Cyndi Lauper Shows She’s a Little Bit Country
Pop singer Cyndi Lauper started her career with the rockabilly band Blue Angel. Her solo career took off in 1983 when she released She’s So Unusual, which yielded such memorable hits as “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “Time After Time.” Now, she’s gone country with her new studio album Detour. The 19-city tour kicked off in early May at the “Mother Church of Country Music,” Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and finds the Grammy, Emmy and Tony-winning singer-songwriter offering her take on a dozen classic country songs. For the album, Lauper duets with several special guests, including 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”). 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. Lauper spoke about the album during a recent conference call.
Talk about your relationship to country music.
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. It’s the foundation of everything. When I was a kid, these songs were pop songs. Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn were on the radio. We had three radio stations and they were on them. The fact that they’re country songs makes it even better. I wanted to do a project with Seymour Stein, one of the co-founders of Sire Records, which was there at the birth of punk music. He signed the Ramones, the Cramps and the Talking Heads. Madonna was on Sire, but that was later on. He was the guy and I had my guy over at Epic but when he left in 1989, the new heads were looking at me and wondering what I was wearing and why I wasn’t dressing more like Katrina and the Waves. I was crying, “Why can’t I be on Sire?” I realized it was never too late. I’m on Sire Records now. Memphis Blues is almost the same time period. This is the root of my music.
How’d you wind up working with Tony Brown?
I met with different producers and I decided on Tony Brown because he had good hair. 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. I had my own documentary going on in my head, even though when I got there I wasn’t Bob Dylan or Johnny Cash. You get there and it’s just you. That was another process – getting inside with these musicians. I’ve also put together more of a stage than I’ve carried.
How’d you first come across these songs?
I was in a rockabilly band and cut my teeth listening to Wanda Jackson and Patsy Cline and even Dolly Parton when she first came out. Even though they were country, they had that rock ‘n’ roll edge to them, which maybe people don’t see. When Loretta Lynn came out with “The Pill,” it struck me that she understood women’s plight. I just loved her. I had been going to Nashville for a long time. I did some Appalachia work with my dulcimer teacher. I took dulcimer lessons though I’ve never been as good as those people because I don’t do my scales like I’m supposed. It was interesting working inside Nashville at the time. I never realized that I was outside. To go there and work with these people was great. They’re all nice and collaborate. Alison Krauss sings on my record and Jewel yodels on it. God knows, I couldn’t do that. He came and sang and it was really shocking, even though I’ve met him before. I thought I’d cry but I didn’t because it’s not professional. I was so excited. It’s a bucket list thing. 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. I hope people like it. I think it’s a pretty package. Everybody at Sire/Warner has been really great. To me, it’s exciting. It’s a great team. It’s a wonderful moment for me.
Talk about covering Wanda Jackson’s “Funnel of Love.”
Wanda Jackson was one of the first female rockers. 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. 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 and a great symbol for us all. So is Patsy Cline. Her original sound was rockabilly, which is what I did in Blue Angel. Of course, this album was fun to do. It’s not all rockabilly because country and R&B were very closely linked right before Elvis became popular.
Your new record is your eleventh overall and you’ve explored so many different genres. How important is it to have artistic freedom?
You answered your own question. When you first come out, you’re always threatened by the same voice — “You’ll be ruined.” You have to be able to grow as an artist. Be a great singer. Be a great writer. Be great at your craft. 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. Now, I wanted to do something I could do, and hopefully do well while I can still sing. 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. After awhile, it doesn’t matter all the stuff you’re told about success. At the end of the day you want to add something. 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.
You’re playing some shows with Boy George. What can those audiences expect?
We’re two ’80s icons but we have been making new music and the new music will be part of that. It’s a mixture of new and old. This new album is all old music anyway. It’s not like it’s songs you’ve never heard before. There will be older things I haven’t done in a long time too. It’s going to be fun and I have a stage with me so I can go back to what I used to do and put a little more performance art into it. I’m excited about the performance. Boy George is so great. We’ll sing together too which is really fun for me.
Upcoming 2016 Shows
New York, NY @ Beacon Theatre
Bethlehem, PA @ Sands Bethlehem Events Center
Atlantic City, NJ @ Borgata
Vienna, VA @ Wolf Trap Filene Center
Charleston, SC @ Charleston Music Hall
Raleigh, NC @ Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Atlanta, GA @ Atlanta Symphony Hall
Clearwater, FL @ Ruth Eckerd Hall
Orlando, FL @ Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts
Boca Raton, FL @ Mizner Park Amphitheatre
St. Augustine, FL @ St. Augustine Amphitheater