Lenny Kravitz is a one-man army in the studio, a talented titan who typically performs all the instruments (guitars, bass, and drums) all by himself.
Not so on the road, where funk-master employs an ensemble of ace singers and musicians to recreate the rock ‘n’ soul heard on such now-classics albums as Let Love Rule, Mama Said, Are You Gonna Go My Way? and Baptism.
Kravitz and his crack players discuss the dichotomy—and their personal and professional relationships—on the new concert film Just Let Go: Lenny Kravitz Live, now out on Blu-ray and DVD.
“I love the studio,” professes Kravitz during the rooftop interview which opens the movie.
“That’s my canvas, that’s where I feel the most magic, but live is what it’s all about.”
Skilled as he may be, Lenny’s only got two arms and couldn’t play more than one instrument (while singing) at a time anyway. The Paul Dugdale-directed documentary examines how the man once known as “Romeo Blue” learned to relax over time, relinquish control, and assign various parts to his band members.
“So many performances today are on the computer, by the clock, over-choreographed,” he surmises.
“This is the opposite of that.”
Specifically, this is the 2014-2015 concert tour in support of Kravitz’ latest effort, Strut. And unlike most rock and roll pictures that either present a straightforward concert or a strictly behind-the-scenes cinema verite narrative short on live footage, Just Let Go juxtaposes concert cuts with clips of Kravitz and his cohorts relaxing on the road, cavorting backstage, and working hard at rehearsals.
It’s in these candid commentaries, fly-on-the-wall perspective, and exclusive look-sees that Lenny talks about his musical mission and his team mates reveal how they came on board—and evolved over time as part of his traveling lineup.
“I feel blessed to be surrounded by them,” gushes Kravitz.
“I have an idea of what I’m looking for, but I rely on God to present them to me.”
We meet (and get to know) the players in between hard-rocking, sweat-inducing readings of bona fide Kravitz hits like “Fly Away,” “American Woman,” and “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over” and devastating deep tracks like “Dirty White Boots,” “Dancin’ Til Dawn,” and Blondie-inspired disco-rocker “The Chamber” in Paris, New Orleans, and elsewhere, and discover just how down-to-earth they are despite their impressive skills and admirable studio CVs.
“New kids” Gail Ann Dorsey (bass) and Michael Sherman (saxophone) also chime in—and help milk maximum funk and soul out of “Strut,” “New York City,” and “Dig In.”
Longtime guitarist Craig Ross (he with the fluffy hairdo) reports meeting Kravitz while living with drummer Clem Burke (Blondie), whose then-girlfriend (The Go-Gos Kathy Valentine) arranged an audition. Ross concedes that Kravitz is a perfectionist who knows how to push his band to get what he wants, but also recognizes when to afford room for a little individual expression.
“This guy works hard,” agrees 22-year veteran Harold Todd (saxophone). “That’s inspiring!”
Backup vocalists Yahzarah St. James, Jessica Wagner-Cowan, and Erika Jerry recall meeting their “boss” one sweltering summer day:
“It was 90 degrees outside, and he had on black leather pants…a total rock star moment!” St. James laughs.
Other first impressions and initial meetings are shared by drummer Cindy Blackman Santana (drums), George Laks (keys), and Ludovic “Ludo” Louis (trumpet), all of whom concur that Kravitz always seems sure of “what he wants to do, and where he wants to go” with his music—and isn’t shy when it comes to doling out parts and dictating his expectations.
But Lenny also reveals his softer side: He explains the film’s Just Let Go title owes to none other than Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant, who observed how tense Kravitz was during early tours. The “Stairway to Heaven” icon advised the upstart to ease back on his people, try to have fun…and just enjoy the ride.
“I would stress over the details,” admits Kravitz.
“He really took it to me, and told me what I already knew. It was like having your dad yell at you! He saw I wasn’t enjoying the moment, and that wasn’t cool.”
Watch Strut” from concert https://youtu.be/excjzVW1crQ
The Grammy-winning retro-rocker has eased up considerably since his major label debut some 27 years ago—but that doesn’t mean he’s jettisoned his high standards. In between live performances, Kravitz insists that his supporting cast be well-versed in all styles (rock, reggae, jazz, funk, etc.) so they can render accurate versions of his genre-juggling studio favorites. In turn, this versatility informs their ability to improvise in and around the music—effectively creating fresh and exciting interpretations onstage.
“It’s like a lover, man,” says Lenny (with a coy smile) of coaching. “You learn what moves them, where to touch them to get something going!”
“We’re family,” he surmises, echoing a sentiment expressed by his underlings.
The camaraderie is on display in the horseplay and laughter seen and heard in the downtime footage: The horn players joke while shooting pool, the female vocalists bemoan their painful footwear, and Blackman Santana and Dorsey reflect on what it means to hold down Kravitz’ irresistible rhythms.
Lenny shines before his audiences, which—if we’re to believe Dugdale’s cameras—consist primarily of young females. Ross wails on an arsenal of axes that includes Gibson SGs, Les Pauls…and a see-through Dan Armstrong lucite guitar. Kravitz brandishes Gibson ES-335s, a Flying V, and—on the plaintive “Sister”—a shimmering acoustic.
Kravitz doesn’t take his stardom for granted, either, and expresses thanks to fans who chose to spend their hard-earned to buy his records and attend his concerts.
“You owe them everything you’ve got on that night. Whatever you have, you’ve got to give it to them.”
If only more musicians espoused Lenny’s work ethic.
Bonus features include unedited live versions of “Always on the Run,” “Sex,” “I Belong to You,” and “Let Love Rule.”
Amazon DVD http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B014V03CA4?tag=smarturl-20
Amazon Blu-ray http://www.amazon.com/Just-Lenny-Kravitz-Live-Blu-ray/dp/B014RDS6QA?tag=smarturl-20