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By Gary Duff | September 6, 2017 | People
Rock legend Melissa Etheridge chats with us about her latest album, who she'd like to collaborate with, and why she hopes the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducts more female artists.
Rock 'n' roll legend Melissa Etheridge will be hitting the stage in Vegas on September 9, but before the Grammy-award winner performs at The Pearl, she joined us for a conversation about her latest album, who she'd still love to duet with, and why she thinks the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame needs to induct more women.
This new album, MEmphis Rock and Soul, has a bunch of classic rock 'n' roll songs on it, but was there any anxiety about tackling a big hit such as “Hold On, I’m Coming” on the record?
MELISSA ETHERIDGE: Yeah, and that was the challenge of this new album. I told them to put over 100 songs in front of me from the great Stax catalog. I found which songs I felt I could add something to, which ones I felt I could makeover the way the Rolling Stones would take something and make it better, or put their rock 'n' roll style on. I said, “How can I do what has been done for many decades, taking that great soul music and then push it into rock and roll?” That’s what I wanted to show, that rock 'n' roll came from these roots right here at Stax Records in Memphis. Some of the songs I wasn’t going to touch because there was nothing I could do with them. A song such as “Try A Little Tenderness" has been done many times. We tried it and I went, “Okay. That’s just me singing “Try A Little Tenderness.” I didn’t think I made it something new, but when we did “Hold On, I’m Coming,” I went, “Yeah! That’s taking a song that I think is one of the top five songs of all time and putting some rock 'n' roll super juice behind it.” I think I added to it. When I play it on stage people just love it. They love moving to it. Then there are songs on the album that weren’t hits. There are songs that I fell in love with because of the great beat and fun to it. Even the people at Stax were like, “We don’t know this song.” It was a one-hit… it wasn’t even a hit. It was a single release by this gal named Barbara Stevens back in the late '50s. I just thought it would be a great song. I kind of had both on the album.
I’ve seen you on stage with Bruce Springsteen and Dolly Parton, but is there anyone that you'd still like to collaborate with?
ME: I’ll tell you, as far as collaborations go, I’ve performed so many different types of music from the time I was eleven years old to now. I’m just as comfortable in a country setting as I am with rock 'n' roll, pop, jazz, rap, and hip-hop. Put me in any of those situations and I’m going to find something that I can do and relate to. There are some artists that I just haven’t performed with but would love to. I'd love to perform with Steven Tyler. I just want to pick up the microphone and scream and holler with him. And there are new artists coming out too, such as Adele, that I'd like to collaborate with. Let me sing something with her! That sort of thing. There are tons of artists and I think collaboration is a beautiful thing, and I’d love to do more of it.
So, you listen to Top 40?
ME: I have children so I’m listening to Top 40 with them all the time. I do find, as far as my work, that I’m very interested in how music is being created now, and how it is being assimilated and taken in, and what it is about a song that lights people up now. What are they listening to? I’m curious about that. I remember a couple years ago, when Justin Bieber put out, “Sorry,” and that other song, “Love Yourself,” and I’d listen to it and go, “Okay. You know what? I’m not going to tell anybody, but I like this. It’s a great song and he has a nice voice, and it’s interesting and it sticks in my head.” Nothing wrong with that!
Now why didn’t that end up on the album?
ME: [Laughs] I don’t know if anybody needs to hear me doing it, but I can absolutely appreciate it.
You’ve won plenty of music awards, but is the thought of being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame something that stays in the back of your mind? Is it something you still want?
ME: Yeah, you know, it’s funny. I don’t wake up and go, “Why am I not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?”, but I do see quite a lack of female artists, a lack of focus on what female artists have given to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The fact that Tina Turner is not in there by herself—she’s only in there with her husband—is a crime. There are artists that should be in there that made it… you know, long before me. It’s not just an injustice I feel, it’s more of a, “Hey! There is a lens now that we’re looking through in our society where women in power, and women holding power, and women holding masculine power, aren't a threat. It’s something we can celebrate now.” Rock 'n' roll is a masculine energy, yet it doesn’t mean that only the male gender can express it. Masculine energy can be expressed by a female. All of us have masculine and feminine inside us. Rock and roll coming from a female is just as celebrated as it is coming from a male. I think in the next couple years that the Rock Hall is going to step up and really get that going.
Is there anything in your life right now that you feel you’re lacking and would still like to go out and get?
ME: At this point, it’s still all about creating. I wouldn’t say there is an award or number. That’s not the way I quantify it anymore. I think that the goal is to keep creating, to keep learning, and to keep making music. I’ve always felt like success would be being able to walk out on a stage and perform, and to have people want to hear my songs. So, I'm just going to keep creating new songs and contributing to the world. That’s really what I’m looking forward to.
Photography courtesy Myriam Santos