Since the mid-1980s, Candye Kane has been singing the Blues for the veritable Rainbow Coalition of fans that comprise her audience. She is a former adult model/porn star, a single mother, a self-proclaimed big, beautiful woman, an avowed bisexual, a cancer survivor and an unapologetic sexual, social and political free thinker. Kane can take a stand on any issue and tailor her show to whatever faction of her audience happens to fill the seats on any given night.
“I have a lot of size acceptance songs — ‘200 Pounds of Fun,’ ‘You Need a Great Big Woman to Show You How to Love,’ ‘Work What You Got If It’s a Little or a Lot,’ ‘Fit, Fat and Fine,’ ” Kane says from her San Diego home. “Then I have the age category — ‘Estrogen Bomb,’ ‘I’m Not Getting Older, I’m Getting Better.’ Then I have the sexuality-celebration ones and the plain party ones or the ones that are double entendre, like ‘All You Can Eat and You Can Eat It All Night Long’ or ‘Masturbation Blues.’ I kind of pick and choose from my catalog based on the venue and demographic of the crowd. Is it a gay crowd, is it older people, is it mixed families with children? I keep it a family show when it’s all ages. It’s just adaptability depending on the audience.”
Adaptability has been the key to Kane’s survival from the start. Abandoned by her father, her unbalanced mother taught her to shoplift at age 9. She was enrolled in USC's Junior Opera program at 11 and began playing in Country/Punk bands at 17. Kane’s “big life moment” came when she discovered bold Blues women like Big Mama Thornton, Etta James, Bessie Smith and Ruth Brown and set a course for Blues and Jazz. Since then, Kane’s rare ability to appeal to a wide cross section of the public and then tailor the show to the specific traits of ticket-holders has kept her in the studio and on the road for close to 25 years.
Of course, Kane has a slightly different take on the situation.
“Good luck, maybe, or the general population doesn’t have very sophisticated taste so they go for a hack like me. I don’t really know,” she says with a self-deprecating laugh. “Whatever it is, I feel honored and blessed to be around and deliver.”
Regardless of the audience composition, what Kane delivers night after night is a high octane, bad-ass Blues show. It’s no surprise that she doles out a lot of credit to her gifted band, featuring bassist Kennan Shaw, drummer (and Kane’s oldest son) Evan Caleb and her guitarist Laura Chavez.
“I still dress up in my fabulous feathers and costumes and try to give people an event,” Kane says. “The inclusion of my friend and tremendous band partner Laura Chavez really makes it a fabulous show. She's a curvy gal and a guitar dynamo; for guitar fans, she’s amazing. She has great guitar players like Kirk Fletcher and Nick Moss falling all over her. (Cincinnati-based) Jon Justice is a good friend of ours and he loves her. She’s got a host of her own fans now.”
Although Kane’s ninth album, Superhero, came out over a year ago, she’s still touring in support of the release (her Cincy Blues Fest appearance this weekend will be her first Cincinnati date since the album was released). And she’s got a handful of new tracks that she’s road-testing before going into the studio early next year. In that batch there’s at least one new song that’s as relevant and current as a BP press release.
“We have a new song that’s coming out on a compilation … featuring songs from a bunch of different artists about the spill in the Gulf,” Kane says. “We’re doing that (song) now. It’s called ‘You Can’t Take It Back From Here.’ ”
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Kane’s performances over the past two years is that she hasn’t softened her outlook on life following her frightening brush with mortality in the wake of her 2008 pancreatic cancer surgery and treatment (she’s cancer free, as of her last check-up, which are scheduled every six months). Nothing turns a visceral stage show into a maudlin weepathon quite like a near-death experience, but Kane has no interest in going down that path. She espouses a message of self-reliance and strength.
“I’ve always been a sunny, inspirational yet controversial figure because of my background,” Kane says. “I really feel like my message now about believing in your own internal strength is really relevant with so many economic and health challenges in the world we live in. We need to draw from what’s already in us and that’s hard to do, because people are waiting for an external source of strength. They’re waiting for the Messiah to come back, they’re waiting for God to answer their prayers. They’re waiting for another mortal to come along and save them — ‘If I could only get a girlfriend, I'd be happy,’ ‘If I could only get a husband, I’d be happy.’
“I’m not saying you shouldn’t believe in God, but we already have that strength instilled in us now, so why not tap into it and use it? Sometimes that doesn’t happen until you have a life crisis. I’m happy to push people toward it without the life crisis.”
CANDYE KANE plays the P&G Pavilion stage at the Cincy Blues Fest Friday at 7 p.m. Get details on Friday's full schedule and links to the Cincy Blues Society here.