It would be impossible to think of all-female bands without the Go-Go’s immediately coming to mind. Deemed the most successful female band of all time, the iconic group emerged onto the LA music scene in the late ’70s and dominated the charts throughout the ’80s. They had four Top 20 singles, sold over seven million records, and earned a GRAMMY nomination in 1982. Most recently, they were selected for the 2021 She Rocks Awards alongside Nancy Wilson (Heart) and Amy Lee (Evanescence), among others.
With the exception of a few members, the core lineup remained consistent; one of those core members is Charlotte Caffey on lead guitar. Caffey is not only an integral part of the Go-Go’s, but also a prolific songwriter and session player; she’s collaborated with notable artists such as the Bangles and Jewel. Her musical style ranges from punk to power pop, with melody always at the forefront. We briefly chatted with Coffey to discuss her songwriting inspiration, favorite gear, and more.
You started out playing bass in your punk band, the Eyes. How did you end up switching over to lead guitar for the Go-Go’s?
Belinda [Carlisle] asked me to be in the band in April of 1978. She said “oh, do you play lead guitar?” and of course I lied at the time and said “yeah!” because I was thinking, “I play bass, I play piano, how hard can lead guitar be?” I just said yes and I joined the band. I actually went to England a month later and missed that first show at the Masque, but we started playing together after I got back. The way that I approached lead guitar is interesting because I didn’t really “noodle around” or play the fast stuff. I just wrote melodies—that’s where all my melodic guitar parts come from.
What is your songwriting process? Is there a specific order that you write things in?
There is no order, that’s my order. I don’t have a normal process. It’s less about having a process or an order and more about being available to capture all this stuff out there floating around. For some people, it’s like getting in the zone; when I find myself in the zone and I write, good things happen and that’s the only way I can explain it. I don’t have a process, I don’t sit down every day. I go when and where the inspiration calls me to go. If I put pressure on myself to make things come out, they never come out.
I don’t know how to describe it because I think songwriting is magical. I don’t think it’s something everyone can do or everyone would be doing it. I didn’t know I was a songwriter until I was fifteen and I discovered it by accident; I was just sitting down at the piano and I wrote a song. I grew up listening to songs on the radio or a record because that was the only way to listen. I’m very old school and I love that because I was brought up in a time of extreme melodies and really amazing songs. There’s been some amazing songs now too, but that was my foundation as a songwriter.
Do you have a favorite guitar or piece of gear that you use when inspiration calls?
I alternate between guitars. I have several guitars including a ‘62 Telecaster, a ‘57 Les Paul, and a ‘67 Jazzmaster that I’d actually stopped taking on tour (and got a re-issue Jazzmaster) because I love it so much. That’s my main guitar, the Jazzmaster. It’s just worked for me. It’s kind of a “feel” thing, you know? I go between the keyboard, the bass, the guitar, and whatever else is in the room. I have a cello, and I’ve been experimenting on that. I kind of just mess around until I get into the zone.
Speaking from your experience, is there any advice you have for other young guitarists or songwriters out there looking to find their voice?
Write or play what feels good to you, what really speaks to you. I am of the school of pure organic. For me, it was all about organic, like coming from a place of inspiration. Sure, I could listen to songs to be inspired, but it was more of a calling rather than just wanting to do this as a career. I couldn’t help it. I had to write, I had to do this. This was just what it was for me. It was just a massive flow of creativity, especially during the punk rock days when we were all starting out. I’ve experienced that off and on throughout my life. I didn’t try to copy anybody, either. I was just letting it come out and expressing myself.