Metal Queen Comes of Age – Lee Aaron
December 5, 2012
Lee Aaron downloads the Music Express E magazine and enters a time warp. Enclosed on the site are clips of Lee performing her signature` Metal Queen’ track at the 1984 Music Express Awards in Vancouver as well as her joining in a spirited finale of ‘Dance to the Music‘ with Bill Henderson, Shari Ulrich and Kathi McDonald. “Wow, big hair” cracks Lee after viewing the footage. “The metal scene was in full force and I was right at the centre of it,”
Fast forward 24 years and Aaron (a/k/a Karen Greening) now living in Vancouver with husband (and writer/musicologist) John Cody and their two young children, is still performing but now on two fronts as a rock music artist and an accomplished jazz performer.
At first I did have some biker guys covered with tattoos coming to my jazz shows, saying `what the #@$&’ and leaving
“My interest in jazz music came at a very dark time in my career,” allowed Aaron. “I had moved out to Vancouver in 1994 to record with musicians in the Sons of Freedom band. I had left Attic and was convinced by my manager and lawyer to form my own label, `HipChick Records’, but then Grunge came out and all current existing bands literally fell off the edge of the planet.”
“One day I find all these bank boxes dumped on my doorstep,” continued Aaron. “Both my manager and lawyer had quit, leaving me with a huge debt. I had to declare bankruptcy.”
Aaron took 1995 off to figure out what to do next, and at the time found solace in listening, and singing along to her jazz record collection. “Some of my friends said `Instead of singing along to those records, get out there and perform.”
Starting out with a residency at a small Vancouver venue called The Purple Onion, Aaron soon attracted positive press from the local media which lead to her performing both rock music and jazz performances – which of course became confusing when her rock fans stumbled into her jazz performances and her newly acquired jazz fans went to a rock show by mistake.
“That doesn’t happen so much now but I still post what show I am playing so there is no confusion,” allowed Aaron. “At first I did have some biker guys covered with tattoos coming to my jazz shows, saying `what the #@$&’ and leaving. Yet surprisingly some of my rock fans actually liked my new style and became converts.”
Having two young children one now eight years old, and one six, limits Aaron’s touring to six or eight consecutive dates with the jazz dates being mainly corporate affairs or casino dates. Her major rock appearances are mainly targeted for the summer festival season and she is still a big name in Europe, appearing June 11th 2011 at the Sweden Rock Festival.
“For some reason my dates in Scandinavia were always cancelled, so I accepted the date to make things up to my Swedish fans,” explained Aaron. “The show went well and I got to meet a lot of fans, signing autographs and they were telling me how some of them had waited 20 years for me to perform”.
“I’ve had plenty of offers to play in like Italy and Germany but it boils down to costs,” noted Aaron. “I can’t really play a festival in July and then hang around for another one in August. I’d have to fly back out again. But it’s still great to know the fan support is still there.”
Aaron still writes new material and inserts the occasional new song into her set list yet she has no illusions of staging a major comeback. “The way radio is now, any CD I recorded would be purely a vanity project to sell on my website. But there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s more financially lucrative to control your own merchandise to your own fans. That’s the way business is run these days.”
As a 17-year-old Belleville Ontario, who fell under the Svengali control of manager Bob Connolly, Aaron arrived on the scene with her independently released Lee Aaron Project EP that featured performances by Rik Emmett, Rick Sanders and Moxy frontman Buzz Shearman. Attic Records’ Al Mair was sufficiently impressed to expand the album into a debut release on his label and Aaron soon emerged as Canada’s Metal Queen.
Aaron’s big break came when Paul Suter, a feature writer for England’s heavy metal bible, Kerrang, and a correspondent for Music Express, stumbled upon Lee performing one Sunday at the Queensbury Arms venue in Toronto. Making Aaron is pet project, Suter raced back to England with news of this sexy siren and before long Aaron was centrefold material for Kerrang, and then other European Heavy Metal mags, culminating in a live appearance at the 1984 Reading Music Festival.
For the next five years, Aaron became a major European attraction on the festival circuit, releasing her `Metal Queen’, `Bodyrock’ and `Lee Aaron’ albums. Yet her European popularity didn’t translate to the U.S and she eventually tired of the metal scene, turning to a new relationship with Vancouver’s Sons of Freedom to record `Emotional Rain’ in 1999.
But then along came Kurt Cobain’s Nirvana to put the cat amongst the proverbial pigeons and Aaron was left to pick up the pieces. “It’s times like this that you really have to consider what you are doing and why you are doing it,” pondered Aaron. “You really have to love music to keep going but I have always loved performing so there was never any other option.”
With the current nostalgia scene in effect at AOR radio, Aaron doesn’t feel pressured to stay up with current pop culture. “You have to be realistic to know your past being a big rock star, but I’m comfortable with that. The strange thing is going out and playing for an aging audience yet they think you should still look like you did 24 years ago- like you’ve emerged from some cryonic chamber or something. I still cringe when I think of everyone with cell phones posting images of every show you do.”
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