Joan Baez is the reason I sang and played guitar in my room for hours and hours ‘when I ‘was ten and eleven. The way she sang, the way she looked, the fact that she was Quaker and part Scottish and lived in California, just like me — well, I just fell in love with her. Then when I was 16 or 17, I bought Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You). You couldn’t miss the church in Aretha’s voice. I always listened to gospel radio, and I had been given a box of Ray Charles records when I was 11. But I’d never heard anybody like Aretha in my life. In her voice, you can hear the redemption and the pain, the yearning and the surrender, all at the same time.
I loved everything about her. I loved the way she looked, I loved the ache in her heart, and her sass. The other thing that impressed me was her piano playing. As a woman who sings and plays myself, that was not lost on me – the way she phrased around the way she played.
Because Aretha lives in Detroit and she’s kind of imperial and a bit shy, she doesn’t mix in social situations. We weren’t on the same label. So I didn’t have a brush with her until she did a TV special for Fox, a benefit for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis at the Nederlander Theatre in New York. We sang “A Natural Woman” sitting on stools, with Aretha in the middle and Gloria Estefan and me on either side — the young pups looking up to her. I’ll never forget – she touched my shoulder while singing, “Looking out at the pouring rain.” I almost fell off the stool.
The day before the show, at rehearsal, she just had day clothes on, her nails weren’t done, her hair wasn’t done all up. She had a mike in one hand, and she was eating a cheeseburger with the other. The rest of us were waiting to see what outfit she’d be in, because she’s quite the diva, you know. Yet she was cool enough to be filmed in the natch. She comes out of a tradition of great singers when you didn’t have to look like you were on Bay-watch. I hope I get to sing with her again.
This story originally appeared in the October 30th, 2003 “Women Who Rock” issue of Rolling Stone.