Posted March, 2010
Sass Jordan. Have you heard of her? If you’re Canadian, you more than likely have. In 2003, she served as a judge on Canadian Idol. In July of the same year, at the Rolling Stones SARS Relief Concert in Toronto, Sass shared the stage with the Stones, The Flaming Lips, The Isley Brothers, AC/DC, Rush, and a few other of her “closest and dearest friends”.
She’s sold over a million albums world-wide and has worked with and/or toured with some of the biggest names in music including Alice Cooper, Van Halen, Joe Cocker (on the soundtrack from the hit movie, The Bodyguard, Cheap Trick and Aerosmith. State-side, she’s starred in the lead role of the Broadway production of Love, Janis. She’s also a winner of Billboard’s Best Female Rock Vocalist award.
In what little spare time that she has, she loves spending with the love of her life (Who also happens to be her husband. That usually helps.), Derek Sharp, lead singer for The Guess Who.
I view Ms. Jordan as one of North America’s best kept secrets that’s long overdue to be widely known. Having released seven albums since 1988, the state side release of her latest effort, From Dusk Til Dawn, will take place on March 16th.
Having had the privilege of getting to listen to this disc in advance, it was to my immense pleasure that Sass and I chatted by phone to discuss the project.
The conversation was literally less than 10 seconds old and I knew that I was really going to enjoy the conversation. She is a bubbly, engaging person to talk to. Her enthusiasm draws the listener in to anything that she wishes to talk about.
We started out talking about the nuances and vagaries of technologies such as Caller ID, airport security and the like. After several minutes of discussion, we concluded that Caller ID is both a blessing and a curse and that Airport Security is klugy, at best.
If we didn’t have an album to talk about, we would have, in all likelihood, solved world hunger. Perhaps on another day
Before we pursued the subject of From Dusk Til Dawn, I wanted to pass along a message from someone special: Sam Andrew from Big Brother and the Holding Company and music director for the play, Love, Janis, that Jordan starred in.
I had mentioned to Sam that I was going to be interviewing Sass. His comments echo many of those who have heard or worked with her: “Goodness! What a singer! This woman is home-fried, strong, comfortable . . . Hey! If she ever wanted to ever sing with Big Brother, well, that would be a lot of fun! All of the Love, Janis band – my band – the one I put together for the New York show at the Village Theater on Bleecker Street - they all wrote me that they all love working with Sass.”
Sass’s response was an awed and humbled, “Wow! It’s so wonderful to hear stuff like that!”
The reason this quote about Jordan is sincere is that her earnest, weathered, bluesy rasp has been compared none other than Joplin as well as to Melissa Ethridge and even The Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson. I can’t disagree with those comparisons but I’d add Bonnie Bramlett and Bette Midler (in “Janis” mode) to the list.
But here’s the thing: I believe when one listens to Sass sing, and you try to pigeon-hole her voice, you’ll quickly find that it’s darn near impossible. Why? Listening to her is like listening to a vocal hologram. Listening to her, I realized that I was saying to myself, “Wow! She sounds like Melissa! No, she just sounded like Janis! Wait, no! She just sounded like Bonnie Bramlett!”
Listen to her sing and tell me I’m lyin’!
When I shared this perception with Sass, she said, “Ironic! Because Bonnie Bramlett’s daughter (and former Fleetwood Mac vocalist), Bekka Bramlett, used to know each other years ago. Bonnie loved me, according to Bekka. She said, ‘My mom thinks you’re the greatest!’, which is amazing to me!
“There’s another ‘Bonnie’ who I absolutely adore. She’s one of my all-time favorites ever. If I was to ever say that I had modeled myself after anybody – a white female singer – which I DIDN’T, by the way! – I was all about the white MALE singers from ENGLAND! – and the female singers I adored, I didn’t have a hope in hell of ever sounding like because they were all black! But, anyway, the white one that I love, and to this day adore, is Bonnie Raitt.
“I think Bonnie Raitt – even though she’s done INCREDIBLY well – I STILL think she’s under rated! Isn’t that a stupid thing to say? She’s had many accolades and people do adore her. But, my god! She should be bigger than she is. She should definitely, definitely be ‘up there’!
“Then there’s another one that you might be aware of, much younger, of course. Her name is Susan Tedeschi. She’s really, really good, too! She’s married to Derek Trucks, the fabulous slide guitar player. They do stuff together. If you get a chance, definitely go check those two out!”
When Sass mentioned Raitt, I shared that I thought one of the songs off of From Dusk Til Dawn put me in mind of Bonnie’s I Can’t Make You Love Me, but from a different part of the “hologram”, so to speak.
She pipes in and shares some insight into the song. “It was actually an Eric Clapton song that made me want to write that song. But that’s what I do. You figured it out. I will go and listen to songs that I adored, and still adore, from the past, that put me in a frame of mind and into a ‘vibration’ and then go write my songs. “
When I injected that it’s that song coming through her, influencing her, mixing with her thought and musical “DNA”, and producing a song that is “her”, totally and completely, she adds with her infectious laugh, “That’s right. I could NEVER ‘knock off’ anybody. I can’t. I’d love to be able to say, ‘Hey! If I could do THAT, I MIGHT be wealthier!’ I never managed to do that but you’re so EXACTLY right. I have no problem whatsoever with people – People are like, ‘Wow! What about the competition? Don’t you feel that they’re going to outshine you?’
“I say, ‘No, I don’t! There is not another that is me!’ Just like there’s not another that is THEM. It doesn’t matter. It’s always going to have your unique footprint, fingerprint, whatever on it, because you’re a being all unto yourself. I mean, I know we’re all part of the same being but we’re different bits of it.
