Los Angeles; An Interview With Candye Kane, Super Hero By Jerry Rosen

Posted on 9/03/2009 by Monica Yasher

Candye Kane is a blues “lifer.”  Ms. Kane has spent about twenty years as a professional touring/recording blues artist.  She has 10 CDs and has established an excellent international reputation.  In 2008, she was nominated for the National Blues Foundation Award for Best Blues Contemporary Female.  She was raised, musically, in the East Los Angeles area having played in the eighties with Social Distortion, Dave Alvin, the Blasters, X, Los Lobos and other East Side bands.  Her latest CD, Super Hero, on the Delta Groove label, debuted at #10 on the Billboard blues chart, which is a big deal for a blues release.  If you buy just one blues CD this year, you owe it to yourself to get Super Hero.  I have listened to this disc many times and it is an exceptional record. 

 One thing I don’t like about some contemporary blues CDs is that the song is secondary to the soloing.  Many blues CDs have over- the-top guitar and/or harmonica soloing and the vocals are just there to fill up space.  What made blues music so great, at its inception and throughout the fifties and sixties, is the heartfelt singing and the actual lyrics that spoke to the difficulties faced by the singers.  Ms. Kane is a serious artist who puts the songs front and center.  The lyrics have meaning; some are sad, some uplifting, and others are funny.  Furthermore, the musicians are there to support the songs and they do so with reverence for the genre.  Finally, Ms. Kane has a very distinctive vocal style.  Her singing is somehow both tough and sweet at the same time.  I know this sounds a bit contradictory, but you really have to hear it because my limited prose ability can’t do justice to her style.  Many blues singers have sort of an affected style; Ms. Kane has her own style.  In summary, this disc is a joy from start to finish.

 One highlight of the disc is the guitar work of Laura Chavez.  Ms. Chavez is a young guitarist who co-produced the CD with Ms. Kane, and is Ms. Kane’s regular guitarist.  I’m a hard-core blues type and I was blown away by Ms. Chavez’s work.  She is quite effective at supporting the vocals with chords and riffs and she plays with real taste and style.  Her soloing adds texture to the songs.  I read an interview with Jack White (of the rock group the White Stripes) where he takes a poke at blues bands by saying that most blues players are “note pushers” who only play in sports bars.  I won’t argue with this (having played in my share of sports bars, pushing notes), however, Ms. Chavez is no note pusher.  She respects the genre and plays with restraint and originality.  Her playing adds to the excellence of this release.  She definitely deserves to be recognized for her work and is a strong role model for any budding young blues/roots guitarist.  I learned a lot by listening to her.

 Ms. Kane is a survivor of pancreatic cancer.  This form of cancer is often a death sentence and most don’t survive.  She was diagnosed with the disease in February 2008 and, a year later, she was pronounced cancer free.  A number of songs on the Super Hero CD obviously reflect her positive attitude towards life and her upbeat outlook will help others.  This summer she has been on tour in Europe with her charity United By Blues Music.  She talks about this endeavor in the interview below.  I found her answers to my questions to be frank and informative.  She clearly spells out the problems faced by blues music and by blues musicians.  For more information see

Q: First off, let me congratulate you on the success of your new Super Hero CD.  It is a dynamite disc.  Can you tell us about the recent chart success you had with the CD?  Also, explain to the reader why this is significant for a blues release.

 A: This is my tenth CD and my first for Delta Groove. It debuted at #10 on the billboard blues chart and stayed there for three weeks. It is an awesome thing to know that DJS are playing the disc and enjoying it. It increases the downloads on it and makes everyone more money. It calls attention to the existence of the recording and hopefully piques interest and makes people buy the CD. It’s exciting because blues music is so often marginalized. You have to search to even find the blues charts in billboard magazine or online. The blues is not a mainstream music so it’s exciting when somebody out there is playing it on the air or on the Internet. I feel that we blues lovers have a responsibility to expose others to this music we love. Blues is such specialty music that you must be introduced to it by a friend or family member or perhaps you stumbles across it by accident at a music festival or bar. Most people don’t know what blues is and the line is constantly being blurred between blues and rock. So I am thrilled that a pretty much straight ahead blues record is getting attention. I think we really need to make sure that young people embrace and are educated about blues music. So make a CD of your favorites today and give it to a child or teenager. Explain how Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and many other huge stars were and are influenced by blues.  And maybe we can keep the torch going for another generation.

 Q: How is your current European tour going? High points? Low points?

 A: I am on tour now with my charity,  I am the music director and co –founder of UBM with Joris Wijngaarden. UBM is a wonderful project. I teach young people with disabilities about blues music and how blues music was born of severe oppression. You can read my blogs about it on Facebook and Myspace. I recently wrote a blog called “The Parallels between blues and people with disabilities.”

