GWEN McCRAE performing as part of BUMP N' HUSTLE at Roxy Blu (12 Brant), Friday (January 24). $14. www.hotstepper.com
Florida rare groove diva Gwen McCrae has seen her career bob up and down enough to know that fleeting fame is rarely worth the hustle.
She's gone from serious 70s soul threat, disco diva and funk shouter to utter obscurity before being rediscovered by British old soul revivalists in the late 1980s, and has also worked as a nurse and sung at parties and late-night dance-floor throwdowns for kids half her age.
But enough seems to be enough.
After a remarkable run as the voice of soulful floor fillers like 90 Percent Of Me Is You and Doin' It, McCrae's ready to pack it in. Her appearance Friday at Roxy Blu as part of the Bump N' Hustle seventh anniversary will be her final show in Toronto, as McCrae plans to give up music entirely and return to the church.
"This is going to be my last go-around, she confirms from her Florida home. "I'm tired of being jived with my money, I'm tired of being ripped off and shook down and stabbed in the back by people. It makes me wanna holler. I'm finished.
"I'm going to do my thing now and get back with God. I've earned my right to get what I want now. I don't ask for much, and people still want to cut me down. When someone like Aretha asks for something, she gets it, so now Miss Gwen's gonna have to get it, too.
"The church is where I'm headed," she adds, getting into to the spirit with a storming sermon on wayward youth and the importance of family. "The children are out there killing and robbing because no one's real now. The world needs to get back to the one, like James Brown said, and that's why I have to get back to the other side. I can bring the realness back."
It's not as though many in her home country would notice McCrae splitting the scene. Despite regularly selling out shows across Europe and the UK, McCrae's profile is distressingly low within the U.S. soul scene.
She might be leaving the music business, but the singer still has some strong opinions on why she's been ignored at home, dumping the blame furiously at the feet of contemporary soul music.
"What soul music?" she shouts. "I don't hear no soul, just a lot of people weeping and wailing. It's a shame, and there's just no place for me in that. I go to England, though, and there are people from Spain, Australia and Germany, all there to hear Gwen McCrae.
"I'm real, and you can't fool people no more. People spend a dime, they want their dime's worth. These singers now, especially the female ones, put out CDs with one good song on them. You've got to buy the whole CD for the junk, and that's just ripping and robbing. I ain't goin' out like that, honey."