Born in Calgary in 1962, Jann Arden was an avid music fan from the earliest age, and credited her mother’s ambition to learn the guitar and her grandmother’s passion for the piano for it. She developed her style early while growing up with the popular folk and roots records in her household, among them were Carly Simon, Janis Ian, John Denver, Karen Carpenter and Lyle Lovett. She began writing her first songs when she was only 13 and played trumpet in the school band.
She was 17 years old when she cut her first 7″ independent single “Never Love A Sailor” under her real name of Jann Richards. Self-produced and financed, “Never Love A Sailor” however, failed to gain her even a glimpse of the big break she was hoping for. She did short stints with several cover bar bands, as well as solo acoustic shows in every coffee shop and club in the city that would take her. By the time she was 18 she was trying to make it in Vancouver, but caught the first bus home when she was mugged for $4 while playing on a street corner.
Refusing to give up tho, she continued working the Calgary clubs while working at a video store to make ends meet. She was seen by Neil MacGonigill of Music Works Management and former Ian Tyson during a solo acoustic show, and saw early signs of what would become her trademark wit while interacting with the fans. He signed her to a deal before the end of 1987, and took her LA where some demos were cut and then sent to all the big labels across the country. After a name change (Arden is her middle name), persistence finally paid off when her unique blend of soulful storytelling eventually caught the ear of A & M Records’ Alan Reid in the summer of 1992.
She was flown back to LA where she worked with Ed Cherney (Bonnie Raitt, Billy Joel, Eric Clapton), and the result was her debut TIME FOR MERCY in ’94. Interspective and sometimes sombre yet still powerful, it immediately caught the attention of radio programmers across the country as ‘something different with substance.’ The singles “Will You Remember Me,” the title track, “The Way Things Are Going,” the message of the willingness of one’s total committment of the love many yearn for their whole lives of “I Would Die For You,” and the cutting edge of “I’m Not Your Lover” all helped sell over a quarter million copies. The album propelled her to the top of the Juno nominations the next year, where she won for Best Solo Performer and Best Video for “Will You Remember Me.”
Cherney was again used for her second album, 1994’s LIVING UNDER JUNE. “Gasoline” and “Wonderdrug” gave early indications of her provactive side, while dispelling the critics’ fears of being a one shot wonder, when the smash singles “Could I Be Your Girl?”, “Insensitive” and “Good Mother” helped push sales platinum in Canada, and gold south of the border – for a grand total of 1.3 million copies sold. “Insensitive” cracked the top 10 in most charts around the globe, went to number one in Australia, and stayed on the US charts for 40 weeks, peaking at number 12.The song was also used in the Christian Slater film “Bed of Roses” (but not the soundtrack,) and by an Italian clothing store’s TV commercial. “Good Mother” also found its way on to the small screen, and was used on episodes of “Party of Five” and “Dawson’s Creek,” which would also use several of her other hits over the next few years.
She spent the better part of a year and a half on the road in support of the record, touring with Chris Issak, which saw her playing everything from nickel and dime bars (which she thought she wouldn’t be doing anymore) to large arenas across North America. She picked up three more Junos in ’95 for female vocalist, songwriter, and song for “Could I Be Your Girl?.” It was the song of the year that actually caused more than one eyelash to get raised when it was released, as some people on both sides of the religious debate took issue with it. That bit of negative press aside, she also made her rounds on TV, including appearing on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve and the David Letterman Show, and hosted the ’97 Juno Awards in Hamilton while taking a break from the studios.
