Ex-metal queen finds jazz more satisfying

By Heath McCoy
Calgary Herald
Friday, June 27, 2003

If you remember Lee Aaron, the hard rocker -- Canadian metal queen of the '80s and early '90s -- chances are you also remember Lee Aaron, the sex symbol. She was the curvy brunette in tight leather and spandex who sang suggestive rockers like Whatcha Do To My Body, Hands On, Hot To Be Rocked and Some Girls Do. Sex was part and parcel of the Lee Aaron package, from the image to the tunes, and after a while, that got to be a difficult package to maintain. That played a big part in Aaron's decision five years ago to give up hard rock and pursue her lifelong love of jazz. "When I decided to segue into jazz, I was fed up with the world of pop rock, where image played such an integral part of it," said Aaron in a recent phone interview to promote tonight's show at the Gateway Lounge on the SAIT campus as part of The Jazz Festival Calgary. "I thought, 'This isn't a genre where you can get old and wrinkly.' What matters in jazz is your talent and vocal ability. Look at someone like Cleo Laine. She's still cool, but she's by no means a babe-a-rama anymore. I looked at jazz as an art form where I could grow old gracefully."

Aaron, who turns 41 on July 21, says the transition to jazz wasn't easy. "When I started singing jazz, I did expect some resistance from the media," she says. "But I was a bit surprised that it would be such a battle to be taken seriously." Gradually, she says she's winning her critics, getting mostly positive reviews for the live shows she plays with her jazz trio. "I think people are starting to realize that this is genuine, authentic, that the band is talented. That I fit into this genre." Occasionally, however, she does get old-school Lee Aaron fans at her shows, who are expecting a rock concert and leave disappointed. "Absolutely," she says with a laugh. "I'm going to get a small percentage of those people. But I can't conduct all my affairs to keep the Metal Queen fans happy. I would cut my wrists."

Because she started out in the music industry as a teenager, Aaron says she found herself overwhelmed by the business. "I spent a lot of my growing-up years in the public eye and, in hindsight, some it was rather embarrassing," she says. "There was this myopic, narrow-minded idea of who Lee Aaron was and where she fit in and it was a hard little prison to climb out of. When your audience and the media want to keep you in such a little box, that can be pretty suffocating artistically."

During the early '90s, in the midst of her greatest commercial success, Aaron says she began to be "consumed by the industry." She began to base her self-worth and personal identity on how many records she sold and it became a painful time. "The music industry is very fickle," she says. "You can be the girl de jour one minute -- I've been her. But there's always another 20-year-old waiting to boot your butt off MuchMusic. "I'd rather not compete in that arena."

Today, Aaron, a native of Belleville, Ont., lives with her husband in White Rock, B.C. She's recording her second jazz album, which should be out later this year. She no longer frets about her standing in the music biz. Instead, it's her work with special-needs teenagers and the homeless that brings her the most satisfaction. As for her sex-symbol days, good riddance, she says. Besides, jazz is sexier than metal any day. "You know why? Because it's more intimate," she says. "The thing I love about jazz is you can hear every nuance in your voice. That's absolutely masked by a wall-o'-sound when you're singing rock. "And remember, Nina Simone's voice was far sexier than any of her photographs ever were."

Essential Aaron

Jazz hero: Nina Simone

Favourite jazz festival moment: "Ottawa Jazz Festival, in the summer of 2001.
We walked onstage and got two standing ovations in front of 2,000 people."

Favourite Saturday night record: Ryan Adams, Gold or Coldplay, Parachutes

Favourite Sunday morning record: Shirley Horne, Close Enough For Love

What do you sing in the shower? "I don't sing in the shower. Don't laugh, but I usually bathe and pray in the bathtub.
That's my quiet time. My meditative, spiritual time."


Lee Aaron performs tonight at the Gateway Lounge in the SAIT Campus Centre as a part of The Jazz Festival Calgary. Tickets: $20.

© 2003 Calgary Herald