Rock chick all jazzed

By Ian Nathanson
Ottawa Sun
April 19, 2001

"It would be way too easy to label Lee Aaron as just another rock chick dabbling in another music genre. But jazz?
Cynics would argue the mere thought of Aaron warbling '40s and '50s jazz gems seems unbecoming of Canada's metal queen.
"What next?" unconvinced minds wonder. "Tin Pan Alley adaptations of rock hits Whatcha Do to My Body, Metal Queen and Some Girls Do?" Maybe.
On the phone from Vancouver, Aaron is fully aware of the naysayers who can't shake the idea of a rocker making such a radical music shift.
"It's about taking risks, doing things your own way," says the amiable 38-year-old, who'll be plugging her debut jazz CD Slick Chick on Monday night at the SAW Gallery, joined by Vancouver group Ralph. "Jazz is not about being safe. And I embrace that. It doesn't matter how anyone else does it, this is how I'm gonna do it." Few are fully aware that long before she morphed into heavy-metal chanteuse Lee Aaron, a shy pre-teen named Karen Lynn Greening, was an alto saxophonist in her high school jazz and concert bands. And she trained and strengthened her voice through various choral and school productions.
"From age five to about 17, all throughout my schooling years I was involved in musical theatre," recalls Aaron, who grew up in Belleville, Winnipeg and Brampton. "Back then I was singing George Gershwin, Cole Porter, all the Tin Pan Alley stuff. "Ironically, I was in a musical production when I was 15 when a bass player from a Brampton band saw me perform. He said, 'Man, you have a really powerful voice. We'd love for you to audition (as a keyboardist and backup singer) for our rock band.' " That rock band? Lee Aaron. Before long, Karen Greening would morph the band name into a heavy metal goddess persona, who would unleash nine rock albums between 1982-95 and ingrained a strong 'rock chick' video image -- to which Mike Myers paid homage in both Wayne's World movies. "I guess he intimated to the guys in my band one night when he was in Toronto that the Tia Carrere character in Wayne's World -- with the snake in her video and all that -- was loosely based on me," Aaron says. "When I later heard that, I went, 'Really? Wow, I'm flattered!' " But by the mid-'90s, Aaron longed for a change. Ending a contract with label Attic Records, a partnership with guitarist/songwriter John Albani as well as a divorce from her first husband, Aaron relocated to Vancouver. A year after recording with the rock supergroup 2preciious in 1996 (in which she met and later married drummer Don Short), Aaron sought solace in jazz singing once again, settling in for a spell to a weekly slot at Vancouver's Purple Onion Cabaret covering jazz standards. "I had some really amazing compliments -- some people said I sang with the style of a modern revitalist," Aaron says. "And then we had a few stinky reviews, where the elitist guys just could not embrace it -- because of me. But you know what? I have to laugh at that and accept that. I can't let that rattle my confidence." Aaron says she hasn't totally abandoned rock. Recently, she co-starred in a new Black Halos video, worked with D.O.A.'s Joe Keithley and has plans for her own rock CD later this year. As she sees it, "Debbie Harry can make three jazz albums ... hell, Linda Ronstadt can make a big-band album with the Nelson Riddle orchestra and go back to doing the pop stuff. So why can't Lee Aaron?"

© Ottawa Sun 2001