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NEW YORK (Billboard) - Best known for her '80s-era pop hits, Cyndi Lauper veers off in a new direction with "Memphis Blues."
Out Tuesday (June 22) on Downtown Records, the album is a big change from 2008's dance-oriented "Bring Ya to the Brink." The set features 12 classic blues covers, recorded in Memphis under Lauper's direction with such legends as Allen Toussaint, B.B. King and Charlie Musselwhite and veteran Stax Records session players including Lester Snell and Skip Pitts.
Lauper spoke with Billboard about her vision for the album, her new record deal and her recent appearance on Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice."
Billboard: After all these years as a pop star, why did you decide to record a blues album?
Cyndi Lauper: Years ago, I had a dream that (jazz pianist) Oscar Peterson came to me and said, "You know, Cyn, I really like your version of (Marvin Gaye's) 'What's Goin' On' (from her 1986 album, "True Colors"). Then he just looked at me and said, "I think you should do some old songs, and make them modern, the way (Janis) Joplin did." So for years, I've wanted to go back and make a blues record.
Billboard: What were your priorities for the recording process in Memphis, to create the record you wanted?
Lauper: It was a very big priority that we walk in and play live. This album was all about the moment and what happens when the groove is exact and the key is right. It's like a portal into another time and space -- that's what music in its purest sense does, and it's the basis of what I learned all my life.
Billboard: After being on Epic for so many years, you've struck a deal with indie label Downtown. What drew you to the imprint?
Lauper: Downtown founder Josh Deutsch is a blues aficionado, and I also wanted to be part of something new. Now I own my own music, and I say no more compromises ... In my life I know I've said all the wrong things to the right people. I spent a career doing that because I felt trapped -- I just wanted to be free and to create.
Billboard: Why did you do "Celebrity Apprentice," and what did you get out of it?
Lauper: I did it because I wanted to promote and bring awareness to the fact that gays and lesbians are still denied basic civil rights. I raised $45,000 for the True Colors Fund, half of which I got from the sales of ("Celebrity Apprentice" makeover subject) Emily West's single "Blue Sky."
Billboard: Was there anything negative about your experience on the show?
Lauper: It was very high school, how they treated me. Sometimes they would all turn their backs and talk amongst themselves, and I was really like the outsider. But I'd do it again. I just got a message that (fellow contestant and series winner) Bret (Michaels) left on my machine; he said, "I just wanted to tell you, you're really loved and I thought you were great. Rock on!"
Billboard: Do you have any upcoming TV or film plans? Will you at least be making the TV rounds to promote the album?
Lauper: I'm going to try and weasel my way back onto (Fox crime series) "Bones." Tell them why I think they need the psychic to come back. I'm also going to do 'Regis & Kelly' -- I've just got to take a five-minute song and cut it down to two minutes. That's going to be a miracle. But I can do it. I'm a professional.
Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters