Candye Kane

Candye Kane
Candice Louise Kane, known to the world as Candye Kane, is a self-described cabaret blues singer, and her live shows are legendary, singing her heart out from a lifetime in the school of hard knocks — dysfunctional childhood, raised in East Los Angeles gang culture, an unwed mother by the age of 17, working briefly in the adult entertainment industry — and the will to overcome all obstacles. Kane dresses the part for her shows, often bedecked in bright coloured feathers, sequins and rhinestones. Kane’s eighth CD, Guitar’d and Feathered, is newly released on Germany’s Ruf Records, and is produced by the Muddy Waters Blues Band veteran Bob Margolin. Each track features a guest guitarist — a who’s who of the contemporary roots blues scene — including Sue Foley, Dave Alvin, Kid Ramos and Bob Brozman. This CD will finally establish once and for that Candye Kane is not simply a novelty artist and deserves to be treated seriously as a blues musician. Her current touring band includes her eldest child, Evan Caleb, on drums. Her second son, Tommy Yearsley II, played Hammond B3 on Guitar’d and Feathered. On her first tour of central and eastern Canada, Kane chats about music as a career and being a parent.

When parents don’t live a conventional lifestyle, there’s often an implied criticism that your kids aren’t going to turn out okay. Did you ever have this assumption thrown at you?
Oh yeah, I got that criticism. I’ve been touring on the road since about 1992, when my first record called Homecookin’ came out on Antone’s, and I’ve pretty much been on the road ever since. I waited until 1992 because I had a son in 1988 and he was just too little for me to leave, and wasn’t old enough to understand what I was doing. I used make these little calendars for him and draw pictures of where I’d be every day, so there’d be a picture of him playing baseball, and it would say, "Tommy’s playing baseball, Mom’s at the Eiffel Tower.” At that time I was married to Tommy Yearsley, the bass player for the Paladins. The kids always had a parent at home, either Tom or me. I would go on the road and the Paladins would be at home, and then the Paladins would be on the road and I’d be at home. But we didn’t have each other very much and that’s probably why the marriage dissolved after 14 years. Our kids were raised in musician-centred families; there were always musicians sleeping on our floor. My oldest son, Evan, who’s now my drummer, got piano lessons when he was a kid from Katie Webster, Marcia Ball and any piano player who happened to be in town. My other son, Tommy, who’s now 18 and plays piano and trombone, is heading off to Hofstra University in Long Island to be a music major. He jammed onstage with Brian Setzer when he was three years old. Both my kids are really awesome people and amazing musicians. Because of music, my kids were able to travel so by the time they were ten years old they’d been to Greece and Italy and Australia; it was a rich, culture filled life for them. I think you can juggle parenthood and doing what you love, you just have to find creative ways to do it.

Evan is touring with you and was part of the recording sessions for Guitar’d and Feathered. You’ve said that if he weren’t good enough, you wouldn’t be using him in your band or to record. How do you treat him compared to the rest of the band?
I think it’s important for him to know he’s good and not just here because he’s family. It gives him not only the confidence in his own ability, it helps him to realise he needs to perform a job. I’ve always used studio musicians up until this recording because they tend to save you time and money. When you’re in the studio you don’t want to have to go back and fix mistakes, you want to be able to record things as perfectly as possible on the first or second take. In the past, I’ve used some very good drummers like Ritchie Haywood from Little Feat and Jeff Donovan, who played for years with Dwight Yoakam, so Evan had some big shoes to fill. At first, he wasn’t really ready and was a little shaky but he’s been with me about three years now, he’s 27 years old, and he’s doing a wonderful job and shown that he’s grown as a musician. My bass player, Bill Stuve, who played for 30 years with the Mighty Flyers, is a real veteran and having him there helped Evan improve his chops quickly. It’s a lot of fun having him out there, he watches my back, and I have to say, he keeps me in check sometimes, he’s my decency gauge. I am a little unconventional as a mom and there are things that I say that might be a sensitive topic for other people. I’m kind of desensitised in that way, so he’s a really good meter of what is okay and he’s always saying, "Mom, did you have to say that? I think you should change this part of show. I don’t think you should do this song anymore.” I think he longs for me to be taken seriously as an artist. He knows the toll it’s taken on our family life, the price I’ve paid being away and the price he’s paid when I was gone, and he wants me to get the credibility that he feels I’m not getting. You know, I’ve won Best Blues Band at the San Diego Music Awards the last seven years but I’ve never been nominated for a Blues Foundation Award. This is even though I’ve released eight CDs and been touring for over 15 years.

