Artists & Interviewers

Cyndi Lauper

Thirty-three years and fifty million album sales since her debut, the ever-versatile Cyndi Lauper, one of only 20 people to earn Emmy, Grammy, and Tony awards, puts her signature spin on a dozen classic country songs from the’40s, ’50s, and ’60s on her new album Detour. Cyndi Lauper and country music? Not a combo that immediately comes to mind. But on Detour, the unpredictable siren proves once again that her magnificent voice can bring to life any genre of music. And with Sire Records cofounder and country aficionado Seymour Stein as executive producer, she’s delivered a richly textured set of honky-tonk, rockabilly, country, and western, each stamped with her own inimitable style.

Discussing her 11th studio album, Cyndi says, “Seymour told me, ‘What about the country-western songs when country music was different? When it was very close to R&B just before and around the time Elvis kicked down the door?’ So I studied a lot of singers, like Wanda Jackson and Elvis Presley.” On Detour, Jackson’s ferocious “Funnel of Love” is the first of a dozen tunes made famous by artists ranging from Ray Price and Patsy Cline to Marty Robbins and Dolly Parton – all handled with oomph by Lauper.

Cyndi first discovered country music in her hometown of Queens, NY, thanks to her Aunt Gracie, who kept her AM dial tuned to a country station, and her TV set on programs like Arthur Godfrey, occasionally featuring Patsy Cline. “As I started listening to this music with Seymour,” says Cyndi, “I realized it was very much a part of my life as a child in the late 50’s and early 60’s. It’s like when I did Kinky Boots,” she adds, referring to the hit Broadway show for which she wrote the music, winning Tony and Grammy awards. “At first I thought, ‘This is totally new,’ and then I told myself, ‘Actually, it is and it isn’t because show tunes are what your mom used to listen to all the time. You grew up singing these songs.’ It’s the same with country.”

Lauper was also drawn to country music because of its storytelling nature. “I started to narrow down the songs to those with stories that I could understand and tell. Like Marty Robbins’ ‘Begging to You.’ I love that song because of the story it told. Then we needed to create the sound to embellish the story.”

For this, she recorded in Nashville and enlisted top-shelf session pickers and players to join her. “I specifically asked for the bottom of the record to sound a little dirty,” says Cyndi, “I didn’t want it to be clinical. It needed to have that live sound.”

Lauper also invited to the sessions such Nashville stalwarts as Emmylou Harris (“Detour”), Vince Gill (Conway and Loretta’s “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly”), and Alison Krauss (Dolly’s “Hard Candy Christmas”), as well as yodeler supreme Jewel (Patsy Montana’s “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart”). The legendary Willie Nelson joined her on “Night Life,” the honky-tonk classic he wrote for Ray Price in the 1950s.

Lauper is no stranger to duets with icons: This is her second outing with Willie Nelson (their other duet, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” is on his new album of Gershwin classics, Summertime). In addition, she’s collaborated with such greats as B.B. King and Allen Toussaint on her 2010 album, Memphis Blues, and years ago, she sang with the Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra. On Detour, Nelson also contributed licks from his trusty guitar, Trigger, as did Vince Gill, who “shredded it,” according to Lauper, on the title track.

“In each genre, or each time you go in, you always feel blessed for and respectful of the musicians who are working with you,” says Lauper, “because that is the magic. On my blues album, I was really blessed to have B.B. King and Allen Toussaint come down and play, and what they did on those recordings were priceless gems. Now to have been a part of the songs on Detour, which these musicians played on, was pretty amazing. I went down to play with Nashville Cats, and they didn’t disappoint!”

Lauper really dug in deep when approaching the Patsy Cline gems “Walking After Midnight” and “I Fall to Pieces.” After her 1983 debut, She’s So Unusual, made her a star, she turned to Cline’s music to keep her company when being out in public was too overwhelming. “I spent a lot of time in my room singing with Patsy,” she says. “She was like one of my girlfriends – that’s how close I felt to her.” Lauper’s stunning renditions of Cline classics on Detour transform her into a musical persona that suits her. “Once you find the pocket, you leave the planet in a way,” Cyndi says. “Whatever song you sing, that’s the trick and that’s the joy of music and the power that it has – it can elevate you to a different place.”

Lauper hopes to engage her audience with her love of the songs on Detour: “I tried to make music that was familiar that people could just sing along with,” she says. “I really enjoyed doing the country thing – it was fun, it was really fun! Hopefully, it can elevate listeners to a different place.”

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