KERRANG! #145 May 1987
LEE AARON kicks off her boots and hugs her right knee, wriggling her toes and sighing with a mixture of relief and exhaustion as she relaxes in a welcoming dressing room chair.
This had been the first show of her 1987 World Tour, and despite one or two minor and perhaps inevitable hiccups, it’d gone very well; Montreal’s Spectrum Theatre had sheltered over 1,000 lucky locals from the biting blizzard outside and exposed them to a red-hot hurricane inside, as Lee and her band had stormed through no less than ten tasty tracks from her self-titled new album in a maelstrom of melodic maple leaf mayhem.
Amidst the babbling backstage well-wishers Lee allows herself a quiet, self- satisfied smile which seems to say it all.
But if this opening show was important, the next one, in Lee’s adopted hometown of Toronto. is far more prestigious; not only is it to be her first in Toronto over three years and one which her family and friends will attend in force, but it’ll signify arguably the biggest step forward in the gal’s career since she recorded her first album in 81- the transition from the treadmill club circuit to four-figured seater halls comprehensively underlines her new-found status as a veritable headline act.
The show is at the famous Massey Hall, and while people are still filing out of the Montreal gig, Lee is already chatting excitedly about it.
It’s my mom’s 50th birthday too,” she beams. so the whole show is going to be my birthday present to her: me at Massey Hall!
“Actually though, we made a decision at the end of ’84 that we wouldn’t do any more night clubs to establish our profile – because I really did slog it out for quite a few years back and forth across this country and I felt I was just going round in circles,’ Lee adds.
“I think I’ve been on nine club circuit tours across Canada – which, believe me, isn’t a small country! – and I was just finding that the people who go to night clubs aren’t really interested in seeing the band, they’re just interested in tipping bottles of beer down their neck. I think I should be awarded a platinum beer bottle for selling a million bottles of beer during those years!
‘Also, we wanted to move on to the Massey Halls of this world to avoid the syndrome that some bands get caught up in- y’know, if you continue to play bars, agents and other music industry people refuse to look at you as anything other than a ‘bar band’, regardless of how many albums you’ve done.
‘Going to Europe in ‘85 and spending a year away from our country was really the best thing we could’ve done too, because when we came back to record the new album people here saw us in a different light then as well – we were ‘a headlining band’ at last!”
Lee despatches another husky laugh and nods goodbye to some more stick-on pass-wearing guests. She needs a shower right now, and a good night’s sleep, so picman Palmer and I leave her in peace and head hotelward to discuss the mammoth improvements we’ve noticed in her career over the last four years.
There’s her voice – stronger and more powerfully directed than ever before; her band – now featuring keyboard player Jim Gelcer and brilliant 22-year-old drummer Randy Cooke alongside stalwarts Chris Brockway on bass and John Albani on guitar – which positively p**sses over all previous line-ups: and the killer combination of a stylish new image and matching musical direction which really sets the seal on the new Lee Aaron.
She has grown into an artist well worthy of widespread recognition – learnt from her mistakes and matured considerably in recent years – and with a settled management company (Propas) and a decent record company (10 Records) behind her now, yes, she at last looks in a position to fulfil her potential as the numero uno Metal Queen.
LEE WAS born in Belleville, Ontario, 24 years ago, but moved to Toronto when she was ten, after spending seven years in Winnipeg.
She has just one younger sister. Lisa (‘As my father came from a family of 11 children and my mother came from a family of nine. I guess they thought two kids would be enough!”), who is married and expecting her first child. But Lee is far too ambitious career-wise to even contemplate the implications of housewifery and motherhood herself just yet!
At school Lee was a “pretty quiet, reserved, skin-wearing type of girl” who graduated with an impressive 87 average in her scholarship, and could’ve gone onto study for degrees at university.
She was more of a loner than one given to hanging out in gangs (“I guess because people always kinda snub those who get good marks all the time”) and spent a lot of her time involved in things like theatre groups. But music, it appears, was her first love even then, and Lee would spend hours “hanging around the music room playing my saxophone and practising on the piano after school.
“Actually,” she sighs, “I could kick myself for not continuing with my piano lessons but after three years of classical tuition was bored to tears with it, and as soon as I joined my first rock’n’roll band at the age of 15, I gave up on them.
“I was a little bull-headed then,” she admits.
“I also feel guilty that I haven’t picked up a saxophone for seven years, but for the last eight years I’ve really just been concentrating on developing my voice, because I really did abuse it for a few years in the early part of my career. I abused myself too, I imagine, because my first couple of years on the road were like, ‘Yo – I’ve finally broken away from home!’ and I went wild.
“My parents were very religious people and were strict about coming home at certain times and that ’kinda stuff, so when I got out on the road I was real crazy for a while. Believe me, I don’t condone alcoholism or drug abuse, but, y’know, I used to party all night back then and didn’t take my music career seriously at all in the first few years.”
