Generally considered Canada’s first openly gay performer, Jackie Shane became a staple fixture of the Toronto music scene in the early 1960s, bringing a rhythm & blues based show on a regular basis to The Sapphire Tavern, often backed by Frank Motley and the Hitchhikers.
Covering the early Motown hits of the day, he signed with Stop Records out of Boston in 1962. Dubbed Little Jackie Shane he was hooked up with producer Skippy White. With Motley’s band backing him, he cut his first single – a cover of Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want),” and on the flip side was “I’ve Really Got The Blues,” co-written by Lloyd Price (“Personality”). The songs were then reversed a few months later when the label made “Money” the b-side, re-titling the other to “Have You Ever Had The Blues?” after a few changes to the lyrics.
Back in Toronto and with the nickname referring to his diminutive stature gone, Shane continued playing the clubs, gaining as much notoriety for his androgynous appearance as for his music, even going so far as to wear women’s evening gowns on occasion. Regardless of his appearance, he packed the clubs and started taking his show into the US on a more regular basis. While at an engagement in New York, he caught the attention of Henry ‘Juggy’ Murray, owner of Sue Records, who at one time or another boasted The Righteous Brothers, Lee Dorsey, Jimmy McGriff, and Ike & Tina Turner on the label.
He released his cover of William Bell’s “Any Other Way” in April, ’62. Though the original was about a friend who’d been sent by his ex-girlfriend to check up on him after dumping him, Shane altered the lyrics, so the song read like a gay woman’s confession to her female friend. The song topped Toronto’s charts and went to #2 nationwide while most of the country was under the impression he was a woman. The song stayed in the top 20 for over two months, and was followed by “In My Tenement,” b/w the Bobby Darin co-written “Comin’ Down.”
Although the second single didn’t fare nearly as well, it fuelled a US tour that saw him and Motley’s band travel as far as the west coast, and even to Hawaii over the next couple of years. Through Murray’s connections, Shane was also booked on WLAC TV’s “Soul Train Night Train” out of Nashville, where he showed up in drag and performed Rufus Thomas’ “Walkin’ The Dog.” Several labels were issued re-press rights to his singles over the next few years, and upon his return to Toronto, he continued to make regular stops throughout Ontario and into the US, where he performed as part of The Etta James Revue, consisting solely of men dressed as women.
In ’67 he released “Stand Up Straight and Tall” on Modern Records, and a year later Caravan Records cut a live album from one of his engagements back at The Sapphire. Produced by John C Irvine, it was full of R&B covers, including Eddie Kramer’s “Knock On Wood,” James Brown’s “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag,” “High Heeled Sneakers (covered by everyone from The Rolling Stones and Grateful Dead to Leon Russell and Stevie Wonder), and a live version of his single, “Any Other Way.”
Released the same year, “Stand Up Straight & Tall” featured less R&B influences, and in an attempt to update his sound, instead focused on an organ solo. But by the turn of the decade, Shane was growing out of fashion musically. Although he continued to tour, he drifted out of the scene by the early ’70s after also touring with other R&B-based little big bands led by the likes of Charles Brown, Amos Milburn, and Johnny Jones & The King Casuals.
For awhile it was widely rumoured that he’d died a violent dealth in Los Angeles, but in fact he eventually moved from Toronto, reitring from music all together and settling in Nashville.
During the 2000s, several radio and television broadcasts aired that brought Shane’s contribution to the Canadian music scene back to light, around the same time that compilation albums from various artists featuring Shane started surfacing on different labels. Shane’s sole live album from 1968 was re-released in 2011 on Vintage Music, wrongly titled JACKIE SHANE LIVE ’63.
The 1968 live album resurfaced again shortly after as ALL THE SINGLES PLUS THE CONCERT on Cookin’ Records, with the sequence of the live tracks in different order, which sparked at least one bootleg album, but again mislabelled as being from 1963. In 2011, Cookin’ also released SOUL, SINGLES, CLASSICS – featuring the studio singles and a few unreleased rarities.