NASHVILLE, TENN. >> Pop singer, songwriter and Broadway musical composer Cyndi Lauper added a little country twang to her signature Queens accent.
Her country and western covers album "Detour," which is out today, brings another unexpected twist to a career that has included music, theater, television, movies, wrestling and activism. A musical chameleon, she's won two Grammys, an Emmy and a Tony, but despite all the success, she said she's not as savvy at the art of business.
"Much to the chagrin of my family, I have not been the greatest businesswoman," Lauper said during an interview in Nashville, Tenn. "I was always art for art's sake. But you have to think of it like a business. It's art and commerce and somewhere in between you find the mix."
Her meandering path took her from Broadway where she wrote music for "Kinky Boots," which won six Tony Awards, to Music City where the pink-haired 62-year-old singer recorded her latest album with guest vocals from Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris.
Together with producer Tony Brown, she worked with some of the city's best session musicians to craft a live sound that wasn't polished to perfection.
"I kept telling them, 'It has to be dirty.' Think sex," Lauper said. "So it was a country western theme, but there was always a stripper walking across the floor with a boa. Like a blues thing."
The songs are from different era of country music, as far back as the '40s, when country was heavily influenced by early rock n' roll and blues, or as Lauper said her record label head Seymour Stein put it, "before Elvis kicked the door down." She covers songs made famous by Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Wanda Jackson, George Jones, Dolly Parton and Marty Robbins.
To Lauper, the songs reminded her of being a kid in Queens watching cowboy shows on TV and listening to her aunt Gracie's transistor radio. The female stars of country music were like pop stars to a young Lauper.
"Loretta Lynn, you saw her on TV and you knew she wore a cowboy hat," Lauper said. "But she was a television star to us. As I got older, she sang 'The Pill' and I was like, 'Wow, she's a feminist, too.'"
Gill, who sang the duet "You're the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly" with Lauper, said they gave a new twist to the classic originally sung by Lynn and Conway Twitty.
"It has this whole talking back and forth at the end of the record with the two of us and it sounds like her being from the Bronx and me being Joe Pesci," Gill said. "It's hysterical."
Early on in her career, she was in a rockabilly band, so it wasn't a stretch for her to include a song like "Funnel of Love," to which she added a few well-placed high pitched yips. But other songs proved a bit harder for the "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" singer to record.
"When I first did 'Walking After Midnight,' I sang it so darn low. I was like, 'I can't sing! What is wrong with me?'" she said. "But I realized that it had to be in my key. And don't go trying to reinvent the wheel."
She'll be performing the country songs, as well as her classic pop hits, on a tour that starts Monday at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
"And I have an idea of how I am going to put a little country in all of some of the songs I will be singing," Lauper said. "You know, why not? What the heck. You live once."