We caught up with Candye Kane recently to discuss her battle with cancer, her love of the Blues, her newest CD and several other things she has on her plate.
Blues Blast: OK, your health is the 800 pound gorilla in the room, it’s probably been over talked, but people still want to know how you are doing. So how the heck are you ? —- how much are you touring these days?
Candye Kane: I am still touring full time – about 250 days per year. I love singing and feel blessed and honored to be playing music. I am not happy unless I’m singing. Even if I take a vacation, which rarely happens, I end up singing karaoke or sitting in. My ex bf got so mad because he took me on a new years eve cruise one year, and I had to sing karaoke. Pretty soon, people were recognizing me and at midnight on new years, a bunch of fans came up to hug me. He yelled at me “I took you on the cruise to get you alone and you have to attract a crowd everywhere you go!!! “ I didn’t mean to ruin the cruise for him! I just HAVE to sing. People tell me to slow down but I live for music and am only happy when I’m singing. Plus with a kid in college (my youngest is a music major and a senior at UC Berkeley), I have to keep working as much as possible. People tell me to slow down but work is my life. I want to be singing the day I die.
As far as my health goes, its been three years since my cancer surgery. So far I am cancer free although I have been having some bouts of pancreatitis recently. God willing, I will stay cancer free. But I live each day to the fullest. Each record I make could be my last. Each trip to Europe or every show I do, might be the final one so I try and make every moment count.
BB: Your last release ‘Super Hero’ was about your battles and triumphs over the many adversities you have faced both recent and some in the past, but it also played as a paean for the ‘every person’ all of us. Did you expect it to resound so well with the audience?
CK: I think every song and each CD is a personal journey. You can’t make art, and shouldn’t make it, expecting people to like it. You must do what is in your heart and hopefully it will speak to someone else. Writing songs with empowering lyrics has changed my life. I was fed a constant diet of debilitating words from the time I was a little bitty girl and then throughout my life, like so many of us, was told I wasn’t good enough, thin enough or talented enough to succeed. When I sing super hero 250 days a year, it makes me feel stronger. Most of the songs on super hero were deeply personal and I just shared them with the public because I was given the chance to do so. I am honored and shocked when anybody likes what I do.
BB: Have you found your ‘tribe’ here within the Blues Community ? I seem to have for sure. — How did you find ‘the blues’ ?
CK: I started out as a hillbilly and pop singer. I was inspired by what I heard on the radio as a girl – and that was Carole King, Linda Ronstadt and Carly Simon. Through them, I discovered Hank Williams, Sr. and Patsy Cline and through them discovered Kitty Wells, and the Carter Family. Because of songwriters like Roger Miller and Harlan Howard I learned to really value songwriting and became obsessed with good writing. My first bands and first experiences with the record business were in country. I yodeled, played rhythm guitar, wrote songs and had a hillbilly band. We shared bills in punk rock Hollywood with the Blasters, X, Dwight Yoakam and Los Lobos and got a record deal with CBS Epic in 1986.
The 80s in Hollywood were super inclusive and you could see all kinds of music on one bill. I miss those days when you could see diverse music in one show on one night. I ran across Joe Liggins and the Honeydrippers when they played at a friends wedding in Malibu and started sitting in with Joe and his band. I would go to some rough neighborhoods in Compton to sit in with Joe.
He was a great pianist and could play all kinds of country and rockabilly – from Ray Price to Big Joe Turner. He was the bomb. Eventually I met and married Thomas Yearsley, bassist from the Paladins and moved from my East LA home to live with him in San Diego. For the first time, exploring his blues vinyl collection, I heard Elmore James and Howlin’ Wolf and it gave me goose bumps the same way the Louvin Brothers had, the first time I heard them. I started collecting blues women and because of the Paladins and all of their road miles, I learned how to run a road band. I opened for them in Austin at Antones and met Susan Antone, Clifford Antone’s sister. We hit it off and she encouraged Clifford to sign me to Antones Records. Cliff loved my songwriting and put me in blues school. He took me under his wing and introduced me to Stevie Ray Vaughn, Hubert Sumlin and my new label mates, Kim Wilson, Marcia Ball and Lou Ann Barton among others. I was studying and sitting in with the best musicians in the live blues music business. It was a dream come true.
BB: Speaking of tribes, tell me a little about your experience at the Blues Music Awards? What was it like as a ‘fan’ of the blues to be there?
CK:For years it felt like I wasn’t accepted by the blues community, even though I have been touring full time since 1994. I think the blues is such underground music, they really want to be taken seriously. I have a good sense of humor about myself and wrote some songs that were silly like “Masturbation Blues” and “All you can eat and you can eat it all night long.” I saw similarities with what I was doing and with what Memphis Minnie, Julia Lee and Saffire – the uppity blues women were doing. But the blues people weren’t too keen on a girl with a checkered past who was playing piano with her breasts and singing songs about sexuality. I think they were afraid of me – so for my first eight cds, my audience was mostly rockabilly kids, fat girls, men who liked fat girls, gay people and porn fans.
