From Rock Diva to Slick Chick

By Mike Devlin
CanWest News Service

VICTORIA -- Lee Aaron's thick skin was her saving grace a few years back. But now that the ruckus that erupted after she ditched the pop-metal of her prime has subsided, she's fighting a different battle entirely.

And it's one the pregnant performer says she loses every time she steps on a stage these days.

The former rocker's current tour was booked months in advance -- long before the 41-year-old musician learned she was pregnant with her first child. Though she is now seven months into her pregnancy, Aaron is honouring her concert schedule.

One little problem: her daughter doesn't always feel like performing, especially the slower numbers.

"It hasn't affected my singing at all, or my ability to be able to perform and have energy, which is good," Aaron says.

"But there's one ballad in the second set where quite often I will sit on a stool. It's when you stop moving and stop rocking the baby around it goes, 'Hey keep rocking me or I'll start kicking you!' So in the middle of this ballad I'm getting hoofed in the ribs. That's a bit of a surreal experience."

And a painful one, given that Aaron has been performing scads of concerts lately.

However, it's likely not as painful as the shock and awe Aaron gave her fans when, in 1997, she abandoned her deep rock roots for jazzier pastures. It was an uncomfortable experience for everyone at first, but Canada's former Metal Queen says she's learned to live with it.

"I get the odd fan that is stuck in a time warp and will write in to my Web site and be very hostile towards me," Aaron says.

"But that's just something you have to deal with. You can't stay stuck in one place for that very small faction of fans that are going to be disappointed if you won't be this image to them, or this perception. That's just not reality."

Reality for Aaron these days has nothing to do with the nine Juno nominations she garnered as a rocker, and the millions of records she sold while singing hits such as "Whatcha Do To My Body". Aaron became a full-fledged jazz performer on 2000's Slick Chick, but on her newest recording, Beautiful Things, she scales back the jazz elements somewhat to make room for poppier fare. Aaron intended for it to be a natural follow-up to Slick Chick, jazz standards and all, but that evolved once she married and moved from Vancouver to the White Rock, B.C., area last year.

"I went through a real creative phase, and I started sitting at the piano and writing again. It ended up evolving into more of a pop record, but with jazz and roots and blues influences. When you bring the right players in and go to the right studio, all of a sudden it magically becomes this cohesive project."

Aaron realizes her current brand of music has limited commercial potential, but it fits in perfectly with her new mindset, which places less of an emphasis on being popular.

"I think when you're younger, you are so wrapped up in being part of pop culture, you evaluate your worth, quite often, by how popular you are at any given time," said Aaron. "It's a real tough game to keep up with. And your ego is going to take a big smashing at some point."

Aaron isn't the only aging rocker changing directions at the moment; Randy Bachman, formerly of the Guess Who, and blues rocker Jeff Healey are also following jazz muses currently. This trend prompted Calgary documentary maker Joel Stewart to include Aaron in an episode of his series The Undiscovered Country, airing currently on CMT.

The seven-part series features Canadian stars such as Natalie MacMaster, Colin James and Jimmy Rankin chatting with the country's lesser-knowns in their respective environments. Aaron appears in a May 11 episode hosted by Kim Mitchell titled Been There, Done That, which discusses the recent career moves Aaron, Glass Tiger member Michael Hanson and former country star Billy Cowsill have made.

Aaron had a ball doing the show. And yet it still made her realize how hard she's had to work since she took a musical about-face in 1997.

"It's amazing how long it really does take to change a stereotype or perception, mine being the quote unquote 'rock chick.' It's been a process, it really has."

© Victoria Times Colonist Thursday, April 29, 2004