Well, you can imagine what her poor parents thought here’s our darling daughter, intelligent and from a respectable background, throwing away all possibilities of a steady, decent career for the seedy and despicable world of sex’n’drugs n’rock’n’roll!
Lee had worked in various part-time jobs since she was 12, assembling course pamphlets for a local college, acting as a day-camp counsellor and even becoming a cocktail waitress and manicurist for a while. And with her qualifications and a serious interest in art she wouldn’t have minded staying on at school to study art or interior design, (Incidentally, she may have a bash at designing her own album sleeves one day). But. . . the stage, the lights, the roar of the crowd and the screech of a Flying V… that was where it was at for this particular teenager.
“My parents weren’t happy at first,” Lee recalls, “but they’re very supportive of my career now that things are going well. Back in the early days when my band members were babies and kept quitting on me, and when I used to come home with 50 dollars in my pocket and so on, they didn’t encourage me to be in the business because they knew how tough it would be for me.
“Also, I had a manager – Robert Connelly – who…. well, I have a lot to thank that man for, because he was instrumental in getting me going and giving me direction at a tine when I didn’t have a clue, but because I was a woman he thought I should be marketed in a very provocative manner, and my parents viewed him as another one of the wolves out there in the business trying to take advantage of their little girl.
“And of course, when they saw some of my early promotional pictures they were quite hurt – my mom wouldn’t even talk to me for a few months at one point. But they understand now and I’ve grown a lot closer to them over the last couple of years.”
SINCE THOSE early daze of ‘The Lee Aaron Project’ (released on Freedom Records in Canada), ‘Metal Queen’ (“I felt kinda stupid going out there dressed in a Conan The Barbarian outfit, but I’m a trouper and tried to do the best job I could!”) and, in ‘85, ‘Call Of The Wild’, Lee has come along way and earned her contract with 10 Records through dedication, self-belief and perseverance.
“We toured on the back of Bon Jovi in the spring of ‘85,” Lee remembers, “and my promotor had got Virgin Germany out to see us.
“Now, the guy from Germany flipped out when he saw us, but he didn’t think it was appropriate for us to sign to Virgin in Germany – he thought we’d be more suited to 10 Records because they’re more of a rock label.
‘‘However, when we played the Dominion in London with Bon Jovi we didn’t have decent lights or a decent sound, and I don’t know, I guess 10 weren’t overly impressed with us that night. But we came back in the Fall (Autumn), Udo from Gemany saw us again and flipped out even more and encouraged the people from 10 to come and see us headline the Dominion with our own show. And they loved us!”
Signing to 10 Records obviously meant a healthy injection of cash into the LA cause, but a more surprising investment was later made by the Canadian government, who are currently running a scheme to help the Canadian artists make their mark in the rock and pop world by subsidising the cost of tours, videos and record production.
Grants of up to 25,000 dollars can be awarded, and so far Lee’s management company, Propas, have managed to attain over 150,000 dollars! Somehow, just can’t imagine Thatcher doing the same over here, can you?
Anyway, by this time 10 finally had Lee on their books, but any intentions they had of manipulating the little lass were soon to be shot down in flames…
“Actually, when we came to do the new album, both my record companies Attic here in Canada, and 10 wanted to surround me with session guys and find me ten great songs, because they really didn’t have any faith in what I was doing before, sez Lee.
“To be honest, I couldn’t blame them, because my three previous albums really didn’t give them any indication that I knew what I was doing. But I didn’t have any artistic control over those albums! I mean, not that they were horrific, but they weren’t the kind of great albums that 10 wanted me to make. So had to go up to them and tell them that if only they’d give me the chance to do something that I want to do I sure wouldn’t let anybody down it was a struggle to get the album to turn out the way it did, I can tell ya! But everyone’s happy now.”
‘For the last eight years of my life I’ve spent over 300 days a year on the road,” she explains, “and you do get caught up in this little world of playing and travelling; you’re like a gypsy.
“This time, the luxury of having eight months off to write the record and another four months to record it meant I had a chance to be grounded in one spot for a while and put the whole of my concentration into it; it knocked me on the head and woke me up to seeing things in a different perspective. hence, the songs are much better, we’ve rounded off the edges and we’ve polished everything up.
“Also, writing with outside people like Joe Lynn Turner, Dan Hill and Dave Roberts turned out to be the healthiest thing in the world for John (Albani) and I, because an outside influence on the familiar Lee Aaron style gave us something with a new dimension. And it turned out great.”
Lee says she’ll continue to work with outside writers in future, and would love to collaborate with either Peter Gabriel or Kate Bush at some point (“I don’t want much, do I?”) But at the moment, with the album under her leotard, it’s live work that concerns her most, and the current world tour which’ll bring her over to Europe during the Summer (Britain in early June).
