Updated @ 9:49 a.m. - Last week we noted how That Eric Alper had drawn our attention to Rock-A-Bye, a little known documentary about the Canadian music scene commissioned by the NFB in the early 60s.
This week we draw attention to a CBC radio documentary about '60s cross-dressing soul singer Jackie Shane, produced by Elaine Banks and David Dacks.
A little known-about figure outside of Toronto’s early R&B scene—in an era when Robbie Robertson was an unknown and Ronnie Hawkins could fit in size 32 pants, for a brief moment Shane took the city by storm with his performances at the Saphire Tavern at 20 Richmond St. E. (now the Confederation Life building), often backed by US trumpeter Frank Motley and his Hitchhikers. With Dionne Warwick-like good looks, Vegas-style shows and a voice that was the very definition of sweet soul music, he cut an impressive figure on stage. His recorded legacy is small, but most of what he recorded has been transferred with care for the doc I Got Mine: The Story of Jackie Shane.
Banks and Dacks hit a blind alley in trying to find Shane's whereabouts when they made the show in 2010, but subsequently it has been found out that Shane has become a shut-in living in Nashville where it is believed he was born. He started off playing the chitlin circuit as a female impersonator opening for acts like Etta James. According to one story, a chance encounter at Montreal's Esquire Show Bar circa 1962 landed Shane the lead vocalist spot with Washington, DC's R&B Jazz outfit Frank Motley & The Motley Crew who had found a sweet spot in Toronto as Frank Motley & The Hitchhikers. An aside to the story has Motley learning the rudiments of trumpet playing from Dizzy Gillespie and developing a novelty technique of playing two trumpets simultaneously, thereafter being known by the nicknames of ‘Dual Trumpet’ and ‘Two Horn’ Motley.
Shane became a sensation in Toronto, packing nightclubs of the time such as the Zanzibar, Club 888 and The Blue Note, but he didn't limit himself and frequently took his choreographed show into the US. While at an engagement in New York, he caught the attention of Henry 'Juggy' Murray, owner of Sue Records, who at one time or another boasted The Righteous Brothers, Lee Dorsey, Jimmy McGriff, and Ike & Tina Turner on the label. His first single for Sue was also his first charted record, a cover of William Bell's "Any Other Way", distributed through Phonodisc in Canada where it landed the #2 spot on the then mighty CHUM Radio Chart in the spring of 1963. It remained in the charts for 20 weeks with a second version featuring a lyrical rewrite that included the lines, "Tell her that I'm happy, tell her that I'm gay/ Tell her that I wouldn't have it any other way". Bell's version of the song was also a 1962 Billboard hit for American R&B singer Chuck Jackson.
Shane went on to record a series of singles for Sue, including Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)", "I've Really Got the Blues", "Any Other Way", "In My Tenement", "Stand Up Straight and Tall" and, in 1968, the album Jackie Shane Live that was one-part CanCon and recorded for Oshawa-based Bob Stone's Stone's short-lived Caravan Records. After that, Shane pretty much disappeared from sight. Footage of his performing at the Saphire appeared in Bruce McDonald's 2011 documentary television series, Yonge Street: Toronto Rock & Roll Stories.
As the Sixties rolled into the Seventies, Shane's style of music fell out of fashion and bookings became slim. Although he continued to tour, he drifted out of the scene after returning to the US and briefly touring with other R&B-based little big bands led by the likes of Charles Brown, Amos Milburn, and Johnny Jones & The King Casuals.
For awhile it was widely rumoured that he'd died a violent death in Los Angeles, when in fact he had moved from Toronto, eventually retiring from music all together and returning to Nashville.
During the 2000s, Bruce McDonald's TV doc and Elaine Banks and David Dacks' 2010 radio biography brought Shane's contribution to the Toronto music scene back to light, around the same time that compilation albums from various artists featuring Shane started surfacing on different labels. Shane's sole live album from 1968 was re-released in 2011 on Vintage Music, wrongly titled Jackie Shane Live '63.
The 1968 live album resurfaced again shortly after as All the Singles Plus the Concert on Cookin' Records, with the sequence of the live tracks in different order, which sparked at least one bootleg album, but again mislabeled as being from 1963. In 2011, Cookin' also released Soul, Singles, Classics that featured the singles plus a few previously unreleased tracks.
In 2015, the Polaris Music Prize committee shortlisted Jackie Shane Live as one of the nominees for the 1960s-1970s component of its inaugural Heritage Award to honour classic Canadian albums, but the recording lost out to Joni Mitchell’s internationally famous 1971 album, Blue.
- Sources: Elaine Banks, Gerry Lincoln, Erin Sheehy, Doug Chappell, Google and personal recollections. Please note earlier version of this story applied a wrong picture.