I have only started getting attention and praise from the blues community in the last few years, since my first record for RUF. I had already made three albums for Antones, and been on Discovery, Sire/London, Rounder, etc and no one in the blues world paid me any mind. Some of the hardcore blues venues that have been in business for decades, only booked me for the very first time in the last year.
Working with the great Bob Margolin on the Guitard and Feathered CD really changed things for me and helped my credibility with the blues people. I think his acceptance and love for me made the blues people take a second look. I love coming to Memphis and being in the same room with all my friends whom I have known for years like Charlie Musselwhite and Rick Estrin. They always loved and accepted me. It just took the blues fans and club owners a bit longer to catch on. Some are still slow to budge from their stereotypical assumptions about what I am about. (And as you know, I’m still trying to convince Roger Naber that I am a blues artist now and remind him that its been years since the days I played western swing at the Grand Emporium in Kansas City!) But I am super grateful and glad to be part of such an amazing community now and feel accepted by almost everyone. I still shake things up now and then by wearing my doll-head dress or speaking out about legalizing prostitution, but overall I feel really vindicated to finally be included after so many years of hard work.
BB: Who were some of your musical influences?
CK: My biggest blues influences are Etta James, Big Maybelle and Johnny Guitar Watson. Other singers I admire and emulate are Kay Starr, Patsy Cline, Little Jimmy Scott and Mildred Bailey. I also love songwriters like Lowell George, Saffire – the Uppity Blues women, Dave Alvin and Rick Estrin.
BB: You currently have a play about your life being put on out on the west coast. Tell us about it – how did it come about – how is it doing – heck, who plays you !
CK: The Toughest Girl Alive was drawn from my Memoir of the same title. I plan on publishing it by the end of this year. It was adapted to the stage by the head of the San Diego Ballet, Javier Velasco and starred Bethany Slomka as all the female characters in my life (my mom, Courtney Love etc) and Rob Kirk as all the male characters in my life – (Dwight Yoakam, Gene Simmons etc) I play myself in the play. I tell a story and the actors chime in as we act out different scenes. The play features snippets of 23 original songs of mine and we were just accepted at the New York City Fringe Festival where we will be performing it from Aug12-28, 2011. The San Diego Critics Theatre Guild voted it Critics Choice, beating out several Broadway Plays. It was sold out every night. It was a challenge singing and remembering two hours of dialogue but it was the greatest experience of my life and I cant wait to do it again!
BB: OK here’s a good one ….Tell me about ‘Sister Vagabond’ your new release that you are just finishing up. Please give us some dope on it.
CK: Sister Vagabond will be released August 16th on the Delta Groove Label. It’s my second cd for Delta Groove and my twelfth release. I am writing you from Thunderbird Analog studio in Oceanside now where I am listening to Laura Chavez rip on her guitar solos. Laura has been playing with me for three years and she is just amazing. We write great songs together and really have a great time working together. We produced Superhero and we are also producing Sister Vagabond. I found Laura when Sue Foley told me to hire her. Sue has always been my favorite guitarist and Laura far exceeded my expectations. She is just a fireball of talent and only 29. My ex husband, Thomas Yearsley is engineering the cd and it features some awesome guests like Nathan James and Steve Hodges from Mavis Staples band. But mostly it is our live band with Kennan Shaw on bass and Paul Fasulo on drums. Some highlights include a remake of Brenda Lee’s, Sweet Nothings and of course, a bunch of Kane/Chavez originals.
BB: Candye, what else would you like to do?
CK: In addition to touring the world, since 2005, I have been involved as the co-founder of an amazing charity called United by Music. UBM is a non-profit organization where we mentor people with disabilities and teach them how blues songwriting and performance can change their lives. It has taken me to the World Congress for Down syndrome in Cape town, South Africa and in Dublin, Ireland.
We have just started raising awareness about UBM here in the USA. Our Northwest division is spearheaded by Barbara Hammerman in Tacoma, Washington who has been a KBA recipient. We have recently enlisted musicians – Kenny Neal and Karen Lovely to help us and will start conducting auditions in the Northwest to find disabled people with talent to perform at the Waterfront Blues Festival in 2012. We would love to one day see UBM become as big as the Special Olympics and give people with disabilities world wide a chance to strut their stuff onstage with so-called able bodied, able-minded musicians and teach them how the blues can give them power and self esteem. www.unitedbymusic.org.
Interviewer Chefjimi Patricola is a classically trained chef, blues loving writer and creative master of Blues411.com. He can also can be found on FaceBook and at festivals and clubs in your neighborhood and town.