SO ITS THE morning after the Montreal show and we’re trundling through the pine forests of Quebec en route to Toronto for The Big One at Massey Hall.
Lee’s catching a few extra hours of shut-eye, as tonight the band have to run through a dress rehearsal of the show in order to iron out a few technical problems and incorporate some new props into the fray – like two huge window frames and four white pillars.
When she stirs, stretching and yawning, I ask her if she finds keeping up her appearance on the road a drag (no pun intended); y’know, you’re totally knackered yet you still have to look like an oil painting for media and fans.
Oh yeah,” she laughs loudly, “it certainly is a drag, and any artist who has been on the road knows why there’s a necessity for sunglasses in life! Believe me, there are mornings when I wake up, they drag me on the tour bus and I just feel like looking the biggest slob in the world, Then I’m told I’ve got to meet four magazines who want to take my picture and I have to spend hours in the tour bus washer trying to make myself look respectable. Yeah, it’s a drag! That’s why when I get a week or two off – and that’s all I have off a year – I go up north, pitch a tent and I am a complete slob for two weeks!
“When I’m on the road though, I want to look and feel good. I don’t mean to say I don’t go out and have fun – I mean, ask the Rock Goddess girls about some of the wild times we’ve had! Although on second thoughts don’t’! But I always try to get six or seven hours sleep at night, because my fans mean so much to me and if they’re paying ten dollars to see me they deserve to get nothing less than a great show. So I don’t party my brains out all the time, I look after myself, eat the right things.. . and hopefully I’ll look like Raquel Welch when I’m 45!”
Is there, I wonder, any catty competition amongst the gals in rock?
“To be honest, I don’t think about that too much,” says Lee. “I have found that you have to be a particular breed of female to be in a rock’n’roll band though – you have to be a tough person to take on the lifestyle, and although I’ve now developed a tough outer shell and can roll with the punches, I was real sensitive when I first got into the business; I used to cry if someone shouted at me!
“I’ve also found that a lot of female artists in rock are just like me, and although women do tend to be catty I don’t think they are in this particular business. There’s a certain affinity between the women in rock and it’s not. ‘Oh, is her hair done better than mine’ or whatever, it’s ‘Hey look, there’s another girl working as hard as me – good luck to her!’ I remember when Doro Pesch and I were put on a bill together in ‘85, and all the press were trying to get me to say something nasty about the woman when I hadn’t even met her! Yeah, they were trying to stir up some rivalry between us, and yet when I met Doro she was the sweetest little girl in the world – I swear to God! There was no animosity between us at all, just a lot of respect.”
MASSEY HALL the following night is throbbing with expectation. A lofty 2,200 seater it’s being swamped by the minute with fans catching the tail of support band Brighton Rock’s shortish set, while backstage Lee is belting up and down her scales with floor-trembling ferocity. This is very much an important routine for her, like regular gargling with salt water and taking antibacterial lozenges immediately before and after a show, as Lee is constantly concerned about the condition of her voice.
In conversation offstage she may sound hoarse and on the verge of succumbing to laryngitis at times, but the minute she hits the boards she’s as right as rain, hitting the notes like a hammer hits a nail, driving them into your skull.
After the show there’s an almighty lig in the bowels of the hall which is attended by half the population of Toronto, determined to get as much free grog as possible down their gullets before the city’s ludicrous booze curfew at 1am, And amongst the hordes of back-slappers Lee’s parents are making like Cheshire cats.
“They were thrilled about tonight,” Lee grins. “The last time they saw me was when I showcased ‘Call Of The Wild’ at the Diamond Club across town and so they were real excited about the show. My mother thought I sang great and that’s something corning from her as she has the sweetest, purest voice in the world. She sings in the church choir and if you ever heard her voice you’d wonder why I sing like I do!
“But really, I was pleased with the way it went – I can’t believe we did so well. We were only expecting to sell 1,500 tickets and yet we had over 2,000 people in. And the album’s only been out for five weeks!”
The next day, Lee, Petra from her management company, Jan from 10 Records, Ray Palmer and I are ensconced in the top-notch hotel suite pouring over the local press reviews of last night’s show. One hack describes Lee as ‘half-cherub, half-sex kitten’, and this amuses her.
I’m glad she perceived that, because that’s how I see myself – as a sorta good-bad girl, if you know what I mean. I mean, I’m an angel….but the devil makes me play rock’n’roll!”
Lee is generally pleased with the reviews of her show, although she’ll never be entirely endeared to journalists in general, being quite wary of them and seemingly forever on the defensive in interview situations,
I think there are certain people of the press who’ll never like me,” she shrugs, “because I play aggressive music and they think women should be demure little sex-kittens in mini-skirts. Maybe these people are intimidated by confident women, I dunno. . . but I’m sure some of them must walk away from interviews with me and think, ‘Hey, she’s not a leather- clad, foul-mouthed, raunchy little wench – she does have a little class!”
Class with a capital K!