of playfully raunchy acts that packed clubs such as the Dragonfly and the Garage.
The four women adopted cartoonish and graphic stage names and came on as sexually aggressive, hard-living marauders.
"She [Halstead] was a firecracker on stage," said Anthony Belanger, the owner of Dragonfly. "It was an intense relationship with the audience. The whole place got super-excited, and they were getting hotter and hotter. The last few shows were sold out and completely nuts."
"People wanna come see chicks with guitars, rocking," Halstead, who sang and played bass, said in a Times interview in June. "Girls get inspired, and guys think it's sexy or whatever."
Former Guns N' Roses member Duff McKagan produced the band's 1999 debut record, and after the release in May of its first full album, "Are You Man Enough?" on the Los Angeles independent label Foodchain Records, the band had begun to perform nationally.
The Bronx, N.Y.-born Halstead grew up in Los Angeles, and as a teenager gravitated to the Hollywood rock scene. Her first band was Sin, which included the guitarist Bitch. Both women also played in the group Butt Trumpet, and Halstead later worked with Humble Gods before forming Betty Blowtorch in 1998.
Amid its progress, the band still faced hurdles. Guitarist Needles and drummer Judy Molish abruptly quit the band in the middle of a tour, and replacements--a drummer from Atlanta and guitarist Jennifer Finch of the Los Angeles band L7--were quickly installed.
Despite her hard-living, tough-chick image, Halstead had been sober for 12 years, said Kelly Spencer, an executive at Foodchain Records.
"People don't even know what a marshmallow I am," Halstead said in a recent interview with New Times. "I come home and bake cookies, sit in my bubble bath."
Halstead is survived by her parents, Angele and Gerry Woolery of Coupeville, Wash.; and her sisters, Selina Smith and Victoria Roberts, and her brother, Andrew Wilson, all of Los Angeles.
Services will be private. A public memorial will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday at Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.
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Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times
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