Sass Jordan has always been a blues singer. It just took her 40 years to realize it.
“I was very slow on the uptake. As usual,” the high-spirited Canadian rock queen cracks, bursting into raucous laughter. “It was one of those things that’s so dang obvious you just can’t see it. But yeah, the blues has always been a huge part of my life. It’s a big part of what I grew up with. It’s been there through my entire career. People have always said, ‘You’re so bluesy.’ And it’s true. My singing is blues-inflected. My songs use blues-type licks. If you listen to my album Rats, it’s totally blues-based. I didn’t do any of that on purpose. It isn’t contrived. It’s just me. So it’s always been there. It just took me this long to decide I could finally do it for real. Or at least do my version of it.”
Her version arrives in raw, earthy style on the magnificent Rebel Moon Blues, coming out Friday, March 13th on Stony Plain Records. Produced by D# with Sass, it’s the Juno Award-winner’s ninth studio album and first release in nearly a decade. More crucially, it’s also a watershed that charts a new course in Jordan’s musical voyage while tracing her love of the blues back to its source. All killer and no filler, the eight-song album — “We did that so it’s perfect for vinyl,” Jordan explains — features the inimitably raspy rock goddess jubilantly celebrating the songs, sounds and styles of everyone from old masters like Willie Dixon, Elmore James and Freddie King to younger, louder guns like Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher. Along with the classic covers, there’s also Jordan and Sharp’s new tune The Key, which she freely admits was influenced by another idol: Tom Petty.
Nailing down the crate-digging set list — which includes Dixon’s standard My Babe, Taj Mahal’s update of Sleepy John Estes’ Leaving Trunk, Gallagher’s interpretation of J.B. Hutto’s Too Much Alcohol, Moore’s ’80s landmark Still Got the Blues and the Allmans’ iconic take on Elmore James’ One Way Out — was both a labour of love and a trip down the rabbit hole. “I wasn’t following any formula. I knew they had to be songs I loved and could really sink my teeth into. They had to be songs my band would sound good on. I also wanted to have harmonica in there, because I love harmonica. That was another big deal for me. And finally, they had to be songs that were not completely unfamiliar. So it was insanely challenging. And I found some pretty wild stuff while I was researching! But I finally narrowed it down to seven songs I absolutely love.”
It shows. Rebel Moon Blues was cut off the cuff and on the fly at Toronto’s Canterbury Music Company studio in just three fast-paced days, with Jordan and the Champagne Hookers — her touring band of guitarists Chris Caddell and Jimmy Reid, bassist Derrick Brady and drummer Cassius Pereira, augmented by blues harp master Steve Marriner and keyboardist Jesse O’Brien — all playing live in the same room at the same time. “The energy is so different when you’re playing it live,” Jordan says. “It’s a different frequency, a different vibe. It’s very joyous. You can hear a lot of us laughing on there. I love that kind of thing. It’s like you’re right there with us. We’re there, we’re live, and we’re having a blast, baby!”
And no changing the lyrics either. “To me, what makes these songs fresh, besides our energy, is that it’s a female doing traditionally male stuff. One Way Out has been done a million times, but I’ve never heard it done by a woman. I’ve never heard My Babe done by a woman, which doesn’t mean they don’t exist, just that I’ve never heard them. And I sing the lyric the way it was written … If the singer’s singing about, ‘My girl,’ I sing, ‘My girl.’ That’s what puts the icing on the cake. I like approaching the songs the way they were written. I find that not messing with the original gender is particularly relevant in today’s climate. It’s great that we can get away with doing that now.”
Of course, smashing barriers is nothing new for Jordan. Born in Birmingham, U.K and raised in Montreal, she’s been making her own rules since she picked up a bass at 17. Ten years later, she launched her solo career with the single “Tell Somebody” from her 1988 debut of the same name, which garnered national acclaim and helped earn her a JUNO for Most Promising Female Vocalist in 1989. She’s earned three more nominations for Best Female Vocalist thanks to albums like Racine (1992), Rats (1994), Present (1997), Hot Gossip (2000). Get What You Give (2006), From Dusk Til Dawn (2009) and her side project S.U.N.’s album, Something Unto Nothing (2011) — along with singles like Make You A Believer, You Don’t Have to Remind Me, Sun’s Gonna Rise and 1992’s Trust in Me, a duet with Joe Cocker from the record-selling Bodyguard soundtrack. Jordan also starred in the off-Broadway Janis Joplin show, Love Janis, performed The Vagina Monologues in Winnipeg and Toronto, guest starred on NBC’s Sisters, and of course, weighed in as the only female judge on Canadian Idol for all six seasons beginning in 2003.
Bottom line: She’s been there, done that, and seen it come full circle. In 2017, she released Racine Revisited, recreating her sophomore album with an all-star cast for its 25th anniversary. This year, Rats celebrated the same milestone with a coloured-vinyl reissue. “It’s surreal,” she acknowledges. “When you hear 25th anniversary, you’re like, ‘WTF?’ I don’t really remember the person that wrote them. I’m not that person now. But then it passes. Because it’s another day! It’s now! And I have more fun now than I’ve ever had. My voice is better now than it’s ever been. I can hit notes that I never could before. I feel the exact opposite of a lot of people. I feel the voice gets better with age. Hell, everything gets better with age!”
Not surprisingly, she’s less concerned with what she’s done than what’s coming next. That includes a new brand, Rebel Moon Whisky, along with her Kick Ass Sass wine. “Whisky is my spirit animal,” she laughs. “There aren’t any female singers doing a whisky line yet, that I know of. It’s a whole new thing! Besides, what goes better with blues than whisky or wine?” And rest assured, there’s plenty more blues to come from Jordan. “I definitely want to do some more recording in this style. I loved every second of it. It all happened so easily and it just made so much sense. I’m not reinventing the wheel. Never have, never will … But – this opens up a whole new world for me – and it’s one that I belong in and feel at home in already!”
Name: Sass Jordan
# of Albums: 9
Latest Release: Rebel Moon Blues
Latest Single: Am I Wrong
Favourite local Restaurant:
Don’t go to restaurants much when I’m not on tour, but a solid consistent Toronto restaurant is Terroni – any location!
Favourite band as a teenager:
The Rolling Stones
Favourite band now:
Don’t have a favorite – too many to mention!
Guilty Pleasure Song:
I don’t feel guilty about ANY song that I like!
Live Show Ritual:
Laughing with my band
Favourite local artist:
Sneaky Dees nachos, pasta from Terroni or a superfood salad from Fresh?
Terroni or Fresh
Queen or College St?
I only know Queen
Trinity Bellwoods or High Park, Riverdale or Kew Gardens?
EP or LP?
Early bird or night owl?
Road or studio?
Swiss Chalet or Roti?
Where can we follow you?
Any shows or albums coming up?
Shows featuring Rebel Moon Blues and old favorites are coming up – going in to record a second Blues album this summer!