CANDYE KANE at the Silver Dollar (486 Spadina), Friday (July 13), 9:30 pm. $18. 416-763-9139. Rating: NNNNN
Like a bold and brassy modernday version of Big Maybelle, the vivacious Candye Kane is among the most beloved performers on the contemporary blues circuit.
Kane plays more than 250 house-rocking gigs a year showcasing her sassy style of barrelhouse belting and provocative cabaret crooning, but her playfully daring displays have always been a little too hot for the blues establishment's conservative segment to handle.
You'd think anyone familiar with the music of Bessie Smith, Big Mama Thornton or even Dinah Washington would appreciate that Candye Kane's boisterously bawdy side is precisely what connects her to the long line of badass blues women of the past. But apparently, many are not amused by Candye Kane classics like the heavily downloaded Masturbation Blues.
Outside of her San Diego home base (where Kane's snagged the best-blues- band hardware at the San Diego Music Awards seven times), the singer gets no props from many of the self-styled keepers of the blues tradition. The Blues Foundation has never presented her with a W.C. Handy Award.
"I've actually never even been nominated for a Blues Foundation award, not once," clarifies Kane before a show in Idaho, "And that's after touring for 15 years and releasing eight albums, while artists like Javina Magness and Ana Popovic have put out one or maybe two records and won awards.
"I don't want to sound like I'm complaining," she adds. "I've been fortunate to play amazing roots music festivals around the world, and due to my colourful past, I often play Gay Pride events, the Hookers' Ball in San Francisco and concerts for NAFA (National Association for Fat Acceptance) and other big-girl groups. I've always played to the so-called fringe audience, the disenfranchised people who live outside the norms of society, because that's who I am."
Knowing that Kane's albums are often recorded with respected blues players like Kim Wilson, Charlie Musselwhite and Junior Watson, you have to wonder if there isn't more behind the cold-shoulder treatment.
It could have something to do with that "colourful past" - Kane's single mother days working in the sex trade to support son Evan Caleb, who now plays drums in her band - or perhaps her brush with country music when she hung out at the Palomino Club with Jim Lauderdale, Rosie Flores and Lucinda Williams.
Kane has her own theories.
"Earlier this year I went to my first Blues Foundation Awards and had a wonderful time. But I realized the organization isn't run by musicians. If it were, the right artists would be nominated; instead, it's run by middle-aged white guys who think they know what's good and authentic. There's a lot of politics involved, and I haven't been willing to play the game.
"The fact that I write and record songs like Masturbation Blues doesn't sit well with some, even though my songs are true to the tradition of songs like Copulatin' Blues and Street Walking Blues.
"Presenting a big, strong and sexy persona is what the blues is all about, but to some, that makes me a novelty act."
What's most intriguing about Kane's new Guitar'd & Feathered (Ruf Records) disc, produced by former Muddy Waters sideman guitarist Bob Margolin, is not the well-publicized presence of six-string slingers Sue Foley, Junior Watson, Dave Alvin, Kid Ramos, Popa Chubby and others; it's what's missing.
Conspicuously absent are controversy catalysts like Let's Commit Adultery, along with those salty numbers loaded with double entendres. Also gone are the playful showstoppers like (Hey Mister) She Was My Baby Last Night and unapologetic size celebrations like Big Fat Mamas and You Need A Great Big Woman - essentially Kane's bread and butter.
While Guitar'd & Feathered seems like a direct appeal for blues establishment acceptance, Kane may lose some important core support in the deal.
"The reason I really tried to avoid songs with any kind of innuendo or sexually provocative content is not because I'm giving in," she insists. "I'm just tired of seeing articles that begin with 'porn star turned singer' and then discuss how I play piano with my breasts. I want to be taken seriously as a singer and a songwriter.
"I've had songs in movies and on television and received loads of e-mails from women saying my song The Toughest Girl Alive saved their lives. It'd be wonderful if the blues community knew that and realized that I can bring people to the blues - fat women, lesbians and drag queens - who didn't even know they liked this kind of music."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Candye Kane argues that many key players in the blues world presenting themselves as tradtionalists aren't supportive of the blues tradition.
Currently Candye Kane is putting the final touches on her memoires, The Toughest Girl Alive, and she has other plans.