During the years that preceded Canada having its current flag, Pierre Trudeau, and the Maple Leafs winning a string of three Stanley Cups, Jackie Shane was the toast of Toronto’s Yonge Street. A transgender, African-American R&B “entertainer,” Shane mesmerized audiences in Southern Ontario, Montreal and Boston during the 1960s. Black, white, gay, straight, Canadian and American’s packed them in to see her. Busloads of fans from as far away as Detroit and Buffalo came to see Shane’s revue at the Brass Rail and the Saphire Tavern in Toronto. Shane was not only flamboyant, but Shane could really preach and sing.
At the height of her popularity in 1971, Shane opted to leave music and Canada. She seemingly dropped off the face of the Earth. Some rumors presumed she was dead. Eventually, with the advent of the internet, YouTube and iTunes, the legend of Jackie Shane incubated and a fresh wave of fans and musicologists discovered her soulfulness. But until recently, only the half had been told. Then in 2016, the reclusive Shane was tracked down. Finally the story of one of the greatest unsung soul singers of the ’60s can now be told.
This double CD recycles a clutch of great singles and a historic live album recorded in 1967 at the Saphire. The centerpiece here is the coy title track, which became a huge hit in Toronto. “Any Other Way” was written and recorded by William Bell in 1962. Shane, though, turned the song into her anthem. In the lyrics, Shane instructs his friend to tell his one-time female lover, “Tell her that I’m happy, tell her that I’m gay, tell her I wouldn’t have it… any other way.” Believe me, that was a heavy message for Toronto in 1962. But while Shane’s original sizzles, the extended live version sets the house afire.
Of the singles, most are covers but Shane delivers somewhat “coded” lyrics with humor, sass and passion. The best here include “Sticks and Stones,” “Comin’ Down” and “Stand Up Straight and Tall.” Of her originals, “New Way Of Lovin’”—from the late 1960s—marked a progression from the harder R&B that she identified with.
The energetic live album’s foundation was the great Frank Motley band, the Hitch Hikers. Shane handles many of the then-popular R&B hits—”Money,” “You’re the One,” “Raindrops” and of course “Any Other Way.” Though not political, during the extended monologues, Shane used her sharp wit and self-assuredness to address her views of society. The audience might just as well have been shouting “Tell it Jackie!”
The packaging here is unsurpassed. The clips and old photos from Shane’s scrapbook are jaw dropping. Her story, which is told in a 79-page booklet, is virtually a script which translates to the silver screen. Thank God this set is a tribute and not a memorial. Like Jackie Shane, this box set is something else.