Multi-platinum, award-winning vocalist Lee Aaron is back with “Radio On!”, a collection of 12 brand new original songs that continues to build upon this rock legend’s legacy. Lee has gone through several incarnations as a performer, dealing heavy metal thunder on her mid-eighties classic “Metal Queen”, crooning jazz with the best of them on “Slick Chick” from 2000, and then settling into a steady rock groove beginning with “Fire and Gasoline” in 2016.
She’s formed a tight musical bond with band members Sean Kelly on guitar, bassist Dave Reimer and drummer (and husband) John Cody who simply kick out the jams in the studio. The songs are clever and hooky, and if there is an ongoing theme since her “Metal Queen” days where she sang about “taking control”, it is one of empowerment as evidenced on the opening track and latest single, “Vampin.’”
“Yeah, that’s been the subject in many of the albums that I’ve written,” Lee says, calling from her home in the White Rock area of B.C., close to the U.S. border. “Vampin’’ is a song very much in that empowerment vein. That song seemed very appropriate for me, and everything that I am and everything that I stand for. I’ve been fairly entrenched in the genre of rock for many, many years and it just seemed like the perfect song to open the album ith.”
Amazingly, all of the songs on “Radio On!” were written by the band during one super proficient weekend session. Lee says it wasn’t really that tough a feat to pull off as they’ve been writing on a regular basis since she returned to the scene in 2016. Prior to that, she hadn’t recorded for about 12 years, taking some time off to raise her two children. (“I sat and tried to calculate how many school lunches I made at one point, and it was way more than the number of songs I’d ever written.”) Now her songwriting is catching up with her brown bagging, and she feels like she’s really hitting her stride as a composer.
“When I came back I recorded two albums “Fire & Gasoline” and “Diamond Baby”, on which some songs were 50/50 co-writes and others I wrote myself. What I had ascertained from those two comeback records was that when Dave, John, Sean and I get together in a room, there’s something magical about this combination of musicians. When we were talking about putting together “Radio On!” I said let’s not do what we did on the last record and send files back and forth. Instead, let’s fly Sean out and go into a rehearsal space for a weekend and try to revive that spirit that we had when we were teenagers and all in a garage band.
When we went into the studio to record the bed tracks it was before that week in March 2020 when Covid exploded. The energy in the room was really good that weekend. We all came in with a small arsenal of song ideas and for every riff that Sean had, I seemed to have a lyric or a melodic idea that I’d already written down in my book. By the end of the weekend, we literally had 13 songs.
“Interestingly enough, when I took that diversion and sang jazz for a few years I found that there’s this incredible thing that happens,” she says. “That is, you never play the songs the same way. On any given night, unlike traditional pop music where people want to hear the songs played live exactly as they are on an album, there’s a lot of room for spontaneity and magical things to happen in jazz. I’d like to take rock & roll back to a place where it can be like that. Sometimes when you’re in the studio the happy accident becomes a cool part of the song.”
The album’s title track certainly takes rock back to a cool place, kicking off with Sean Kelly’s grungy guitar and Lee’s defiant declaration that when it’s time to pack it in, it’s best to “Die with the radio on”. While the song deals with mortality and was actually fueled by some rock and roll passings, there’s also a sense of nostalgia for those of us who grew up during the golden age of radio.
“That song is about going out with a bang,” she begins. “Even when our physical bodies are long gone, music lives on. It’s eternal. I had written that song at a time when we had lost David Bowie, Prince and Lemmy, just to name three of the biggest. There were so many rocks stars that died within a period of a couple of years a while back, and that was on my mind when I wrote the song.”
“I do miss the days of disc jockeys having the power to play music that reflected their personal taste. I remember going into Q104 in Halifax at two o’clock in the morning after my show because the night D.J. was going to play my whole album and talk to me for a couple of hours. Kids were actually up and listening and that doesn’t happen anymore. It’s very controlled now and I think that’s why people are turning more to internet radio because there is still some freedom there.
The sad thing about today is there’s so much saturation that the discernment factor is not as high. There just seems to be such a sea of information and sound out there now that there doesn’t seem to be any room to make real rock stars anymore. I mean who was the last real rock star? Kurt Cobain?”
Lee shows her playful side on “Russian Doll”, a perfect slice of pop that clocks in at under three minutes. Equally catchy is “Cmon”, the first single released from the album, in which the singer tantalizingly asks “If I come on to you, will you come on to me.” The most important thing for Lee as a songwriter is to come up with a great hook and a lyric that lives for the current moment.
“I always look for a hook that people can latch on to,” she says. “To me, the testament of seasoned songwriting is that you’ve written a piece of work where it’s easy for people to sing along with after hearing it once or twice. One of the challenges of being over 40 is trying to figure out how to write love songs these days and not sound like a goof. How do I make it more mature? If you’re over 40 and you’re writing about chicks and hot cars it’s like, come on man, get a life.
To me a universal theme, whether you’re 20 or 60, is entering into a new relationship, be it a second or third relationship or second marriage. Those are very exciting but terrifying moments, deciding whether you tell a person how you feel about them and whether those feelings are going to be reciprocated. At any age, those feelings are really the same. “Cmon” is about having another chance at love and to me that’s pretty universal.”
“Radio On!” is not just about relationships, however, as Lee covers a wide range of topics including channelling Andy Warhol on “Soho Crawl”. The singer is very well-read and she drew her inspiration for the avant-garde artist from an autobiography by New York City’s punk poet laureate.
“I love Andy Warhol,” she admits. “That song was just a bunch of random, stream of consciousness lyrics that I had written when I was on vacation in Mexico with my family. I had recently read Patti Smith’s “Just Kids” about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe and those years when she was hanging out with Andy Warhol at The Factory (Warhol’s N.Y. City studio) and living at the Chelsea Hotel. I just found it to be an incredibly insightful and inspiring book.”
