Lisa Fischer, out of the shadow of the Rolling Stones and onto the stage in Aspen
If You Go …
Who: Lisa Fischer and Grand Baton
Where: JAS Café at the Aspen Cooking School
When: Thursday, Dec. 29 & Friday, Dec. 30, 7 & 9:15 p.m.
Lisa Fischer has spent decades touring the world, singing in front of stadium-sized crowds of adoring fans and performing some of the best-loved songs in the rock music canon.
But until recently, most people had never heard of her.
Fischer has been hiding in plain sight. She’s been recording and touring as a background singer with the Rolling Stones since the early 1980s — tearing into the roaring “Gimme Shelter” duet with Mick Jagger countless times — and she has supported the likes of Tina Turner, Luther Vandross and Trent Reznor.
Three years ago, the Oscar-winning documentary “20 Feet From Stardom” changed her life. The film profiled Fischer, Darlene Love, Merry Clayton and other supreme talents who’d labored in the shadows as backup singers. She’d never sought fame or the spotlight, only wanted to sing. But quite suddenly the spotlight is upon her.
“You just do your work and do your work and then someone asks you about your experiences and you talk about them and then people start becoming curious,” Fischer said in a recent phone interview, “and one thing leads to the next and then people are asking, ‘Do you have a band? Are you touring?’ And I’m like, ‘No! What am I going to do?’”
What she’s done is get a manager and put a band together — the three-piece Grand Baton, which will accompany Fischer for four shows at the JAS Cafe today and Friday — and hit the road.
“We’ve just been going in beautiful baby steps,” she said.
Fischer has only made one solo record, 1991’s “So Intense,” but she’s finally looking at making another. She said she’s more apt to try to capture the energy of her live solo performances, rather than making a traditional studio record.
Fischer has spent much of her career playing to crowds numbering in the tens of thousands with the Stones. Moving into the intimate confines of a small jazz club like the JAS Cafe at the Aspen Cooking School, she has to recalibrate herself and her voice.
“It’s almost like being a dancer in a room — each room is different and has a different sense of space, so you sort of move differently according to that space,” she explained. “That’s why I enjoy playing an intimate room. The audience is there — right there! It requires a different sensitivity to the space and the energy of the people in the room.”
Her vocal versatility has been her stock and trade as a background singer. As a solo performer, it can make for an adventurous show that hops from rock and soul to world music and jazz.
“We are kind of all over the map, but mainly it’s just songs that I like — songs that have been a part of my history, singing background with different artists,” she said of her repertoire.
What she learned over the years onstage, but not center stage, is that the music itself is always the star — no matter whose name gets top billing.
“I don’t look at myself as the lead singer or the leader of a band,” she said. “I guess I should, but for me that’s uncomfortable. Instead, I look at the music. For instance, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards or Luther Vandross — anyone I’ve worked for — instead of looking at them as being the boss, the music is really the boss for me. The experience is the boss. So I end up freeing myself from the heaviness of what a boss goes through.”
Her recent tours may be her first as a solo artist, but her decades as a background singer have prepared her for this moment. And, of course, after being a fly on the wall for so long, Fischer has some fantastic tales to tell.
“I didn’t know it was coming, so any time I sing I just do may best for the songs,” she said. “Looking back, I guess it prepared me to be able to tell stories in a colorful way, because of the palette I’ve been coloring throughout my career.”
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