We just appeared in Dublin at the World Down Syndrome Conference. We featured two very talented down syndrome performers in our show. Sujeet Desai or Buffalo Ny played clarinet, sax and piano with our group. Haley Rehbock of Capetown South Africa was our co-emcee. In UBM, I teach disabled people how to write songs and find songs that give them strength to overcome their daily challenges. My positive affirmation songs are a good example of this practice. We audition people from all over the world and give them a chance to perform onstage with a big American blues band. It’s the most rewarding project I am involved in. I don’t sell many CDs or tee shirts here but I am so rewarded by the enthusiasm, sheer joy and growth of our UBM performers. Its amazing to witness native Dutch speakers singing and speaking a second language, English. It makes you wonder who really is the so-called normal person and how do you really judge or gauge intelligence.

 Q: People sometimes say that touring in Europe is more rewarding than the states.  Do you find this to be true?  Are there any differences?

 A: The main difference is that here in Europe, young people are allowed in bars. It is the biggest mistake in the USA that you cannot go to a bar to attend a music show with your parents if you are under 21.  I had a friend from Europe, a big blues fan, recently visit the USA with his 17 year old son and daughter. He went on a tour of the south and visited New Orleans, Memphis, Austin and Clarksdale. He was shocked and disappointed that his children could not attend any live music shows, even with their own father as a chaperone. We need to change the laws in the states so that parents can bring their underage children to bars to be exposed to live music, especially blues. The reason why the blues demographic is getting older and greyer is because of our punitive bar laws. Children are not exposed to the possibility of playing live music at a smaller level. They see American Idol or people like The Jonas Brothers and Brittany Spears on TV and they think that is the only way to make music. They rarely, if ever, stumble across blues and jazz before the age of 21 unless they are lucky enough to have blues and jazz music lovers as parents. In Europe, music and the arts are valued as essential parts of the culture. The arts are not marginalized here. Seeing live music is a family experience – not a luxury, a necessity.  I wish it were that way in the USA.

 Q: I notice you are on Delta Groove – which is a newer label that seems to be promoting their artists fairly hard.  Can you speak a bit about the label and what they have done for your career?

 A: Delta Groove Records is amazing. They do a wonderful job there and are just completely focused and hard working. The founder, Randy Chortkoff, being a musician himself, is so dedicated to the blues and to his artists. I have never been in such a supportive label environment. I am very lucky to be on their label.

Q: I have been following you on Facebook and it seems that you have been quite busy throughout the summer.  Is this a better time for touring? 

 A: The summer is always the best time for tours because of the weather and all the festivals.

Q: I found that some of the songs on your CD are somewhat personal.  Have some of these tracks been influenced by your recent health issues?  What type of message are you trying to get across to the public about fighting cancer?

A: Well, yes, Super Hero is very personal. The song itself, and several others on the CD are about my cancer fight. I wrote the liner notes about my struggle also and how lucky I am to be here. Pancreatic cancer is very deadly and people die sometimes within three months of diagnosis. I feel obligated to speak openly and candidly about my cancer struggle at my shows. I know I am a miracle. The fact that I was able to beat down pancreatic cancer is very inspiring to so many. My shows have become somewhat of a heal-a-thon where people come up afterwards and share their heartbreaking and sometimes inspiring stories of losses and triumphs over cancer. I cry a lot at these moments but am so grateful for the chance to tell my story. I am humbled when people feel so close to me that they share such deeply personal stories of loss and heartache. I feel like a healer. The songs have always been positive and personal but now more than ever, I think people want to hear my positive words and songs and are more open to the message.


Q: What is your opinion about the current state of the blues – is it harder to lead a blues band?  Is roadwork more or less difficult now than in the past? What are some of the differences?

 A: Well, again, as I said prior, the bar age in the USA is helping to grind live music venues and opportunities to a screeching halt. And as we become a more health conscious nation and the government talks about raising taxes on everything from obesity, junk food, soda pop, to beer and alcohol, this will have a long term, devastating effect on bar owners who are already suffering from a bad economy, stricter drunk driving laws, more stringent songwriter taxes (such as BMI, Sesac and Ascap.)

