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Mary J. Blige, Steve Vai, Travis Barker and more take on 'Stairway to Heaven'

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Pop & Hiss was privy to a top secret recording session Tuesday night involving a supergroup of sorts covering one of the most recognized songs in rock history: Led Zeppelin’s classic “Stairway to Heaven.” The players? Soul queen Mary J. Blige on vocals, guitar god Steve Vai and his pop protégé Orianthi on rhythm and lead guitars, respectively, Travis Barker on drums and “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson on bass, with producer Ron Fair (Christina Aguilera, Pussycat Dolls) handling piano, the arrangement and all-star recruitment. The track’s destination: Blige’s 10th studio album, due out later this year.

“What people don't know about me is I've been a rock 'n' roll fan for years,” Blige said after wrapping her 17th vocal take at Capitol Records Studio A. “I loved soft rock as a child. I'm full of this stuff, naturally.” She also had one massive international hit with a rock song, a cover of U2’s “One,” which Blige performed with Bono on the 2007 Grammy Awards, but it never had the same success stateside that the single saw in Europe.

Still, ever since the collaboration, it’s Bono who’s been pushing Blige to embrace her inner rock star, so blame him if you hate the concept. “Some people might consider it blasphemy, but Mary’s voice really is a nice match [for the song],” said Fair. “Robert Plant’s high-pitched blues thing is right in step with Mary's vocal range, and she brings the soul music to it, which is what Plant was going for in the first place.”

Indeed, Blige had no trouble hitting “Stairway’s” sweet spots and making its boldest moments her own, but she was also keenly aware of not just replicating the original. “You approach it as yourself, you don't try to be the artist,” she said.
That sentiment was echoed by the various players in the room, who found themselves strangely star-struck by one another. In one corner, Jackson sang the praises of Blige (“She can do anything, Mary is the truth!”), in the other, Orianthi was admiring Jackson and “what a monster bass player he is,” while Blige was ogling over Orianthi, whom she remembered seeing in "Michael Jackson's This Is It” movie. “What a surprise it was for Ron to bring her here,” said Blige. “I really love how she plays.”

Because the track was recorded backward, with the drum-heavy second half finished before the four-minute acoustic first act, Barker was out early, around 5 p.m. And amazingly, though they only started working at 3 p.m., the mostly live recording was pretty much finished by 7 p.m. “This is how records used to be made, and I love it,” said Orianthi, who also participated in Monday’s “We Are the World” remake. “Everyone comes in, you do your best, put everything into it, and by the end of the day, you have a song.”

This one, she said, was simply “magical.”

-- Shirley Halperin

Photo: From left to right, Steve Vai, Ron Fair, Mary J. Blige, Randy Jackson, Travis Barker and Orianthi
Credit: Andrew McLeod

Comments () | Archives (12)

Excelente!! Steve Vai y Travis Barker juntos con otros mas tocando Escaleras al cielo!!

WoW! .. Secret Tunes! :)'s

Way to go Mary! and way to go to Bono for pushing her to "embrace her inner rock star"...more of this is needed for many modern day musicians out there.

"his pop protégé Orianthi"

That should be "protégée" - she is female after all (same thing as 'fiancé' and 'fiancée')

Not that I consider him an authority (I actually consider him a bit of a windbag) but I heard David Foster on the radio the other day and he said there are two songs that nobody should ever cover - because they are so closely linked to the original artists that nobody should touch them - "What's Going On" and "Stairway To Heaven".


Any thing for money now a days.

Steve Vai playing Stairway should be neat to hear. Go to YouTube; Kung Fu TV - Into posted by creative location. Interesting discussion there to see if that old theme from a 1970's TV show sounds like Vai's masterpiece that he sells autographed scores of; For the Love of God. The people there are asking Steve or a real music expert to comment and say if they are the same or not.

Maybe someday the master Jimmy Page will release the other 2 solos he recorded the night he recorded the Stairway solo we're all heard over the years. He did it on a Telecaster! I'd buy any signed score that Jimmy wants to sell!!

Just happened upon this off a link on Vai's web site. Jonathan needs to do a little research on Vai's credentials. He is, actually, a "musical expert," as he puts it. I listen to all kinds of music, and play a little as well. While I do not consider myself to be an "expert," I know if someone is; after I know the facts. Jonathan shows himself to be an "expert" only in his own mind. I encourage him to know the facts before making such negative comments; it only serves to make him look quite foolish.

Mr. Strong, I went to that website and the individuals there are asking for either Steve Vai - fabulous player - or a musical expert to comment. I doubt Steve Vai is going to comment on that site, so perhaps Mr. White was just repeating what the readers there are asking for, which is for a real music expert to render an opinion instead of the posssible ramblings of people who are not experts. I didn't get the impression that he was abusing Mr. Vai. The melodies sound, interesting, and I'll leave it at that. I love Vai's playing and I didn't get the impression that there was even one negative comment by Mr. White, let alone 'comments'. My 2 cents.
Jim Harrison

Me thinks Mr. Strong protests too much and unfairly and in the wrong direction. I remember the Kung Fu show as a kid in Chicago, grasshopper, they sound alike to me too.

I am looking forward to hearing the new Stairway to Heaven recording and hearing what the 3 remaining (sadly Bonzo rest in peace) Led Zeppers have to say.

Bobby B.

Can't leave well enough alone. Ugh. No thanks.


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