During her Covid downtime, Lee created a series on Instagram, “Ask Lee”, where she fielded questions from her wide legion of fans throughout the world. Germany seems to be one of her particular strongholds and in 2019 she put out a CD/DVD package called “Power, Soul, Rock N’ Roll – Live In Germany”. In addition, “Radio On” was released on the German Metalville label.
“I have always had a large following overseas because when I started in 1982 a girl doing hard rock was unheard of in Canada,” she says. “It wasn’t until I had my first Top 40 single “Only Human” from my fourth album that it finally seemed like the Canadian market was ready for a girl singing rock. But from 1982 to 1986 I spent most of my time in Europe touring over there. That’s why when we toured Germany in 2017 we recorded two live shows, a big festival and a more intimate venue, and put out the live CD/DVD.”
Lee Aaron – Radio On
“Radio On” is on Big Sister Records, licensed to Metalville out of Germany. I had several offers from larger labels but most of them wanted two to three albums into the future and a fifteen-year term. I thought that’s the rest of my career, pretty much. Metalville had done a great job on my last couple of albums and they were willing to continue on an album by album basis. They’re great people and huge fans, and you want to be with a label that loves and appreciates your music.”
In late November Metalville will also re-release Lee’s seasonal album from last year, “Almost Christmas”, with two newly recorded tracks.
“For us in 2020 the Christmas album was a late-year labour of love,” Lee says. “Record labels need about four months lead time, so we decided to press it and release it independently. We felt it was too good to not have a broader reach so when we negotiated the deal for “Radio On!” we asked Metalville if they wanted to reissue “Almost Christmas” for this coming holiday and they said yes. We wrote a couple of new songs and we have a couple of videos for them that you’ll probably see within the next month.”
The tail end of “Radio On!” includes two introspective songs, “Wasted” and “21”, the former dealing with the heartbreak of addiction. (“I’ve seen first-hand how it can play such a destructive role in the dysfunction of a family. If the song resonates with people and they find the message impactful, that’s exactly what I was hoping to accomplish.”) The album’s last song “21’, on the other hand, offers a wistful look back at love and loss.
“That number just seemed like the appropriate nostalgic closer for the album. It seems to really resonate with people because you get to a stage in life when you may have lost friends and you’ve grown up and had your kids. I think everyone can relate to that sentiment of where did the time go. It’s kind of a love song to my fans saying we need to be proud of ourselves in terms of how far we’ve come. We’re survivors.”
Lee wrote “21” on the piano and the video for the song shows the singer up close and personal, as she delicately plays the notes and delivers an emotional vocal performance. Besides being moved by the song, one can’t help but notice that the years have been very kind to the singer who remains striking in appearance.
“Well thank you…I don’t know what to say. Whole foods? Lots of sleep? Exercise? But seriously, I think that the older you get the only defence you have against ageing is to keep moving, keep inspired and be passionate. That’s what I’m all about.”
To date, Lee has a show booked for Winnipeg in November, with January shows to follow in Edmonton and Calgary and a few shows in Europe later in 2022. She hopes to fill in her schedule with more dates depending on the future situation with COVID.
More Canuck Rock
Duck Hunting: Toronto’s Ugly Ducklings were one of the best garage bands on the planet, attacking the charts with nuggets like “Just In Case You Wonder”, “Nothin’”, and of course their #1 hit from the Summer Of Love, “Gaslight”. Duckling’s lead singer Dave Bingham has continued to cut bluesy records since that time as a solo act and part of various groups. He’s just released his latest offering, “Driven”, with his new outfit called “So Many Roads”. One thing that continues to stand out is his stellar work on harmonica, whether he’s blowing some fiery licks on the James Brown tribute “King Of Soul” or just chillin’ on “Lazy Boy”. The jewel of the set may be “Take Me Back to San Miguel”, his heartfelt tribute to the city in Mexico which he now calls home. Dave’s chief collaborator and songwriting partner on the album is guitarist Norm McMullen, and things simply clicked for them throughout. “Songs are like pearls,” Dave says. “They start as small, tiny grains and then grow exponentially. Sometimes they emerge slowly and at other times they come so quickly, it’s as if they are just passing through you. The trick is to get yourself in that zone and let it happen. With Norm and me it just seemed to happen all the time.” You can listen to “Driven” here
Bill Durst – Thundermug
Thundermug: Another southern Ontario group that made some big noise on the charts in the early ’70s was London’s Thundermug. Specifically, their single “Africa” became a radio anthem and it is still probably the only heavy hard rock tune that features a kazoo solo in the middle (that somehow works). Thundermug’s final album was 1995’s “Who’s Running My World”, which included a remake of “Africa”. Lead guitarist/vocalist Bill Durst is pleased to announce that a remastered version of “Who’s Running My World” has just been released and is available here
This re-issue is the first in a new “History of Bill Durst” series of recordings. Back in ’83 Open Spaces had a chance to interview Bill about his solo gem “Call Billy” and we can only hope that that album will be part of the new series.
Guess Who’s Back: Sony Music Canada has announced the release of “Bachman-Cummings: The Collection”, a special edition box set from Guess Who bandmates Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings. The set includes five albums from The Guess Who from their 1969 – 1971 period. The first three albums, “Wheatfield Soul”, “Canned Wheat” and “American Woman” feature Bachman on guitar, while “Share The Land” and “So Long, Bannatyne” are the first two albums released after Bachman left the band and was replaced by guitarists Kurt Winter and Greg Leskiw. The set also includes highlights from Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Burton’s solo career. You can order it here: https://rockpapermerch.com/collections/bachman-cummings/products/the-collection-box-set