Cyndi Lauper & Tony Brown Cutting Country Gold, Old-Style, With Nashville’s Finest

Producer Tony Brown admits it hasn’t been often in his vast career that he’s popped one of the projects he’s produced into his car stereo for mere listening pleasure. But that’s exactly what he’s been doing with the recent Cyndi Lauper project, Detour, which he not only enjoyed doing, but actually likes hearing upon completion.

So do fans. Detour entered the country charts at No. 4 and Billboard’s Top 200 at No. 29.

As the story goes, Lauper met with a few producers in Nashville before settling on Brown. She first showed up at his house with Sire label head Seymour Stein.

“I told Cyndi as they were sitting in front of my desk, ‘Don’t be offended, but I’m pissing down my leg that Seymour Stein is sitting in front of my desk right now,’” Brown recalls. “I’m infatuated with people like George Martin, Seymour Stein and Ahmet Ertegun, who have that magic touch. I found out with him sitting here that he really knew his stuff.”

You can hear Lauper chuckle as she lists the first couple of reasons why she chose Brown:

“It was his hair! And he knew Elvis! I mean come on,” she says. “Just kidding. Seymour Stein and Cris Lacy from Warners Nashville set up some meetings for me in town and I got to meet some incredible producers. All of them had amazing track records and had made amazing albums and worked with amazing artists, so it was really hard to choose. In the end I decided to work with Tony because I thought he understood what I was trying to accomplish with this record. I really wanted a partner I could co-produce with who I thought understood where I was going with this album, and Tony seemed the easiest to talk to. I thought it would be fun making a record with him and I knew he would be open to the different twists and turns I wanted to take.”

Lauper and Brown

Brown was thrilled when he got the call saying they had chosen him. They presented him with about 50-60 song ideas of classics that Lauper grew up with, including “Heartaches By The Number,” “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “I Fall to Pieces.” They spent time emailing and phoning back and forth discussing the project on which they also decided to bring in guest vocalists Emmylou Harris, Jewel, Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss and Vince Gill.

For the project, Brown enlisted Willie Weeks on bass, Chad Cromwell on drums, Aubrey Haynie on fiddle and mandolin, Steve Nathan on keyboards, Dan Dugmore on steel and Tom Bukovac and Kenny Greenberg, who shared electric and acoustic guitar duties. “I just booked the people I knew that can really give me what I want and can turn on a dime,” says Brown, who also hired Bryan Sutton to play acoustic guitar and Jeff Taylor on accordion for “I Want to Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart” for that authentic Western feel.

“The band Tony assembled for the album was incredible,” Lauper says. “They were magical. Every one of them. The challenge was finding my place in the band as the band leader, and also be one of them—that we were a whole and not an assembly of parts. What’s important when you make music together is that you become a band, not just a bunch of people playing together. Everyone in the band pretty much knew each other and had played together many times, so I just had to keep myself open and receptive and at the same time lead the charge. It happened pretty quickly; not immediately, but pretty quickly. We became a band while recording ‘Funnel of Love,’ which was pretty much a one-take song.”

Tony Brown at the console.

Lauper brought her longtime engineer William Wittman, whom she met in 1983 through Rick Chertoff at CBS Records. Wittman recorded, co-produced and mixed She’s So Unusual and reconnected with Lauper in 2000 to become her musical director and bass player on the road.

Brown’s first instinct was to fight Lauper on bringing her own engineer. Once Wittman was there, Brown was fine. For one, Brown says, Wittman helped him know when the take was complete.

“I’d say, ‘This feels like this is a real take.’ He’d say, ‘Yeah, this is feeling like we’re there,’” Brown says.

One of the reasons the producer felt a little bit like a fish out of water was because Lauper sang everything live, something Brown was not used to.

“At first I thought that was kind of weird, and at the end I was thinking, ‘God, I just saved myself a week of vocal comps,’” Brown says. “Jimmy Bowen instituted this thing where you cut a track with George Strait or Reba and then you send the musicians out and sing three, four or five more vocals, and nine times out of ten you comp it together and you’ve got a performance. That was always the way I worked,” Brown says.

But as they approached the first vocal and Brown asked Lauper, “Do you want to do the vocals now or do you want to wait until next week when you have a fresh voice?” She said, “I just sang it.”

“I said, ‘I know you just sang it,’ and she said, ‘No that’s it. Unless it sucks, I’m not going to sing it again.’ I said, ‘It didn’t suck, it’s awesome,’” Brown recalls.

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