Jackie Shane on LP

There's a strain of music collector that lives for the obscure, the out-of-print, the never-heard- of-it before.

Many are deejays—professional or only-in-their-minds. Whatever their status, they are the most dedicated crate diggers, content to spend hours laboriously going through boxes of 7 inch 45s, looking for their holy grail. Although garage rock fans are obsessed, it's the R&B fanatics who become most consumed. Finding that elusive, unknown, super cool jam that no one else has, drives them into basements, thrift stores and swap meets.

The market for rhythm & blues, from doo-wop to the super obscure disco-inflected bands of the '70s, was always driven almost exclusively by singles. Many artists never even came close to releasing an LP. A single was cut and released and if it didn't chart, the band was off the label and back on the streets. That process, however, makes for a seemingly endless litany of artists who released a couple of singles, disappeared and are now ripe for rediscovery.

Like most music fans who lean towards fanaticism, I can never say or write enough good things about Chicago's Numero Label. Intrigued by any deep dive into obscurity, they continue to release the most thoroughly researched, esthetically pleasing reissues of obscure American music. Best of all for audiophiles, unlike a lot of reissue labels that are content not to invest in remastering and don't try to get the best sound possible even when the sources are often less than pristine, in most cases Numero spends the time and money to teases out the best sound it can, often from 7" and LP transfers. While the sound of Numero reissues can still be funky, you can be assured that they at least recognized the issues and tried to improve on the sonics of their releases.

A prime example of this is their new and much-praised reissue package Jackie Shane: Any Other Way, which collects the extremely tiny recorded output of American soul singer Jackie Shane. While I was sent a CD, I was anxious to hear the LP, which I instinctively gravitate towards for better sound. After listening to a borrowed copy of the LP, I have to say that when it comes to LP-to-LP or single-to-LP transfers (there is no information in the liner notes so I'm assuming the masters are long gone), CDs still hold their own. The LPs do, however, have that legendary warmth that comes with needles and vinyl.

A man who identified and dressed like a woman, Jackie Shane was a breathy, impassioned, occasionally raspy singer with more than a few similarities to Little Richard's vocal gymnastics; Shane became a local star on the Toronto music scene in the 1960s. According to Rob Bowman's exhaustive liner notes, Shane wrote and arranged songs, going so far as to the contribute the distinctive horn parts to her only hit, a 1962 reworking of William Bell's, "Any Other Way." This two-CD or two-LP reissue contains 12 tracks that she recorded in various studios over the years—including "Any Other Way,"— as well as a 1967 live record, Jackie Shane Live.

Although she talks repeatedly in the liner notes about how much she likes money and always needed to get paid, in actuality Shane seems not to have been all that concerned about furthering her career and making filthy lucre. She declined acting jobs and even local television appearances. Offered a job in George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic universe, she politely declined because according to a quote in the liner notes, they "were too much."

She permanently dropped out of the music business in 1971 and was thought to have committed suicide or been stabbed to death in the 1990s—quite a pair of choices!—but was found alive, living in her hometown of Nashville, TN in 2005.

To answer the obvious question, the reasons why she fell into the obscurity from which she's just been rescued, seem to have been intensely personal. Living her chosen lifestyle in that era could not have been easy. More fame would only have exacerbated that problem. Also she was never managed or recorded by any A-list talent. The fact that "Any Other Way" was immediately followed by a weak single fumbled a golden opportunity.

And then perhaps there's the truth which lies in this quote from the notes to Jackie Shane: Any Other Way: "I don't want to put myself on exhibit. I don't let people see a lot of me. The less that people see of you, the more they want to see. If they see too much it becomes old hat."

COMMENTS
kana813's picture

If you like Jackie live, please check out Bryan Lee -Live at the Old Absinthe House Bar on Tidal Masters(MQA).

dalethorn's picture

Good find. I ordered the Any Other Way CD. I suppose there's little hope that this will ever be remastered with loving care for high-res downloads. Still, it gives me an extra degree of satisfaction to listen to this knowing the story, and how these recordings might not have been available today.

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