Pop singer Cyndi Lauper started her career with the rockabilly band Blue Angel, so she’s well-versed in old school country, the kind of country that had a rockabilly edge and would influence early rock ’n’ roll.
On her new album, Detour
, she offers her take on a dozen classic country songs as she duets with singers such as Emmylou Harris (on the title track), Willie Nelson (“Night Life,” a song he wrote over 50 years ago), Vince Gill (Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty’s “You’re The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly”) and Alison Krauss (Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas.”
Pop and country singer Jewel also makes an appearance, showcasing her yodeling skills on “I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” the first country song by a woman to sell one million copies.
“These covers and this time in country music is very closely linked to R&B which is closely linked to the birth of rock ’n’ roll,” says Lauper during a recent conference call. “It’s the foundation of everything. When I was a kid, these songs were pop songs. Patsy Cline was on the radio and Loretta Lynn was on the radio.”
Lauper says she always wanted to work with Seymour Stein, one of the co-founders of Sire Records, who signed the Ramones, the Cramps and the Talking Heads. This provided the perfect opportunity, and the two came up with the concept for the album. Lauper recruited Tony Brown, a former member of the Stamps Quartet and backing musician for Emmylou Harris, to produce the disc.
“I decided on Tony Brown because he had good hair,” she says with a laugh. “I’m joking, but he also was Elvis’s piano player at one point and he worked with Emmylou Harris. He was a band player. He seemed more applicable to what I wanted to do. I was looking for a partner to work with. This partnership seemed to be a good one. He wanted to bring new and old musicians together. He wanted to include some of the Nashville cats and a guy from Muscle Shoals. It’s a singer’s album, and it makes you feel good. I put it on when I was working with other people and the mood changed in the room. They were kind of happy. This was an opportunity I had to do something I always wanted to do and work with someone that I always wanted to work with. To me, it’s exciting. It’s a great team. It’s a wonderful moment for me.”
Lauper’s hiccupping vocals come to the fore on her cover of Wanda Jackson’s “Funnel of Love,” a song she makes her own, crooning “you just can’t run from the funnel of love/it’s bound to get you some day.” She delivers a well-placed yelp that recalls her vocal delivery in her classic pop tunes from the ’80s (think “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”).
“Wanda Jackson was one of the first female rockers,” she says when asked about what made her want to cover the track. “Her whole beginning when she was dinging in that voice they called the devil voice was rock ’n’ roll. As you look up the history of your roots in music, you don’t find a lot of women. Wanda Jackson is right there, and she was there in the beginning. When she was singing like that, Elvis was singing like that. It would be hard for a woman to break through as a rocker like Elvis did. If a woman had been shaking her pelvis like that, they wouldn’t have wanted to see it on the camera. They would have called her a lot of names, which they did. She is a great rocker and a great symbol for us all.”
Lauper’s new record is her eleventh overall. Over the decades, she’s explored many different genres (and even had a smash hit musical with Kinky Boots, for which she wrote the music and lyrics), much to the chagrin of record label execs, whom she says told her she’d be “ruined” for embracing different styles of music and fashion.
“You have to be able to grow as an artist,” she says. “As you get older, you keep growing. I still take vocal lessons three days a week. I look at my life work as evolving. It’s always evolving. Singers are athletes and if you don’t keep yourself in form, it will get more difficult to sing as you get older. If you have a guitar and don’t take good care of it, it won’t sound very good. This is the same."
She says she's developed her own definition of success that has more to do with making an artistic contribution than it has to do with album sales.
"At the end of the day you want to add something," she says. "You’re in the field of humanities. You want to contribute if you can. That’s always been my intention and I do the best you can. I can’t compare myself to the fricking greats. I can only try my best. I wasn’t like Madonna and I wasn’t like Prince. My career never took off like Billy Joel. I had my own road. I just had to stay the course. You have to have hope and faith in yourself.”
Cyndi Lauper, Peach Kings, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 17, Hard Rock Live, 10777 Northfield Rd., Northfield, 855-660-7625. Tickets: $47.50-$75, hrrocksinonorthfieldpark.com.