Ginger St. James is apologetic for being late for our phone interview, and the fact that she is tardy is a might surprising as she grew up an early riser during her formative years on her family’s farm in the small community of Binbrook in south-east Hamilton. Once she relocated to Toronto she dropped the pitchfork and cow pies for an acoustic guitar and, after years of toiling the club circuit she’s honed her roots skills to a tee and released her first full length album entitled ‘Diesel and Peas’. The record kicks off with an organ solo by Greg Brisco which sounds like a snippet from Sunday mass, and runs in complete contrast to the rest of the album which ranges from titillating to downright provocative. The solemn keyboard piece quickly segues into the sultry and suggestive “Please Mr. Driver”, which finds the penniless singer looking for a bus ride and offering alternative methods of payment to the Greyhound driver.[quote]“Holy crap, I set an alarm and everything on my phone.”[/quote]
“The sound of a church organ is always a fond memory for me and I thought it provided a great little ironic intro to Please Mr. Driver,” she begins. “That song is kind of cheeky and I love any number that has a double entendre. It was composed by my guitarist Snow-Heel Slim, but it’s written in the same vein as my stuff. Most of my songs have tongue in cheek, double meanings here and there. I love to tease my audience and push the envelope and maybe even shock people a little bit with the lyrics. I kind of like to see what I can get away with sometimes.”
Ginger pushes the envelope even further on the tantalizing number “Zipper”, in which she playfully sings about being slapped on the backside. The song certainly conjures up some stimulating images but the key line came from a decidedly non-erotic source.
“Zipper is kind of a joke song,” she says. “A friend of mine was playing with a pencil case, continually zipping it open and shut, and it was super annoying. His wife told him to stop and he said ‘What, you don’t like the sound of a zipper coming down?’ I thought Oh my God, that’s the best line ever, and I just had to work it into a song.”
The record is a real fanny shaker from the upbeat country of “My Honey” to the frenzied ‘hot and bothered’ vocal on the album’s closer “Furious”. On stage Ginger is a dynamo with a flamethrower hairdo, and she rips in to these upbeat numbers with complete abandon. She admits, however, that it was a challenge to recreate the vibe of her stage show on record. [youtube_ME width=”600″ height=”339″ title=”BEER BOTTLE POCKETS – Ginger St. James” video_id=”Igfnjeiyzb8″]
“The energy is hard to capture in the studio,” she says. “It’s always difficult because I’m a live performer and I draw my energy from the crowd and my bandmates. When you’re in the studio you’re isolated from the rest of the band. Snow-Heel has always been there with me and because he produced the record it made me a little more comfortable. It also helps to keep things fresh and spontaneous in the studio when you have people from different backgrounds. Someone might come from an R & B place or they could be a pure country or bluegrass player. It leads to a real mix; some people call me rockabilly but I’d say it’s a combination of country, blues and rock & roll meshed together. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as rockabilly.”
This weekend Ginger played the 161st Binbrook fair, showcasing rootsy gems like “Country Bumpkin” in which she proudly declares that although she may now be a city slicker, in her heart she’ll always be a hick from the sticks.
“Yeah, I got a lot of living and inspiration from country living,” she says. “I guess I could be considered a city slicker now but I prefer the country. I wrote all but two of the songs on the record and they all reflect various stages of my life. “Country Bumpkin” was inspired by living in the city and coming back to the country to my roots. I’m glad I was able to get some yodelling in on that one. I loved Patsy Montana’s yodelling on “I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart”, a song from the 1930’s which we also play live; and (rockabilly belter) Wanda Jackson has a pretty mean yodel as well. ”
Another autobiographical number “Beer Bottle Pockets”, which sounds like it could have been written by Carl Perkins on uppers, is about living in a big city and being ‘kind of broke’. The song references sex kitten chanteuse Eartha Kitt’s torchy 60’s standard, “My Champagne Taste and your Beer Bottle Pockets”, and Kitt’s camp appeal and smoking hot cabaret act may have also served as an inspiration for Ginger’s first show biz venture…burlesque.[quote]“I grew up watching musicals and I was always into theatre and Broadway” [/quote]
“I grew up watching musicals and I was always into theatre and Broadway,” she recalls. “My step-brother’s cousin had a burlesque company in Toronto that was holding auditions and at the time I really didn’t know what it was. I auditioned and got in and then decided to put my own troupe together so that’s where the Steeltown Sirens originated. It was great because we got to write our own sketches and I really fell in love with burlesque. The thing was that I wasn’t very good at it. I always joke and say that I’m a walking accident; I can’t even peel a banana. It wasn’t for me but we started having a band join us and I would always sing. The band started asking me to sit in with them at their shows so I ended up pursuing that. I still love the variety show element of things, however, and we still incorporate a burlesque dancer and a comedian in our show from time to time. I mean, who doesn’t like dancing girls?’
Ginger’s reference to being accident prone links directly to the album’s title, ‘Diesel and Peas’. Several years ago she was involved in an accident involving an ATV in which she was cut quite badly. Her father applied a homemade remedy to her injury, diesel fuel as an antiseptic and frozen peas to ease the swelling. It wasn’t quite a miracle cure as sixteen stitches were still required but it turned out to be a fitting album title.
“Yeah, the record will cure all that ails you,” she laughs. “Whether you’re down and out or having a good time there’s something in there for everybody. It’s a farmer’s remedy but it poses the question ‘What’s your remedy?’ Music can be your diesel, or maybe it’s going out for a beer or a whiskey. The peas are the anti-inflammatory, like your spouse or your lover. It’s like a metaphor and it can be perceived in different ways.”