Lee Aaron: The Evolution Of A Slick Chick
Chart Attack - May 24, 2002
While Celine Dion was trying to gain a following outside her home province of Quebec, Lee Aaron was gaining international recognition by selling out stadiums throughout Europe.
By the time Alanis Morissette ditched her teeny bopper image and shoved her Jagged Little Pill down the throat of the music industry, Aaron was already a multi-Juno nominee whose albums reached gold and platinum status.
And though MuchMusic may not devote as much airplay for her latest work as they had for "What You Do To My Body" or "Some Girls Do," Aaron is happy with the direction of her career.
After all, how could the Canadian diva feel otherwise?
Slick Chick, Aaron's 10th album and first outing as a professional jazz singer, was praised by critics after its release in the summer of 2000 and her performances at both the Toronto and Ottawa Jazz Festival the following year erased any lingering doubts on whether she could connect with a live audience with such material.
"The thing you have to remember about the music industry is a large part of it is based on marketing and image," Aaron says. "I was always a sophisticated gal — I just wasn't marketed that way."
That may be the understatement of the decade.
For close to 20 years Aaron carried the burden of being known as the industry's Metal Queen, a nickname she received after recording a song with the same title in 1984. The more she grew as an artist, the less she wanted to be associated with the image and even tried to stop performing the tune at her shows.
Unfortunately for Aaron, the crowds wouldn't allow her to leave the arenas without performing the hit as an encore and the media would constantly use the sobriquet in headlines whenever she was the subject of an interview or on tour to plug an album.
"It wasn't meant to (be viewed as) autobiographical, it was suppose to be a song about female empowerment and I believed that at the time," she said. "Obviously, I'm not the same person I was 20 years ago — I was Britney Spears' age when I wrote it."
Making the transition to the world of jazz wasn't as difficult for Aaron as some may think, she said, adding it was more of a homecoming since much of her early vocal training consisted of singing theatre and show tunes.
Aaron broke into the music industry under her birth name, Karen Lynn Greening, when she joined The Lee Aaron Project in 1982 as a back-up singer and keyboardist for the band. She was quickly elevated to the role of lead singer, took the name Lee Aaron as her own and for the next decade proceeded to blaze a rock 'n' roll trail for Canadian women.
The rules changed, however, when grunge emerged in the 1990s. Musicians viewed as corporate assets had difficulty retaining their stronghold in the business and in spite of solid albums in the mid-to-late '90s. Aaron's music was simply no longer in demand.
After parting ways with her longtime record company, Attic Records, Aaron moved from her home in Toronto to Vancouver and soon found herself performing in local jazz and blues clubs. The feedback she received was overwhelming and Aaron started to recruit artists, collectively known as the Swingin' Barflies, to back her during the production of Slick Chick.
Despite the chemistry she and the Barflies generated on her debut jazz album, Aaron was accompanied by only one other artist from the record, (sax player Graham Howell) during her current stint in Ontario. Insisting she is not tampering with a formula that revitalized her career, Aaron has a rotating cast of musicians for gigs and believes the shuffling enhances her performing abilities.
"The beautiful thing about jazz is it's an interpretive form of music and each player interprets a chord chart differently," she said. "Someone with a different style or edge will come in and push you in a different direction because it alters the entire sound of the unit."
Out of respect for fans who still enjoy her harsher material, Aaron will still play the occasional rock concert, but emphasizes such shows will be few and far between.
"I get offers every year to do rock festivals but I've been very selective [with which invites she accepts] because I'm really trying to build a new career."
With a second jazz album in the works, Aaron is booked for a European tour later this summer to coincide with Slick Chick's release overseas. Putting aside the momentum of the album, Aaron anticipates a respectable turnout because of the devotion European fans have for artists with longevity.
"I find Europe tends to not be quite as pop-culture orientated as North America," she said. "Then again, it's the only place in the world where David Hasslehoff can have a music career."
Jim MacDonald Chart Attack ©