Wikipedia: Leonard Albert Kravitz (born May 26, 1964) is a Bahamian-American singer, songwriter, actor, and record producer. His “retro” style incorporates elements of rock, blues, soul, R&B, funk, jazz, reggae, hard rock, psychedelic, pop, folk, and ballads.
In addition to singing lead and backing vocals, Kravitz often plays all of the instruments himself when recording. Kravitz was born in New York, the only child of actress Roxie Roker* and NBC television news producer Sy Kravitz. Roker portrayed Helen Willis on the CBS sitcom The Jeffersons (1975–1985), half of the first interracial couple to be shown on regular prime time television. (Art imitates life as Roker and Sy Kravitz were an interracial couple as well.)
After moving to California for his mother’s role, Lenny became a fan of the Stones, Zeppelin, the Dead, Bill Withers, Miles Davis, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd, etc. “I was attracted to the cool style, the girls, the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle,” Kravitz said, echoing literally every other rock guy who has ever walked the face of the earth.
Lenny joined Beverly Hills High School’s music program (classmate with Slash), came right out of school and became a session musician. In 1986 he eloped with actress Lisa Bonet, moved back to New York and had a daughter Zoe, also now an actress.
Per the Guardian: “They rented a Broome Street loft in New York from a guy who used to play with Bob Marley. ‘It was still grungy there,’ Kravitz recalls. ‘Artists were squatting; people were held up [at] knifepoint.’ The raw, hippy guitar songs that formed his debut album poured out of him amid that bohemian life.
With no label, he recorded them in a cheap studio in Hoboken, New Jersey. He got out of the elevator in his apartment building after a session one day and wrote, ‘Let love rule,’ on the wall. ‘It was just something I thought,’ he says. ‘After passing it every day, I walked into the apartment and grabbed a guitar. Out came the song.'”
Kravitz had to record his own album as the geniuses at the labels told him his music wasn’t “black enough,” or “white enough.” (What the fuck does that even mean? How does any good music ever get released with the kind of clowns that pass for executives at these places? – ME). He shopped the album to a bunch of labels and eventually Virgin’s president chimed in and of Lenny’s music, intoned the following:
“Prince meets John Lennon.”
Ok, whatever. So by some miracle, the album Let Love Rule got released in 1989. (Ironically the 20th anniversary edition has a cover of the Lennon tune “Cold Turkey.”) Other than things like sax and viola, Lenny played most of the other instruments, wrote and produced the album. Kravitz definitely has a retro rock sound full of bluesy riffs, R&B, soul, etc. I remember him initially getting a lot of crap for not being original enough but well, I thought it was good stuff.
This is the title track which reveals Mr. Kravitz as somewhat of a 25-year old hippie wannabe. The song made its way up to Number 5 on the US Modern Rock charts:
Kravitz toured at various times as the supporting act for Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and David Bowie. Dylan called him out to play “Maggie’s Farm” one night. “I was scared shitless,” he advises. “I didn’t know the words.” He later headlined his own tour which brought him to the attention of Madonna with whom he co-wrote her bass-heavy dance tune “Justify My Love.” He has spent quite a lot of time since then denying that they had any sort of romantic relationship. (I would have totally lied about it and made up a T-shirt bragging about it. But I am immature like that.)
In 1991 Lenny – or as Madonna calls him, Leonard – released his second album Mama Said. AllMusic said this:
“Moving forward a couple years from the psychedelic fixations of his debut, Mama Said finds Lenny Kravitz in the early ’70s, trying to graft Curtis Mayfield and Jimi Hendrix influences to his Prince and Lennon obsessions.This time around, he synthesizes his influences better. It’s essentially a seamless record, with all of its classic rock homages so carefully produced that it sounds as if it could have been released in 1972.”
His old school buddy Slash co-wrote and plays on this guitar funkfest “Always On the Run.”
Just to give you an idea of this guy’s range, like Prince he not only plays and produces everything but can shift to different genres so fast it’ll make your head spin. “It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over” sounds like something Hall and Oates wishes they’d written. It’s a fine slice of Philly soul. But it’s also a song about his rocky relationship with Bonet. “I was trying to get my wife back with that song.” (Alas, they divorced in 1993.)
My (and a lot of people’s) favorite Kravitz song is “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” from the same titled-album. This song boasts a killer riff that I play all the time on the guitar. This is as about as good as rock song gets. It just kicks some serious ass and was everywhere on the radio back in 1993:
I won’t put every good song on here that Lenny did but I will jump ahead to the late ’90’s and offer up Lenny’s tough-ass version of the Guess Who’s “American Woman.” It was always said that the original 1970 song was the band’s kiss-off to America for its involvement in the Vietnam War, among other sins.
Burton Cummings who wrote the lyrics later said, “What was on my mind was that girls in the States seemed to get older quicker than our girls and that made them, well, dangerous. When I said ‘American woman, stay away from me,’ I really meant ‘Canadian woman, I prefer you.’ It was all a happy accident.” Heh. Canadian women are, one supposes, nicer, eh?
Lenny, now a guy in his Fifties but still a smokin’ hot rock star, hasn’t had a major hit in a while but is still very much out there. He’s toured and opened for Aerosmith, played a gigantic concert in Rio, acted (Precious, Hunger Games), played the Super Bowl with Katy Perry and even found time to get engaged to Nicole Kidman! (Spoiler alert – didn’t last.)
Lenny has won a bunch of awards including 4 Grammys and – get this – is an Officer of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Its purpose is the “recognition of significant contributions to the arts, literature, or the propagation of these fields.” (In a major oversight, they’ve yet to recognize the valuable contribution of music bloggers to French culture. Mon effing Dieu.)
For the last tune in this sixpack I leave you with “Fly Away” from his fifth studio album, 1998’s elegantly titled 5.
Lenny Kravitz is touring South America soon and then on to Europe. Be there or be square.
Sources: Wikipedia; The Guardian
*Roxie was third cousin to American TV weatherman Al Roker making Lenny his third cousin once removed.