- Jackie ShaneIt’s Just, “Yes Ma’am, No Ma’am”
Jackie Shane is not an easy person to interview.
She was one of the greatest soul artists of the 1960s. (“The greatest singer who ever lived,” says Skippy White, dean of the Boston soul scene over the last half century or so.) Designated male at birth in Nashville in 1940, she openly began to identify as female as a preadolescent, and quickly established her own fluid identity, evolving into a no-nonsense, fuck-you-pay-me stage presence that remains shocking well over a half century later. It could not have been easy. As she says in the middle of her most famous recorded mid-song monologue, from “Money (That’s What I Want),” recorded at the Saphire Tavern in 1967, “It’s fatiguing being a Jackie Shane.” Throughout her career, Shane was likened to Little Richard, a comparison she dismisses with varying degrees of humor and disgust depending on her mood. In reality, her combination of raw vocal talent, wit, glamor, and overall mystique is without comparison. (“I wasn’t to have siblings. What could you bring forth after me?”)
Shane found a career and relatively safe haven in Toronto. The acceptance she was shown there was a revelation, and Jackie considers the city home to this day. For a variety of reasons best summed up in the voluminous yet tantalizingly incomplete liner notes to the recent collection of her work, Any Other Way, Shane left the business in 1971. She settled first in Los Angeles with her mother, Jessie. They moved to Nashville in the late ’70s or early ’80s, and Shane has lived there since. (Jessie Shane passed in 1997.) Over the years, Jackie’s legend grew and rumors proliferated. Many said she was dead; some said she’d been murdered. All attempts by writers and fans to make contact were met with dismissal until shortly after the CBC ran a radio documentary by Elaine Banks entitled I Got Mine: The Story of Jackie Shane, in 2010. A British listener named Jeremy Pender heard the program and felt inspired to strike up a telephone friendship with Shane, whom he’d seen perform in Toronto in the late ’60s. I learned the gist of her story in 2013, and thanks to Pender managed to wrangle an introduction in early 2014. Although we’ve spoken on the phone at least weekly since then, I’ve still never met Jackie, and wonder if I ever will. When I arrived at her doorstep in the summer of 2016 with a contract on behalf of the Numero Group record label based in Chicago, she wouldn’t come to the door or window, and scolded me for the invasion of her privacy. (Revisiting my notes for this article, I’m reminded that I [End Page 30] found and returned a lost pair of her eyeglasses in the tall grass.) But she did sign, and this most challenging of projects, entitled Any Other Way after Jackie’s biggest hit, came to fruition in late 2017.
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Jackie hates interviews but loves to talk. Apart from conversations leading to the liner notes, she has agreed to just seven interviews to date, starting with the New York Times, and most recently made her first radio appearance on Sveriges Radio (Sweden Public Radio)—after passing on an opportunity to speak with Terry Gross for Fresh Air. We decided that the easiest thing would be to look at and discuss photos from the liner notes. The following interview is condensed [End Page 31] and edited from approximately three hours of concentrated discussion, along with another four or so of digression, argument, pleading, and laughter.
Let’s start with the cover of the album (fig. 1). As you know, we engaged in a little digital trickery here to move the poster down behind your head because it reads “Shayne” instead of “Shane” because we didn’t want to confuse people with that misspelling.
It’s not a poster, it...