Why do you think you haven’t received that credibility and been taken seriously as an artist?
I’m not really sure, I think it’s very political, and there are a lot of reasons that I could speculate about, but rather than do that I’ve just tried to make quality records. I have done things my own way; I haven’t catered to blues clubs or blues societies necessarily. I’ve played gay bars and rockabilly festivals and clubs for fat women and men that like fat women. I’ve built an audience that’s comprised of the disenfranchised, of people who felt like they didn’t fit in any normal, easy societal niche. So I’ve really built my own audience and because of that, I’ve experienced longevity and been able to travel pretty much year-round and worldwide without the support of the Blues Foundation and mainstream blues people. But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss it or notice that they’re not there, it’s just that I’m not dependent on them to make my career successful. Perhaps that’s a double-edged sword; perhaps they realise I’m not dependent on them therefore not part of the clique. I also think it has a lot to do with who’s running the show at blues societies and the Blues Foundation. It tends to be white, middle-aged men and my show really speaks to women. It’s about female empowerment; a lot of my songs are about body image, loving your body and survival. "The Toughest Girl Alive” is one of my songs that have been very popular with women; "200 Pounds of Fun” and "You Need A Great Big Women (To Show You How To Love)” too. A lot of my songs are "…work what you got, whether it’s a little or a lot…” these kinds of songs give women a lot of power and confidence, and they’re not necessarily speaking to white-middle aged guys running blues societies. When I went to the Blues Foundation Awards this year in Memphis, I noticed that all of the nominated musicians are friends of mine, and if you look at my records, I’ve had Charlie Musselwhite, Marcia Ball, Kim Wilson on them; I think if the musicians had something to do with nominating each other and voting for who they really like that’s doing it, the results would be a lot different. But because it’s people who aren’t really out here doing it, their perspective is a little bit different than if you’re in the trenches with us. That’s my perspective and you know it’s fine. I’ve had a wonderful and rich career and I’m blessed to be playing music at all. I feel lucky to have a colourful, diverse audience that’s not just middle-aged white guys. My music brings in all kinds of people who might not otherwise have been exposed to the blues, people who might not realise they can love the blues. The blues today has tended to be a little bit misogynist, white male, homophobic. I think that the blues speaks to people who are oppressed, and whether that oppression comes from being a gay person or a transgendered person, or whether it comes from being a fat person in a skinny world, or from having a disability — whatever the oppression comes from, the blues can really speak to people who are experiencing that kind of division. It’s something that most blues artists aren’t really reaching out to. I did a tour last year in the Netherlands for special needs, young adults, an American Idol kind of show but it wasn’t mean, there were no losers, everyone wins and the prize was that they got to sing with my blues band. I had brought over a big band with a horn section and it was really a lot of fun. The kids sang with me and I got to coach them — it was an extremely gratifying experience to do it and these kids, who are living with disabilities every day, really embraced the blues where they had never thought about the blues medium before because these were young kids who were only exposed to music they see on MTV. For the first time, they were learning that the blues came from serious oppression and from people who were trying to make music in often terrible circumstances, just to get through their day with some kind of dignity. By my making up holler and response songs, the kind that first gave birth to the blues that we know now, I think there’s an obvious relationship between people who are oppressed and dealing with oppression today. That’s exciting to me, and when people come to a show, I often say if you like this song "My Country Man” and you like the way I do it, check out Big Maybelle’s version of it, or if you like the way this song addresses a sexual issue, check out Memphis Minnie and some of her songs about prostitution and street-walking. That’s really educational and helps people find their way in a diluted music world.

Politics and the contemporary blues scene at times seem to be a world apart; the industry is generally very conservative and plays it safe. You’re talking about making a connection between the society we live in and music you make. What do you hope achieve by making these connections?
Let me say that I don’t just think it’s the blues that’s run by white, middle-aged men, there are all kinds of mainstream corporations and other music genres that are run this way. I’m not saying that white, middle-aged men can’t make wonderful contributions to music but it does tend to be exclusionary for those of us who fit outside of that norm, whether it’s because we’re not white, middle-aged, a man, or that we lead alternative lifestyles in some way. I’d like to see a kinder, gentler blues world and I’m creating my own as I go and that’s okay with me.