Lenny Kravitz has been a major fixture on the rock music scene for 25 years now. His infectious combination of elements of rock, soul, glam, funk, psychedelic, and an array of other genres has helped to spark what has been an incredible career filled with tons of great music. Kravitz plays modern rock with a retro vibe; undeniably cool and also in touch with the great traditions of music that have come before him. This year, he will be performing at the Bottlerock Napa Valley festival along with some other amazing acts that include Florence and the Machine, Stevie Wonder, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Lumineers, Rodrigo y Gabriela and more. All are compelling reasons to check out the Bottlerock Napa Valley festival, and there are plenty more of those, but Lenny Kravitz’s scheduled performance would have been reason enough.
As a high school student, Lenny Kravitz was enamored with Prince and decided to become a rock and roll musician modeled on Prince’s sound and image. Since purple was already taken, Kravitz adopted the color blue, calling himself “Romeo Blue” and even wearing blue contact lenses. However, Romeo Blue failed to secure himself a record contract, and he would ultimately abandon the “blue project” and the obsession with Prince. Instead, Kravitz dove head-first into classic rock of the 1960’s and 70’s. Musical heroes at this point included Curtis Mayfield, fellow Bottlerock Napa Valley performer Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and, of course, The Beatles. With this entire new musical profile, Kravitz was able to score a deal with Virgin Records and his career hasn’t looked back since.
Recently, Lenny Kravitz was deeply saddened to learn of the death of his early influence and mentor, Prince, who just passed away on April 21. The two had been friends since they met in 1990. “I still haven’t really recovered,” Kravitz recently said to Rolling Stone magazine. “Not to be dramatic or overly sensitive, but I really feel like a piece of me died.” Kravitz first heard Prince’s music in 1979 when he listened to the song “I Wanna Be Your Lover” on the radio. However, it wasn’t until the following year that Prince became something of an idol to Kravitz when Prince released the album Dirty Mind. It opened Kravitz’s eyes, ears, and mind to hear Prince wailing away on his guitar, and it inspired Kravitz to want to rock the instrument in a similar way. (Read more about Prince on the Joe Bonamassa Official Blog here.)
The Facts on Lenny Kravitz
Here are some interesting tidbits about Lenny Kravitz that you might not have known:
Lenny Kravitz went to high school with fellow musician and guitarist Slash of Guns N’ Roses, and also movie star Nicholas Cage. Kravitz’s single “Always on the Run” featured a guest spot from Slash. No word on Kravitz’s favorite Cage movie but we would love to know.
When Kravitz was five years old, he was taught how to play piano by none other than jazz icon Duke Ellington. Talk about learning from the best!
He owns the Abbey Road Studios Redd 37 recording console used by The Beatles. Hey, some people collect vintage guitars, others collect recording consoles.
Movie star Angelina Jolie auditioned to star in the music video for Kravitz’s song “Stand by My Woman”. She was not cast in the role. Regrets?
Lenny Kravitz owns an organic farm in Brazil. We’d love to try some of their produce!
The Songs of Lenny Kravitz
Here’s a rundown of some of our favorite Lenny Kravitz tunes:
1. Always on the Run – Though released by Lenny Kravitz, “Always on the Run” was co-written by Kravitz and his former schoolmate Slash. Slash had intended to record and release the tune as a Guns N’ Roses track, but drummer Steve Adler couldn’t play the drum part. As a result, Slash gave the song to Kravitz to release, and the two collaborated on the studio recording of the number. A heavy funk-rock tune, it features a crying solo from Slash and is accented with punchy horns. The song is driven by Kravitz’s impassioned, energetic vocals.
2. It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over – This song features one of the best string parts ever playing the main riff – unbelievable! The tune was the second single from Kravitz’s sophomore effort Mama Said and draws heavily on the retro soul sounds of Motown, Philly Soul, Curtis Mayfield, and the band Earth, Wind and Fire, whose “Phenix Horns” section handles the horn parts on the song. The title and lyric of the song is inspired by the famous Yoga Berra quote. The number is Kravitz’s biggest Billboard Hot 100 charting track, reaching all the way up to #2 and only being topped by Bryan Adam’s adult contemporary tearjerker “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”. It also made it to #11 on the UK Singles Chart.
3. Are You Gonna Go My Way – This tune is all about that absolutely smokin’ hard rock guitar riff. Lyrically, the song deals with the ills of the world and Kravitz’s bid to build a more peaceful one, as he sings:
So tell me why we got to die
And kill each other one by one
We’ve got to love and rub-a-dub
We’ve got to dance and be in love
But what I really want to know is
Are you gonna go my way?
And I got to got to know
The song was the first single released from Kravitz’s third album of the same name, which charted at #12 in the U.S. and hit #1 in the UK. The song’s boistrous music video won an MTV Music Video Award and the song garnered Kravitz two Grammy nominations including one for Best Rock Song. The song reached #1 on the Album Rock Tracks and #4 on the UK Singles chart.
4. Just Can’t Get You Off My Mind – “Life is just a lonely highway
I’m out here on the open road
I’m old enough to see behind me
But young enough to feel my soul”
Kravitz sings on the emotional ballad “Just Can’t Get You Off My Mind”. The song was the third single released from Kravitz’s 4th album Circus, and although it didn’t see a ton of action on the charts, it certainly has stuck with us. Circus broke the top 10 on the U.S. albums chart and rocketed all the way to #5 on the British one, helping the album to go gold. This is a song you’ll have trouble getting off of your mind after you listen.
5. Rock and Roll Is Dead – This was the first single released off of Circus, and it’s a lively rocker. Kravitz sings with scathing criticism of a superficial, empty, modern rock and roll scene and the inauthentic lifestyle that goes with it:
You can’t even sing or play an instrument
So you just scream instead
You’re living for an image
So you got five hundred women in your bed
Rock an Roll is dead
But it’s real hard to be yourself
When you’re living with those demons
In your head
As a rejoinder to Lenny Kravitz, his idol Prince issued a follow-up song with the title “Rock ‘N’ Roll Is Alive (And It Lives in Minneapolis)”, which he released as a B-Side to the single “Gold”.
With any luck, Lenny Kravitz will help ensure that rock and roll is alive and well at this year’s Bottlerock Napa Valley Festival.