By Diane Anderson-Minshall
Originally published on Advocate.com October 05 2011 9:00 AM ET
Musician Candye Kane has been called a survivor, a
superhero, the sexiest bisexual in music, and the toughest girl alive. (All but
one of those are also titles of her self-penned songs.) As her eleventh album, Sister
Vagabond (produced by Kane and noted
guitarist Laura Chavez) hits the stores, the jump-blues singer, songwriter, and
mother of two from East Los Angeles is fighting cancer again. Raised in what
she calls a dysfunctional blue-collar family, Kane became a mother, a pinup
cover girl and a punk-rock, hillbilly blues-belter by the time she was just 21
years old. She hasn’t slowed down since. A five-time nominee for Blues Music
Awards, who has nabbed 10 San Diego Music Awards, Kane has been touring her
sold-out stage play about her life, The
Toughest Girl Alive. (The synopsis
perfectly sums up Kane: “The stranger-than-fiction story of an ex-gang member,
unwed teen mother, rockabilly, plus-sized ex-adult film star, cancer-surviving,
multi-award winning, bisexual blues phenomenon named Candye Kane.”)
With Sister Vagabond, a worthy successor to last year’s Superhero, Kane reminds blues fans why she garnered a worldwide
fan base in the last two decades. She’s performed for the former president of
France, Francois Mitterand; the French ambassador to Rome; Pedro Almodovar at
Cannes; five private parties for famed healer Louise Hay (who remains a devoted
fan). She’s shared the stage with everyone from Ray Charles to the Circle
Jerks, performed on TV for Queen Latifah, Donny and Marie and Penn and Teller,
and even performed at the lesbian wedding of ecosexual actress Annie Sprinkle.
Oh, and don’t forget the thousands of blues festivals and solo concerts in
Two decades of singing for and
fighting for plus-sized women, sex workers, queers, and transgender folks has
meant a Candye Kane concert today is a colorful mixture of outsiders: bikers,
fat chicks, punks, drag queens, burlesque dancers, aging hipsters, and lots of
rockabilly couples. The audience at The Toughest Girl Alive — adapted for stage by Javier
Velasco, director and choreographer for the award-winning San Diego
Ballet — has a similar feel. (The play returns to the Moxie Theater, a
female-run theater in San Diego, in January.)
The crooner slowed down long enough to talk with The Advocate about her new album, the play, and why straight girls
are still making it hard for America to understand bisexuality.
Advocate: Tell me about your
play, The Toughest Girl Alive.
Why tell the story on stage?
Candye Kane: There are some dark
aspects to the play but overall, like everything I do, there is a silver lining
that highlights triumph over adversity and personal strength. It’s a really
different endeavor to do the play because it’s two hours of dialogue and
singing and movement, so it’s a lot harder and more intense than a Candye Kane
Did you record the album while recovering
from cancer treatments or while you were sick?
No, I was healthy while recording Sister Vagabond. Superhero was
the album I made right after cancer. Although, I have recently been diagnosed
with what they believe is a recurrence of my neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer.
I am lucky because this is the “good” kind of cancer, if there is such a thing.
Did cancer change you?
Absolutely. Number one, am just grateful for every day I am well. I don’t know
how long I will be around these parts so I sing for joy and I sing for life
because I love it so much. If I died on stage, like my friend Country Dick
Montana — one of the Beat Farmers — that would be fine with me. I am so
blessed and lucky to be alive and singing. I get bouts of pancreatitis about
every three weeks but so far it’s been manageable with pain meds. It just makes
me appreciate being healthy when I am.
Did it change your music?
Yes, I feel like it gave me permission to be more serious. I have always had a
good sense of humor and showed that in my songwriting. Songs like “Masturbation
Blues,” “The Lord Was a Woman,” and “All You Can Eat and You Can Eat It All
Night Long” showed my light, fun side and I loved them. But now I feel like I
can dig a little deeper and show the side of me that is a bit darker.
What’s the take away from Sister
Vagabond? Is there a theme
listeners will recognize?
I think Sister Vagabond is a
celebration of the musical union and personal union between myself and Laura
Chavez. She is an incredible young talent and our connection is intuitive. We
really love each other and we work very well together, as well as being best
friends off stage. Laura is my closest ally. She comes to me with my cancer
specialist. She is my advocate, my writing partner, my stage cohort, and in
many ways, she is my sister. I love her so much and I am so lucky to be able to
expose her to more audiences. If there is any theme in Sister Vagabond, it’s the theme of two curvy women making honest
from-their-hearts, rockin’ blues, and celebrating life, love, and broken hearts
in the swampiest, groove heavy style possible. And it’s about putting as many
miles on the road as possible, doing what we love, making music.
You’re still one of a handful of openly
bisexual celebrities. Do you think bisexuals are gaining visibility?
Yes, I do think bisexuality has become more mainstream. Part of me is glad for
that because it has been hard sometimes being called a fence-sitter by my
hardcore lesbian fans and being misunderstood by straight people who think
being bisexual means I want to have sex with everyone. I am a true bisexual; I
love women and men equally and am proud to love them both. But I choose to do
so one relationship at a time. It’s weird how as the LGBT community becomes
more visible it has become hip for straight girls to make out. I think that
confuses people who are trying to understand what real bisexuality means. It’s
not just making out with your best sorority friend at a kegger party. There’s a
little bit more to it than that.
It’s an interesting time.
I am just so excited that more states are legalizing same-sex marriage and that
LGBT people are gaining visibility in every facet of life: the elimination of “don’t
ask, don’t tell” in the military, New York gay marriage, Chaz Bono on
primetime. It’s beautiful to see GLBT people not only courageously demanding
our rights but making inroads on a daily basis. This makes me so proud.
Are you still touring 250 days a year?
I am touring as much as humanly possible this year. I have done 122 shows so
far, not counting my stage play all of January at the Moxie Theater and in New
York City in August.
You got involved with the World
Down Syndrome Congress. What drew you to that cause?
Since 2005, I have been the spokesperson for a charity called
UnitedbyMusic.org. UBM gives talented people with disabilities a chance to get
on the bandstand and show what they can do. We have done it primarily in the
Netherlands but are now trying to establish it here in the U.S. It’s such an
inspiring thing to see people with different disabilities get a chance to play
music with so-called “able minded, able bodied musicians.” It blurs the line of
who is the one with disability. It took us to World Congress for Down syndrome
two years in a row in Dublin, Ireland and in Capetown, South Africa. It’s the
most fantastic project I’m involved in.