Lenny Kravitz took a long and winding road to get where he is

January 30, 1992|By Harry Sumrall | Harry Sumrall,Knight-Ridder

''I just love music," Lenny Kravitz says earnestly over the long distance lines from Edmonton, Alberta. "That's the bottom line. I just do what I feel."

During the course of his brief career, Kravitz has been feted and slammed for doing what he feels. Fans have flocked to his version of '60s music, while critics have derided his derivations, many of which center on his preoccupation with the Beatles, '60s soul and artists such as Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix.

But to Kravitz, it is all part of the game. With his 1989 debut album, "Let Love Rule," he created a paean to such '60s heroes and songs as the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love." Like that song, the title cut from "... Rule" had an anthem aspect that reflected the optimism and youthful idealism that fueled the '60s.

And on his subsequent 1991 release, "Mama Said," he covered various '60s bases, from the Sly funk of "Always on the Run" (a collaboration with Slash of Guns N' Roses) to "Stand By My Woman," which had the stark minimalism of the later work of John Lennon.

But the path which Kravitz took to get to these points was long and winding. As a teen-ager, he sang with the prestigious California Boys Choir -- the result of his classical vocal training. And that association led to work with the Metropolitan Opera company and performances with the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics.

"I didn't really get into rock until after I had worked in classical," he says. "At the start, I listened to composers like Wagner, Mahler and Schubert. It was only later that I began to listen to the Beatles, Lennon and the soul performers.

"I think what I got from classical was a sense of discipline and a work ethic that is a part of the work I do now. When I'm recording I work my ass off. I know what I want and I don't quit until I get it."

What Kravitz wants recalls the '60s as well. At a time when most performers strive for the sound perfection of digital keyboards, Kravitz prefers to record on older tube-driven instruments, the same ones used by his '60s heroes.

"What gets me off is making records that sound like records," he says. "Most people these days make records that are real sleek and perfect. They make records as if they are selling underarm deodorant. I want a raw sound that is real."

When Kravitz recorded ". . . Rule" he says that his record label, Virgin, didn't know what to think. "I brought the tape in and it had a rough sound that I wanted. But they thought it was the demo. I had to explain to them that this was the sound I had in mind," he says.

When the critics began to compare the sound of that song to the Beatles, Kravitz was undeterred by the reference. "Ultimately what I do is original. It is me," he says. "The song 'Let Love Rule' does have a Beatles feel, but it also has a gospel feel, with traces of soul and the Stax sound. None of it sounds like anything in particular. It is just a sound that I was trying to get."

With 1991's "Mama Said," Kravitz began to mature and change. Gone was much of the '60s-based idealism and universality of ". . . Rule" and in its place was a more personal attitude and bite. If the '60s sound was still there -- on such soul-tinged songs as "It Ain't Over 'til It's Over" -- the image was changing. The videos for the newer songs discarded the '60s post-Flower Power imagery for a straight-ahead rock look and assault.

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