Rolling Stones Back-up vocalist Lisa Fischer
plays the Berks Jazz Fest
By Rob Nagy
Lisa Fischer has spent decades as one of music’s most revered back-up vocalists. Lending her vocal talents to the Rolling Stones, Luther Vandross, Chris Botti, Chaka Kahn, Sting and Tina Turner among many others, Fischer continues to nurture her authenticity as a solo artist.
“I feel like my history with the Stones, Tina Turner, Chaka Kahn, I get to use all these different creative spices and experiences,” says Fischer, from her home in New York City. “I’m playful, experimental and I just like to have fun with the melodies and the songs.”
“I needed to do everything that I’ve done, playing with the make up, performing and the clothes, different stage settings, just everything that was part of the job requirement,” adds Fischer. “I thought to myself, ‘I don’t think I know who I am as far as who I want to be?’ It’s like everything I had been doing was usually someone else’s perception of what they needed and what they wanted to present which was beautiful but it was their vision. I felt like I just needed to take a breath and be simple and as natural as possible so that I could really not worry so much about who I was presenting. Who I am is who I am going to be. I think in a way that has really helped me build my own feelings about how I feel about myself visually and just the nakedness of that and the fragility of that and feeling honest and imperfect. It’s a lesson for me how to love myself as I am. It has been an interesting journey.”
Fischer rose to international prominence in 1991 with the release of her debut album “So Intense.” Yielding three Top 20 R&B hit singles including the 1992 Grammy Award winning single “How Can I Ease the Pain,” Fischer also won the Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. In spite of her newly found success there was no follow-up album release. Fischer chose to return to her role as a highly sought-after session and touring back-up vocalist.
Capturing the attention of film director Morgan Neville, Fischer was one of the principle subjects, which also featured fellow back-up singers Merry Clayton and Darlene Love in the Oscar winning documentary “20 Feet from Stardom” (2013). Highlighting the oral history of minority back-up singers in the music industry, the film won the Grammy Award in 2015 for Best Music Film.
In 2014, Fischer launched a solo tour fronting her own band, the trio Grand Baton. Travelling the world performing at festivals, clubs and concert halls, Fischer and Grand Baton have received critical praise and a fan following that continues to grow.
Forging a relationship with the Rolling Stones in 1989, Fischer joined the band’s Steel Wheels concert tour that same year. An electrifying stage presence and a fan favorite, notably in the songs “Monkey Man” and “Gimme Shelter,” she has performed with the band on their subsequent concert tours through 2015.
“What you’re giving is from your heart,” says Fischer. “A singer, dancer, musician, painter anyone who is in the arts I think they give from the heart, they really, really do. You want to make people happy. You want to share your joy and your heart ache and the pain and just everything through the music and I think it connects us all and it sort of makes any room that you’re in smaller, more personal according to how you do it and how open you are. Mick and the boys have a way of doing that. Making an audience feel that they are present and that they’re important.”
“Life is so crowded,” adds Fischer. “It’s noisy. There’s a million and one to do lists that you don’t want to do but need to be done and emotional stuff that’s going on. Just the stress of everyday living and trying to be OK so you’re constantly trying to balance that madness to the moment. When I get on stage, I don’t think about it at all. I think the music helps me when I call on it to help me. It calms me in another way being able to sing and being able to do a show is always a gift. It’s a focus, a meditation and a prayer and an angst, and a yell. It’s just so many things. It’s everything we need it to be according to what we need in the moment.”
Eager to capture their creative energy, Fischer and Grand Baton are working toward the culmination of an impending studio or live album that could be released later this year.
“No new release yet,” says Fischer. “We are moving in that direction. I think the biggest issue has been capturing the live energy. It’s difficult to capture that in the studio. I have to figure out how to best capture things and be alive as possible dealing with all the issues of sound. We also thought of doing a live album but again finding the right venue and how to record the sound, I’m thinking about it. There is so much you can’t control. It’s funny, you’ll be on stage and you think this would have been a good night to record but the moment is already gone.”
Possessing the talent, determination and being in the right place at the right time, Fischer is grateful for the accolades and opportunities that continue to define her career.
“I’m not only satisfied, I’m like shocked,” says Fischer. “You follow the path and you’re just thankful for everything that you get. Any tour, any job, any session, any experience that I get to sing is a gift. It’s not a given and I treat it as such.”
“I like to think of myself as someone who is trying her best to make the melodies come alive in a way that is unique for me,” adds Fischer. “I want people to feel a sense of peace. I want them to have melodies running through their head. And thoughts and impressions and things that help them dream.”
Lisa Fischer & Grand Baton perform at the Miller Center for the Arts / Reading Area Community College on Friday April 13, 2018 at 7:30 P.M. For further information and tickets visit www.berksjazzfest.com
To stay up to date with Lisa Fischer visit www.lisafischermusic.com