Rockin' metal queen no longer, Lee Aaron concentrates on jazz career
She was the heavy metal queen, a rocker babe who had the looks, the voice and attitude to spare.
By Andrew Flynn
TORONTO (CP) - There's a campy picture from 1984 of Lee Aaron wearing a menacing frown, furs and leather armour with a huge sword clutched in her outstretched fist.
Back then, Aaron was the heavy metal queen, a rocker babe who had looks, voice and attitude to spare. She was also a pioneer, a rare female presence in the ultra-male world of heavy metal.
But it's not the '80s any more and Lee Aaron has grown up. So too has her music, and while Aaron, 38, fondly remembers her hard-rockin' days, she has quietly transformed herself over the years - jazz is the medium in which she now makes her creative home.
"When you're young you have this rock-or-die attitude," says Aaron, who now makes her home in Vancouver. "Being narrow minded and cult-like like that is not smart and when you get older you realize that there's this whole world of music at your disposal and some of it's really great.
Being open-minded and willing to expand your horizons and listen to this stuff can only be a good experience."
For those who remember Aaron taking centre stage in front of a bank of howling amplifiers, it's a mild shock to hear her in her current incarnation, singing jazz standards - and original material - on the recent album Slick Chick.
The versatility of her voice - smooth and smoky on Sammy Cahn and Gene DePaul's 1950's classic Teach Me Tonight and wildly swinging on her own I'd Love To - proves Aaron wasn't born a heavy metal chick. The black-leather-clad image is simply the one that has stuck with her over the years.
"I loved singing from the time I was about five years old. In public school I was involved in semi-professional musical theatre and I had interests in music way beyond rock," she says. "It certainly wasn't something I advertised back then. Not to say that what I was doing at that time in my life wasn't genuine - of course it was.
I was 18, 20, 22, I was singing hard rock - I was a tomboy. That was sort of my ultimate tomboy experience, to front a rock band and be able to boss boys around."
Born Karen Greening in Belleville, Ont., Aaron got her big break at 15 on a local TV variety show singing - not a rock tune - but a cover of Stevie Wonder's You Are the Sunshine of My Life.
She later joined the short-lived band Lee Aaron as a singer. When the band disintegrated, the name stuck and she went out on her own as Lee Aaron. During her rock career, which spanned 10 albums, she tackled almost every style of popular music from metal to pop to alternative. But it proved difficult to shake the heavy metal queen label.
"All I really cared about was being a good singer and writer," she says. "The industry loves to stereotype and I certainly was the queen of being stereotyped - no pun intended. "I think it's a pretty myopic idea about me that I'm just this rock chick." When Aaron decided to start singing again after a hiatus in the mid 1990s, she wasn't interested in returning to rock.
"I'd done metal, pop-rock, a more mellow softer rock album, an alternative album and I wanted to do something that made my soul happy," she says. "I'd always loved jazz I had a tonne of jazz CDs in my collection - Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Roland Kirk, Charles Mingus, Billy Holiday, Nina Simone, Gene Cooper and Buddy Rich, you name it.
Not only vocal jazz." Aaron says that as an artist she fell in love with the "unpredictability" of jazz.
"Rock fans want to hear you perform rock songs the exact same way verbatim that they are recorded on your album every single night. And when you've been on tour for 14 months you get to that stage where you go 'Oh my God, I just can't stand this song,' " says Aaron.
"The great thing about the idiom of jazz is that you can through a whole group of people together that have never played together before; they read off charts and everyone feeds off each other because the players are different stylistically." "It's really artistically freeing to perform this type of music because you're not in a head space where you're saying to yourself,
'I hope I can hit that high note on the bridge tonight the way it is on the album.' You're going 'I wonder how I'm going to sing the bridge tonight - I'm just going to go with how it feels.' " One trait Aaron hasn't lost from her metal days is a fierce streak of independence. "Miles Davis once said 'There are no wrong notes.' A horn player named Gary Giddons said
'It doesn't matter how anyone else does it, this is how I'm going to do it,' " she says. "I feel the same way - I'm doing what I want to do how I want to do it. Certainly no-one could say that I'm selling out by singing jazz - it's not something you do to become rich."
Some facts about Lee Aaron:
Born: Karen Greening, July 21, 1962, Belleville, Ont.
Albums: The Lee Aaron Project (Freedom Records) 1982;
Metal Queen (Attic) 1984;
Call Of The Wild (Attic) 1985;
Lee Aaron (Attic) 1987;
Bodyrock (Attic) 1989;
Some Girls Do (Attic) 1991;
Powerline The Best of Lee Aaron (Attic) 1992;
Emotional Rain (Hipchic Music/Spy) 1994.
With 2Preciious (former members of Sons Of Freedom): 2preciious (Spastic Plastic) 1996
Jazz: Slick Chick (Barking Dog/Big Fish) 2000
Web site: www.leeaaron.net
Quote: "My rock fans who have followed my career for years are not 20 any more; they don't go home at night, tuck their kids into bed and put on the Poison CD and slam beers and get all out of control. It's not their reality."
© The National Post April 2001.