Cyndi Lauper’s new album seems like it has an apt title, “Detour” (Sire Records). It finds Lauper getting in touch with her inner Grand Ole Opry diva, covering country songs made famous by the likes of Dolly Parton and Patsy Cline, alongside guests including Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and, of course, Willie Nelson.
But the way Lauper sees it, going country is less of a stretch than you’d think – even if she grew up in Queens and made her name with the bouncy pop of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” “True Colors” and other mid-1980s signature hits.
“You’ve got to understand, when I grew up, at that time it was all Western,” Lauper says. “The motifs, all of it. Saturday mornings were cap guns, sugar-coated cereal, pony sticks and Westerns with Roy Rogers. Chuck McCann had a show where he’d dress up like Little Orphan Annie and read a book on the air – that may have been the first cross-dresser I ever saw. And ‘Butch and Billy and Their Bang Bang Western Movies,’ that was another big one. I’d dress up like Dale Evans, because she dressed well. I was fashion-oriented at a very young age.”
As Lauper entered adolescence, country music was on the radio, too.
“My aunt used to listen to this station that played a lot of Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash,” Lauper says. “And of course, when I was in Blue Angel I cut my teeth as a singer/songwriter listening to Wanda Jackson, Brenda Lee. Patsy Cline was a rocker. When I was a kid and heard Loretta (Lynn) singing ‘The Pill,’ it was, ‘Oh my God, she’s one of us!’”
So for her first album since 2010’s “Memphis Blues,” Lauper decided she wanted to go the torch-and-twang route and make a record of country songs. She slips right into “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Heartaches by the Number” and “I Fall to Pieces” easily enough to convince even the most skeptical cynic.
But the album’s most memorable cut is Nelson’s “Night Life,” done as a duet with Nelson himself – which was an equally memorable experience in the studio.
“You always have this movie going in your head about how it will be in the studio,” Lauper says. “Like ‘Let It Be,’ everybody jamming together. Willie’s people said to come to Austin, but that wasn’t in the budget. Anyway, he came in from the bus with his wife, Annie, and I’ve gotta tell you I got all choked up. It was like Yoda walking in, really something. I didn’t cry because that would be unprofessional. Close, though.
“We did it pretty close to his version, which is still the best one if you listen to all of them – like a pop song, just creating a sound. And in that key, I could just follow the melody, and it had all this jazz and blues in it. It came out beautifully. Willie came in, started singing, and it was genius as soon as he opened his mouth. Wonderful, very soulful. Singing live with Willie is a trip. It’s like yoga for me, I’m constantly searching for The One.”
Equality NC benefit
Lauper arrives in Raleigh as debate continues to rage over House Bill 2 – North Carolina’s controversial “bathroom” law that has caused artists ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Itzhak Perlman to cancel performances. But instead of calling off her show, Lauper opted to repurpose it as a benefit for Equality NC and other groups working against the measure.
Since Lauper’s announcement, Joe Walsh, Lumineers, Dave Matthews Band and other acts have taken a similar course with their North Carolina shows. Lauper went even further, putting in her contract the specification that Duke Energy Center create non-gender-specific bathrooms for her concert. The city not only complied, but did so immediately at venues including Duke Energy Center, Red Hat Amphitheater and Raleigh Convention Center.
“We’re gonna have information about the HB2 law at the show because a lot of people don’t understand it,” Lauper says. “People are so stuck in their own lives because it’s hard out there – one slip-up and creditors are at the door, it’s constant financial strife for regular people. So if you have no info about how this law works, you’ll always get the short end of the stick. And face it, every time there’s strife, who gets blamed? Gay people, LGBT people. Let me tell you, nobody chooses it.”
Who: Cyndi Lauper
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Auditorium at Duke Energy Center, 2 E. South St., Raleigh
Info: 919-996-8700 or dukeenergycenterraleigh.com