Bar owners hire DJs because they are cheaper to manage and you only have one ego to deal with instead of five musician egos. You can see the decline of live music when there is a line around the block to get into the disco and only fifty middle aged people in the blues bar next door. We desperately need to find a way to interest our youth in live music. The Internet has changed the way we experience music as well. Most youngsters’ first exposure to music is thru technology such as the Internet. They may never even see a live band until they are drinking age. And the internet makes it possible for any hack musician wanna be to make a professional looking CD product and flood the market with more mediocre music. Many of these home studio musicians and songwriters have no desire or resources to get a show on the road but their CD is on the desk next to the road bands who need to do this work to survive. It has become more competitive and more dire than ever. Very few bands are able to consistently tour unless they have a very good agent, a very good reputation and a source of income besides just the shows. I also see more hands out to get a piece of my income, from the guy making the t-shirts to the bars and festivals that charge an artist as much as 25% to sell their own merchandise. I recently played a club where they took 20% of my merchandise sales. That 20% would have paid for our hotel rooms that night, but instead it went to the club along with the cover charge and the bar and food sales. We were paid but we only have merchandise to sell in order to make ends meet. In the past, it was unheard of for a small club to take a cut of your merch but times are tough and everyone is cutting back. Again, this all goes back to the culture and our American view that music and the arts are luxuries. As long as this attitude is widespread and pervasive, it will have a negative impact on those who play live music to survive and those who present live music in their venues. The government also shows live music venues very little value or respect with the open harassment many bar owners deal with – crazy insurance rates, Alcohol enforcement, smoking fines etc. I am scared for the state of live music unless somehow, we can change the bar age restrictions and let young people in with their parents. Add to these already serious problems, the reality of free downloading of music and you have a lot of areas where we musicians used to be able to make a buck and cannot anymore. I used to be able to play a big festival and sell tons of product. Now at many festivals, there is already a record store there with a booth and they have stocked all my titles. I will still sit there and sign CDs because I want small record stores to thrive and prosper but its one more competitor for me and one less way for me to make money on the road. The free downloads of our CD, and CD burning also effects my songwriter royalty statements and all around, the money supply is dwindling or there are more people taking a cut. It’s a bit crazy.

 Q: Can you speak a little about running a band?  What are some of the issues that you have to deal with as a bandleader of a touring/recording band?

 A: I do the job of a road manager, tour director, driver and sometimes baby sitter. We all share roles like driver, merchandise handler, mechanic. Technology has made things a bit easier. Having a GPS, having XM radio, a laptop with wireless and having a cell phone helps a lot on the road and keeps my business going while I travel. I remember the days of searching for a pay phone to call my kids at home so the cell phone has really made life better.  Websites like price line and have changed my business too. We can stay in a nice hotel usually for the same price as the motel 6 or Econo Lodge so that helps everyone’s morale on the road. Sometimes being a bandleader is a bit like being a babysitter. You have to deal with alcohol and drug abuse from players and you have to be willing to fire people that you may really love but cannot work with when they are inebriated. You are like a family on the road but of course all of us know family members get on each other’s nerves. Its hard for me post cancer, to always find the healthy food I need so that is also a challenge out here. I just do my best.

 Q: I see that Laura Chavez played guitar on most of your tracks.  I found her work to be excellent and she seems to be well informed about the blues greats of the past.  You deserve to be commended for giving a newer talent a chance to shine.  How did you meet Laura?  Is she touring with you now?  What is your opinion of her playing?

 A: Yes. Laura is with me now and she is my best friend. She has been playing with me for over a year and a half and it was great to co-produce our new CD, Super hero together and write songs together. We hope to do more producing and songwriting together for other artists. We are constantly together and we have a great time on and off the bandstand. I am so lucky to have her and every night, playing next to her is just a thrill. She is so humble and plays from her heart with such emotion. I find my face hurts after a show because I have been smiling so much at her every lick. I feel lucky to have found someone who I click with on so many levels. I have Sue Foley to thank for telling me about Laura. Sue called me when my last guitarist, Heine Andersen quit and told me that Laura would be perfect for me. Sue has always been my favorite female guitarist and she knows I love simplicity in style and old school jump blues and swing. Laura never overplays and is always expressive and tasteful. And when we met, we realized we shared the same macabre tastes in skeletons, day of the dead, cemeteries and Tim Burton and Charles Bukowski. Laura also volunteers in hospitals and has worked a lot with sick children so she has a lot of heart and compassion when it comes to illness. She stood by me while I had cancer and is often the first to notice when I am ill or am having digestive issues. We take care of each other.  I was so happy when Vintage Guitar magazine said about her “she’s not a rising star, she’s already arrived!” I thought that was really cool.

 I am proud to feature Laura and don’t feel a need to be commended for that. I think all of us need to find a way to pull up the next generation of blues artists. Laura is just 27 and I recently had UK singer/songwriter Dani Wilde, who is 24 on some of my East Coast tour dates. I am honored to expose these amazing young women to new audiences. I feel a strong feminist alliance with other women in music and have always made it my mission to promote female talent as much as possible because I see the shortage of female instrumentalists. There is room for all of us to be successful and make music. The more we are inclusive and kind to others, the more good karma we create for ourselves. Plus I am constantly inspired and educated by surrounding myself with younger musicians. My son Evan Caleb is my drummer. He is 28 and he and Laura hang out together often. I learn about new music from them because I have a tendency to listen to music between 1920 and 1970. They know so much more about modern bands and they keep me in the loop about new bands and such.



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