I don’t feel too bad about not knowing who Jackie Shane is, because she’s mostly unknown outside of Toronto, where she had a brief career as a soul singer in the 1960s. But I do feel bad that I never heard her music before, because she’s truly one of the greats of soul music, with an especially riveting stage presence.
In addition to that, Jackie Shane was a pioneer of transgender rights. She was born in a male body but lived her entire life as a woman at a time when the word and even the concept of transgender was not widely known, understood or condoned. And to do so as a public person and stage performer 50 years ago!
This collection ought to go far toward bringing Ms. Shane’s artistry and life to the larger world. The first collection of her recordings released with her authorization, it includes all six of her 45 rpm singles — both sides of them — and highlights from her legendary live sessions at Toronto’s Sapphire Tavern in 1967. The liner notes — actually an 80-page booklet — have Ms. Shane’s story in her own words and there are lots of photos from her career and life. And what a story it is, growing up in Nashville with a strong personality and even stronger sense of her identity as a woman in a man’s body from an early age; and always being attracted to show business, singing gospel, the blues and soul as well as playing drums and more.
The studio singles have a rough, small-studio quality that lends authenticity to the proceedings, but in many of them Jackie and the band sound a little tentative. But whether she was more comfortable with the material or just more comfortable in front of a live audience, the 11 live tracks are astounding. It helps that she had an amazing live band, complete with a soulful horn section, but Jackie Shane is clearly the star here.
Here’s audio of the title track — the studio version, which reportedly was a hit single twice — but which is surpassed by the live version. You’ll have to take my word for it for now, or check it out on your favorite streaming service.
The setlist is brilliant, and includes a number of well-known soul songs from the era: “High Heel Sneakers,” “Barefootin’ ” “Knock On Wood,” and “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag,” to name a few. And she does a knockout cover of “Money (That’s What I Want)” that she makes completely her own (not surprisingly, because she always was serious about her own financial security), plus a slow, sensuous take on the ol’ standard “You Are My Sunshine” that just kills it. And that band!
Jackie Shane is the real deal. If you’re a fan of ’60s-style soul music, you’ll really enjoy this great collection. If you’re not already a fan, this just might make you one.
(Numero Group, 2017)