Cyndi Lauper's Detour tour stops Sept. 13 at Civic Center Music Hall

When ’80s pop legend Cyndi Lauper saw Vince Gill in drag, she knew she had the right man for the job.

Lauper and Norman native Gill work together to cover “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly,” on Lauper’s latest album, Detour (released May 6), the New York-born diva’s take on country music classics. The song is a rollicking and infectious version of the 1978 country B-side recorded by Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty.

In September, Lauper renews touring efforts in support of her 11th solo studio album and performs 8 p.m. Sept. 13 at Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N. Walker Ave.

Gill recorded the video for “It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long” in 2004 with The Notorious Cherry Bombs, an all-star country outfit that included crooner Rodney Crowell, percussionist Eddie Bayers, guitarist Richard Bennett and others.

The video shows Gill taking turns in drag with Crowell and slinging lyrical one-liners like, “If a tree fell in the forest and she didn’t hear it, would I still be wrong?”

More than a decade later, Lauper saw it on YouTube. She laughed, amazed at how ideal Gill was to fill the role she had for him on Detour.

“I was like, ‘OK, then it’s kind of perfect, isn’t it?’ because he’s so funny,” she admitted during a recent telephone interview with Oklahoma Gazette.

Country roots

It is unlikely many fans predicted Lauper would record an all-country album with physical releases for sale at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, but the artist known for timeless pop hits like “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” “Time After Time” and “True Colors” said it was a natural fit.

Before her solo success, Lauper launched her music career in New York rockabilly band Blue Angel. As a little girl, she listened to country radio as she sat in her aunt’s kitchen.

“It wasn’t so far-fetched for me to sing this,” she said. “I used to listen to Wanda Jackson to figure out how women sang rock ’n’ roll.”

Lauper made a career out of bucking convention, and Detour is no different. Making no attempt to minimize her Queens accent, the singer speaks pointedly and clearly in ways down-home Southerners can respect.

“Look, when I was coming up, I would have these rock ’n’ roll radio or television moguls tell me I was making disposable art,” she said. “I was like, ‘No, I’m not making disposable music. I’m making music that makes people feel better and has a story that has humanity in it.’”

Detour was borne as a collaborative effort between Lauper and influential producer and record label executive Seymour Stein.

In addition to Gill, the album features vocalists Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss, Jewel and Emmylou Harris. Lauper said she picked through boxes of song ideas before settling on the 12 covers that comprise the finished project.

“I went through all the folders, and I picked out these songs because I felt they were relatable to today,” she said.

Detour is country, but it also exemplifies the artist’s trademark eccentricity.

Gill’s praise

Lauper said she suggested producer Tony Brown (who has produced Reba McEntire and George Strait, among others) work with Gill for her version of “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly.”

“[Gill] is such a joy,” she said. “The guy walks in and he has this vibe and the whole room changes. Everybody’s happy.”

Lauper knew Gill loosely through her friendship with the Northwest Classen High School graduate’s wife, Christian and pop musician Amy Grant.

The women met at Women Rock! Girls & Guitars, a 2000 star-studded charity concert and subsequent live album benefitting the fight against breast cancer. Sheryl Crow, Destiny’s Child, Melissa Etheridge, Wynonna Judd and others joined them on the event bill.

Around that time, Lauper was working on her Shine EP. She played some of her unreleased work, including the song “Water’s Edge,” for Grant, who later relayed what she was working on to Gill.

Grant later told Lauper that Gill loved the chorus for “Water’s Edge.” Lauper said that succinct praise is still very meaningful to her. She said it came at a time when she faced criticism from industry executives who did not understand her creative efforts.

“I was always touched by that,” she said. “I always felt like [Gill] understood my work — and the both of them did — so I always had a soft spot for him.”

Bridging gaps

Lauper’s Gazette interview came the day after her son Dex, 18, released his debut hip-hop single “Wavy.” It’s a song with strong pop and trap leanings in line with much of today’s contemporary radio music trends.

“If you look at [‘Wavy’] like a traditionalist, you’re like, ‘What the heck is this?’” Cyndi said. “Then, like two hours later, I’m doing something else and I’m singing it. And now I’m going, ‘Oh yeah. Now I get it. That’s what the heck.’ It’s catchy.”

The family name has released music under the country and hip-hop genres in one three-month span. Lauper is one of the last people anyone will find criticizing another’s choice in artistic direction. She is excited to see where music takes her son.

“I’m happy for what he’s doing, and I support him and I hope that he can grow into who he is going to become,” she said.

When Lauper takes the Civic Center stage, she will perform for an audience that spans generations. There’s an enduring element to much of her work that appeals across eras. Some of it will likely live on even after she’s gone.

“I think still today there’s songs that mean a lot to people and help them,” she said. “Music is a great healer. Nobody understands that better than the musicians because they got into music in the first place sometimes with a big hole in their heart that only music could fill.”

Print headline: Scenic route, Cyndi Lauper enlists Oklahoma’s Vince Gill for a foray into country music.

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