Before her much anticipated third album, HAPPY? was in the stores in the spring of ’98 , the lead-off track “The Sound Of” (loosely about one night stands) was already released and cracked the top 10. Other tracks like “Leave Me Now,” “Wishing That,” about the longing to have someone to love you, and the depths of which you would go to acheive it, “I Know You,” the story of failed dreams in “Wishing That,” “Ode To A Friend,” a cover of Lulu’s “To Sir With Love,” and “Holy Moses” kept the album on everyone’s shopping list while she was on the road for the next year. “Hanging By A Thread” was written for Arden’s brother, doing a life sentence in prison. The album eventually became her third straight million seller. She also began using her name for philanthropic purposes, including African Relief TV promos and allowed “Time For Mercy” to be used on the 30 HOUR FAMINE project and CD. In a 1998 Chart magazine poll, Arden was named the Canadian celebrity most deserving of her own talk show. Around this time she also launched her own short-lived record label, Big Hip Records, which released Arden-produced albums by Lin Elder and Mae Moore. Arden’s song “You Don’t Know Me” appeared on the soundtrack to the Julia Roberts movie “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”
BLOOD RED CHERRY was released in the spring of 2001. Cherney was producer for the fourth straight time, and featured cameos by Blue Rodeo‘s Jim Cuddy and others. It was a return to her rhythmic poetry mixed with her natural provocative nature, and also her most emotionally revealing, yet fiercely romantic songwriting. Her wit shone through with “Best Dress On,” “Cherry Popsicle,” and “I Only Wanted Sex,” which ironically offered the point of view of the unnamed man from her biggest hit, “Insensitive.” By the time she’d was done touring for the rest of the next couple of years, the album was certified double platinum at home and gold in the US. Her recording of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” was released that same year as a fundraising single in support of Toronto’s North York General Hospital.
Her first ‘best of’ album GREATEST HURTS was released in ’01, which also contained the cover of “If It Be Your Will” for the 1995 Leonard Cohen tribute album TOWER OF SONG. After switching to Universal International, she followed it up with LIVE WITH THE VANCOUVER SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA a year later, which featured classically tinged reworkings of her biggest hits. As an added bonus, Arden put her own spin on the classic “Purple Haze.” That same year her first book of personal reflections and poetry was released, “If I Knew, Don’t You Think I’d Tell You?” Her uncanny ability to discuss topics ranging from one-night stands to spirituality made her unpredictably entertaining, helping the book climb to #3 on It climbed to #3 on Canada’s Globe and Mail Non-fiction Bestseller list.
Her much anticipated next album, LOVE IS THE ONLY SOLDIER was released in 2003. Never one to sit still, that same year she got into the restaurant business, opening Arden’s in Calgary. It also happened to be a good vehicle to get on the TV cooking circuit, where she hosted “The Arden Diner,” a behind-the-scenes look at a day in the life of the hectic restaurant. A year later she found her way to the book stands for the second time, with “I’ll Tell You One Damn Thing – and That’s All I Know.”
In 2005, she released her sixth studio album, self-titled. More self and socially conscious. A remake of “I Would Die For You” featured a duet with Sarah McClaughlin. She continued to tour relentlessly, and received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2006.
A year later, she was inducted into the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, was awarded a pair of Western Canadian Music Awards, the National Achievement Award from SOCAN. But the artist was also going through a physical transformation, dropping 50 pounds and appearing on the cover of Chatelaine magazine that summer, prompting a series of speaking engagements, dubbed “My Life, My Way” and “Lifefest.”
But while finishing up production on her new project in ’08, Arden was admitted to intensive care in a Calgary hospital for heart related concerns, diagnosed as a condition commonly associated with acute stress and exhaustion. UNCOVER ME, a collection of cover tracks of the artists that shaped her sound, persona, and career, including Mamas and the Papas, Cat Stevens, Janis Ian, Neil Sedaka, Carly Simon, and even Pat Benatar, hit the stands later that year. It debuted at #1 on the Digital SoundScan chart, and in the top 20 on Billboard. A critic’s delight, it also featured the only original track, “Counterfeit Heart.”
Following her recuperation, she made up for lost time and stayed on the road for the next year, hitting the US, Australia, and Europe with Michael Bublé and her own cross-Canada trek, then turned her attention to other projects, co-producing the A STORY TO TELL album with country crossover group She Daisy, and writing a monthly advice column in Elle Canada magazine. She also performed in the Broadway hit, “The Vagina Monologues” on stages across Canada, and hosted An Evening at Eve’s Tavern, part of the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal. She also earned a Gemini nomination for her role in the sitcom “Big Sound,” and filmed a TV documentary called “Jann Takes Manhatten.” which showcased her while performing in New York. She also recorded “Angel In The Wings” with Olivia Newton-John on her duets album, which peaked at number 28 on the Canadian singles adult contemporary chart.
She relied on Cherney again for her tenth album, FREE in 2009, a record she has said took her back to her roots – simple in the songs’ message without being political, preachy, or overly poetic in nature. It featured the first single, “A Million Miles Away,” as well as the title track, “Daughter Down” about her father and complete with string arrangements, “Yeah You,” an ode to life on the road, and “You Are Everything” – a song originally written around the turn of the last decade.