Cyndi Lauper told an excited crowd about her upcoming country album “Detour,” what it was like to work with legendary artists of the genre and much more at a Nashville press conference this week.
Lauper is no stranger to Music City, having studied under former Vanderbilt professor David Shnaufer, and recording much of her 1996 album “Sisters of Avalon” in Hendersonville. “It’s about time I actually made a country record,” she laughed, having made her signature dance-style music and even some Appalachian music here with Shnaufer. “It was kind of exciting to come here and make a record that’s an homage to country. It’s a real singers album.”
“Detour” was actually the brainchild of Sire Records founder Seymour Stein, which has signed artists ranging from the Ramones to Madonna, with the album allowing the singer to live out her bucket list dream of working with Stein. A collection of classic country songs, Lauper covers tunes from some of her favorite artists growing up including Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight” and “I Fall to Pieces,” Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn’s “You’re the Reason Our Kids are Ugly,” “Funnel of Love” by Wanda Jackson and many more classic hits.
“It was funny, it was soulful,” Lauper said when describing what country music was like when she was growing up. “There was a time when country music and soul and R&B walked hand in hand,” referencing the impact of Elvis Presley and calling idols like Cline and Lynn “glamorous,” movie-star like figures.
It is exactly these people and their legacies that Lauper hopes to bring to life on “Detour.” But she doesn’t tackle the project on her own – the “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” singer brings in a slew of A-list stars to help. Vince Gill appears on the Twitty and Lynn classic, who is an artist she has nothing but praise for. “You’ve got to hate him,” she joked. “He’s kind of perfect. He’s the sweetest fellow.” Calling him a “shredder” on guitar with a “voice like butter,” Lauper said he was the perfect fit for the song. “He made that track come alive,” she said. Emmylou Harris is featured on the album’s title track, another Nashville connection for Lauper, who was actually invited by Harris to her house many years ago for dinner, initially about an idea regarding a potential all-female tour. “I was fortunate enough to have her come and sing on ‘Detour.’ I kind of knew that she was right for that and it would be fun,” Lauper said.
A real treat for diehard fans of country music is the presence of Willie Nelson on his classic 1960 hit, “Night Life.” “It’s such a great melody. It’s just a beautiful song and simple,” Lauper gushed. But the “wow” factor of performing with Nelson wasn’t the only standout piece of recording the song. Lauper also revealed that it was clear the song touched the sentimental side of the legend. “He loved what we did, I could see it in his face,” she said. “He remembered the song – it was like a piece of his life. So I was really blessed to have him sing with me.”
As for a song that has personal meaning for Lauper, that comes in the form of “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” made famous in 1935 by Patsy Montana. The ‘80s hit maker revealed that throughout history, the role of women has mainly revolved around stereotypically domesticated tasks such as cooking and cleaning. “Being from a Sicilian family, they were still spreading that around,” she laughed. She went on to say how women would marry a man who did something they wanted to do, as a way to live vicariously through them. “It’s two fold; you laugh a little because she says she wants to be a cowboy’s sweetheart and then never mentions the guy again,” Lauper said of the song.
Interestingly enough, Lauper also loves the tune for another reason: the great yodeling by none other than Jewel. The singer told a humorous story of attempting to learn to yodel, but couldn’t quite master the task. That led her to sending an out-of-the-blue text to a surprised Jewel, who happily obliged. “It’s got to be one of my favorite parts of the whole album,” Lauper praised.
But her appreciation for two of country music’s revered institutions aren’t the only parts of Nashville she raved about, passionately telling the crowd how much she values the local music scene. “You guys should cherish this music community that you have,” she proclaimed. “There are not many places in our country that have music community anymore, but this place is a music community and it was kind of great to be part of it and work among you for the time that I did.”
With the new album in place, Lauper has many other exciting ventures coming up as well. She’s going on a six-date tour with Boy George (there first stop is at the Ryman on May 9), an event she’s looking forward to. “I’m pretty excited about that,” she said. “He has a really good voice.” As for the likelihood of Boy George singing Gill’s parts during the show? “You know, I’m trying to talk him into that; I don’t know if he’s going for it,” Lauper revealed. “It has to speak to him. But I feel like that would be pretty funny.”
Speaking of the Ryman, Lauper certainly has an interest in one day performing on the famed Grand Ole Opry stage, a place she has fond memories of, telling the story of how she walked the streets near its original home and saw photos of all the legendary faces who’ve performed there – not to mention she was a big fan of Minnie Pearl as a child. “I think as a singer, there’s so many voices that rise up to the rafters. I think the sound just stays there and sweetens all the other sounds that come along and I think that as a singer when you’re standing on a stage, you kind of feel all that,” she marveled.
If there is one quality of Lauper’s that stands out in particular it is that of her fearlessness. In spite of all she’s accomplished, Lauper revealed that even she feels doubtful at times – but that doesn’t stop her from going after what she wants. “I worry every time. I never think I have qualifications. But then I think ‘well, if you were busy counting your qualifications, you’d never try anything.’ So I keep trying,” she said. “How are you going to know what you could do if you never try something new? That’s how I’m thinking. If you don’t try, you don’t know and you won’t grow.”
And it is her willingness to try something new that leads Lauper down many of life’s detours, a fact that made the album title a perfect fit. “It’s yet another detour,” she said of desire to record a country album. “And in life there’s many detours, but sometimes they’re not bad to take – this was a good one.”