“It never expresses itself the same way twice, no matter what anyone says. You just feel it energetically. You relate to the resonance of that frequency or you don’t! I’m sorry if I’m sounding to ‘New Agey” there.”
Speaking of her song writing process (or, “pro sess”, as they pronounce it in Canada), with the exception of Tom Wait’s Ol’ 55, Jordan wrote all the songs on Dusk. Masterfully crafted lyrics and beautiful arrangements, she’s outdone herself on this one, folks.
With Dusk being Sass’s eighth solo project, I asked her what the similarities and differences were on this project as compared to the other seven.
“Well, it always has a different flavor and a different energy because of who you worked with on it – played with you on it, that kind of thing. That makes a big difference. On this one, From Dusk Til Dawn, that was done with a whole bunch of people I know up here in Toronto. REALLY great players – WONDERFUl players!
“We recorded all of the basic tracks in something like three days. It was one of those ‘get in and just focus, head down, plow, go!’ Overdubs and stuff like that were done over the next month after that. We mixed it in California with an old friend of mine.
“I can tell you more of what’s the same rather than what’s different. It’s a different time and a different set of songs so it’s going to have a slightly different flavor. One before it, one that I also really love, which is called “Get What You Give”, I made in Nashville with these incredible players as well but a whole DIFFERENT vibration. Much more ‘southern’, just that FLAVOR, that down home grit.
“The guy that played on the Motown stuff played bass on some of it. There were some incredible drummers and incredible guitar players. It was an AMAZING experience, too! But, it has a much more ‘we made it in a barn’ type of feeling to it. I love Nashville! It’s such a great music town, needless to say!”
I told Sass that I had four favorite songs on Dusk – two tied for first place and then two behind those. The top two are Awake and Love and Affection. The second set of two are Ol’ 55 and Stronger. I’m telling you, folks, if the album had been in vinyl, I would have worn the grooves off of these two songs.
Sass shares some of the stories behind those gems.
“When I went in to make this record, I wanted to make something that had a flavor of what I started out singing back in the 70’s. When I first started singing, we would sing in the park, me and a couple of friends who played acoustic guitars. Me and my girlfriend, Vickie, we’d sit in the park, smoke pot – actually, it was hash because we lived in Montreal! We were fourteen years old – I know, it was pathetic but it’s the truth – and we would play the songs of the day that we loved and we would learn to sing in harmony with each other. That’s how I started out.
“Eventually, we got good enough that people would say, ‘Hey, could you come play here, play there?” Then they started to pay us! That’s how the whole thing sort of started organically for me. The songs that were big back in those days – the Eagles; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Bonnie Raitt; Jackson Browne; Linda Ronstadt; - all of that kind of stuff that has that Southern California flavor. I wanted to tap in to that energetically, even if I couldn’t pull it off sound wise, although Awake, to me, is EXACTLY that. It sounds like Timothy B. Schmit (Eagles bass player) singing harmony on it. That’s really where I wanted to go.
“But there were also a couple of other things that I wanted to look in to on that record besides that Southern California thing. I wanted the overall flavor and then I wanted to add a little touch of that British Soul that I love so much.
“Somebody who is current, who’s out now, who’s a FANTASTIC soul singer in that British style, is James Morrison. I LOVE that kid! The song, Stronger, came from that line of reference. Awake came from ‘Southern California’. Ol’ 55 is obviously directly related to that.
“With Love and Affection, it goes back to 461 Ocean Boulevard by Eric Clapton. So, there, you have the British sitting in the heart of Southern California! All that stuff from the seventies. Those were the paint boxes that I was using on my canvas. That’s really where they came from.”
Continuing to describe From Dusk Til Dawn, Sass says, “I say the say the same thing every time (about every record). This record is really me going to back to how I started. Exploring the vibe, the feeling of where I was when I was starting.”
Earlier in the conversation, I described to her the philosophy behind Boomerocity wherein we don’t live in the past but wish to draw from the lessons learned during, and the positive vibe from, those times. She reaches back to that part of the conversation to further describe her work.
“It’s ironic because we were just talking about his earlier about your website, bringing what was good about the past into the present, but not living in the past, right? That’s really what it (the feeling of the album) is.
“I get my inspiration for what I do from so many different places; from the life that I’m actually physically living; from books and films; from talking to other people; from the way the moon looked when you’re looking at the stars the other night. Inspiration comes from everywhere - the feeling on the planet right now. Of course, it’s going through my filters, talking about how I feel about it.
“Things on the planet have sped up to such a frenzied place, not the least because of our technology – our extreme use of technology in everyday life. I think humans are trying to keep up with their own technology. I sound like a Sci-Fi nut! Ha! Ha! But it’s SO true! I’m of the group that believes that we’re waking up. There’s a huge awakening going on. “
I asked if there was any one or two songs that drew more reaction from the listeners than others.
“No, not really. I’m lucky enough to have really enthusiastic audiences. The difference is always if I’m doing an acoustic set or if I’m doing a full-on rock band set. If it’s a full-on rock band set, usually the stuff that will get the biggest reaction is the stuff that people know. That’s usually the way it is.
“I haven’t been playing a lot recently. It’s been a long time. I’m just getting back into it. Basically, that’s what I want to do this year. I just want to tour. That’s really where I’m at.”
So, folks, stay tuned. While Sass Jordan is lining up dates in the U.S., you can catch her acoustic set if you happen to be planning on attending SXSW in Austin, Texas, (March 12th thru March 21st). She’s scheduled for 1am, March 20th. Check out www.sxsw.com for more details.
Also, you will be able to buy her latest CD, From Dusk Til Dawn, on March 16th (and can order it and her other great work here at Boomerocity.com!). You can read my review of it by clicking here.
You’re really going to fall in love with this tremendous, perennially beautiful, Canadian talent. You really are!