The Queen of Soul goes on the road with trunks of clothes, comes home with bottles of barbecue sauce and discovers things that still surprise her after all these years.
Like the frog singing "Respect" at the Cracker Barrel.
"It was on the front counter when I was leaving. I heard it and saw it," Aretha Franklin says from a New Orleans-bound tour bus. "I was surprised to see that, I didn't know anything about it. I was just surprised to see they were selling something like that. You squeeze his hand and he sings 'Respect.' "
She did not stock up for Christmas gifts. "I did buy one for my attorney though."
But she has procured "some of the best barbecue sauce you've ever tasted," from Gates and Sons Bar-B-Q in Kansas City, and from Lem's in Chicago. "I'm going to call and order a case of it," she says of the latter.
At 70, the groundbreaking singer - recently named No. 1 on Rolling Stone's list of "Women Who Rock" - travels at her own pace and enjoys the sights along the way. She averages about three shows a month, "that's it. That gives me really good time to take care of my home and take care of things that need to be done at home as well."
But she does not travel light for this excursion, which began with last weekend's Essence Music Festival at the New Orleans Superdome. Next up is Sunday's show in the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, before Los Angeles and a "Tonight Show" appearance on July 23.
"Listen I've never seen so many clothes, and so many gowns, trunks and wardrobes. Beaucoup clothes. I said, 'My God it takes a lot of clothes to do four concerts. ... Because I'm doing four in one stretch. So it takes a lot of clothes. Everyday things, along with the stage things, you just have to have a lot of clothes," she explains.
Franklin has been an occasional Las Vegas performer since her 1969 debut, which was also at Caesars Palace but in the bygone original showroom. "During that time I was doing a lot of one-nighters and was not necessarily a showroom-type artist. My presentation was not geared to that."
But she remembers the date fell a few months after that year's Academy Awards broadcast, where she was introduced by Frank Sinatra (who followed her at Caesars) and sang for Barbra Streisand, who made her own Las Vegas debut just two weeks later.
Franklin's health, and a surgery not explained in detail, were the subject of considerable speculation two years ago. She is still not overly chatty about the issue. "Stepping right along, not looking back," she says. "God is good. Feeling fabulous."
She is producing "a very radio-friendly" album for her son Eddie, scheduled for late fall. And next month, she goes back into the studio as a singer for an album overseen by record mogul Clive Davis, who oversaw a 1980s resurgence that included the big hit "Freeway of Love."
Davis is talking to a gamut of writers and producers, Franklin says, including Ne-Yo, Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, Will.i.am., Herbie Hancock and Wynton Marsalis. "Hopefully it will be finished, ready to go late September or October."
The singer also is fielding pitches for a movie biography, having met with directors Tate Taylor ("The Help") and Taylor Hackford ("Ray"). As for the star? It was previously reported that Franklin was impressed by Audra McDonald in "The Gershwins' 'Porgy and Bess' " on Broadway.
"Her sense of drama, I liked a lot. She was very convincing. She has the pipes," Franklin confirms. "Whether or not she could deliver in the soul arena is another question. She does Broadway beautifully, of course. So the question would be what she would do with a little bit of soul."
The movie would likely reach back to the beginning, when "I was on the first row in the junior choir" of her father's Detroit church.
The path took her to President Barack Obama's inauguration, and accolades such as the Rolling Stone designation - for 1967's "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You" album - never get old. "You never really get used to it. It's not commonplace. It's just always great. ... It's nice to know they're still enjoying it and they acknowledge that."
And she's still riding the freeway.
"I like surprises, you know? And I always try to have a few for my audience. I've got some of the most beautiful gowns coming, and the hits and some new songs. I'm bringing dancers this time; they're really hot. We are just coming to jam and slam."
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.