Sass Jordan can be a little bit sassy. Calling to talk about her terrific new album “Bitches Blues”, the free-spirited Sass is not averse to dropping the occasional colourful adjective in order to make a point, and she often punctuates the conversation with her extremely infectious high-pitched laugh. Her new album can almost be considered part two of 2020’s “Rebel Moon Blues” as it contains covers of songs from the likes of Taj Mahal and Freddie King, plus three bluesy new originals. The record kicks off with her fiery rendition of Johnny Winter’s “Still Alive & Well” and Sass, who recently played a week’s worth of shows in the Netherlands, says the crowd ”Just went nutty for that song”. She wasn’t nuts about the trip back from tulip nation, but it wasn’t without its lighter side.
“People were definitely responding incredibly well to the new album,” says Sass, who is calling from her home in the “fabulous wilds of Ontario”. “I had a great time but the trip home from Amsterdam was a nightmare. We had a three-hour wait to get through immigration and passport control, so it ended up being a 10-hour ordeal of getting through the airport, boarding the plane, and flying home.”
“Throughout the trip, I thought my backpack felt a bit heavy and when I emptied it at home you’ll never guess what I found at the bottom; an open bottle of gin,” she says, laughing uproariously. “I went through security and had an open bottle of frickin’ gin in my backpack. I had no idea it was in there. What does that tell you about security? It’s all a big fat charade.”
While this incident may inspire Sass to cover Bessie Smith’s “Gin House Blues” on a future album, the songs on this record were drawn from slightly more modern sources which are near and dear to her heart. A friend’s record collection she had access to as a youngster contained albums that included offerings from Johnny Winter and Taj Mahal, and they made a deep impression on her that carry on until today.
“I know people that are such intense blues enthusiasts and their knowledge is encyclopedic. In no way do I have a clue about it in that way. I just liked music and it didn’t matter what kind it was. I had no judgemental attitude toward anything when I was discovering the stuff. It started with the Spiders From Mars, Taj Mahal’s “Take a Giant Step” and Isaac Hayes’ “Hot Buttered Soul”. In hindsight, it was an extraordinary record collection because it exposed me to so many different styles of music. I think that’s been reflected in the music I’ve chosen to write and record throughout my whole career because it’s never been the exact same thing.”
And what a career it has been thus far. An early pioneer of powerful, gritty female-fronted rock, Sass has worked alongside fellow greats like Aerosmith, AC/DC, and Van Halen, among many more. She’s earned several JUNO nominations for Best Female Vocalist thanks to albums like Present (1997), Hot Gossip (2000), and Get What You Give (2006). The latter album has a connection to “Bitches Blues” as Sass dusts off one of its tracks, the power ballad “Even”, and reworks it as a New Orleans-style R&B nugget. It was the producer (and husband) Derek Sharp who suggested rejigging the track. Sass was obviously pleased with the result based on the Yee-haw she lets out at the end of the song.
“I didn’t know they left that in,” she says. “I’ll have to listen to that again. I like this version way better, but it was really (keyboardist) Jesse O’Brien that inspired that one because we knew he could bring that kind of Dr. John vibe to it. We did it live off the floor. I was standing next to Jesse with a hand-held mic and no headphones. Steve Marriner was sitting two feet away from me on a stool playing bass and Cassius Pereira was on the drums. We went through it around three times and just cut it then and there in that room.”
The album title “Bitches Blues”, is a play on jazz trumpet legend Miles Davis’ ground-breaking album “Bitches Brew”. Sass lends a little insight into the original as she explains that Miles initially wanted to call the album “Witches Brew” until his girlfriend Betty Mabry suggested he modify it. Fifty-plus years later Sass is glad he agreed to the change.
“I was sitting out on the deck one day and the title just dropped into my mind. I thought how hilarious would it be if I tweaked that last word and made it “Blues” because there’s the female side of it. We were doing a show in the Netherlands last week, I think in Hengelo, and they didn’t speak a word of English in that town. I said that we have a new song from the new record and, by the way, has anyone ever heard of Miles Davis? I got a zilch reaction,” she says, laughing loudly. “Well, there goes that story. Oh my God, we were in tears laughing. I was dying of laughter on stage, which made everybody laugh, which was perfect.”
For someone who is only two albums deep into the blues, Sass really seems to have found her groove when it comes to writing original material. “Still The World Goes ‘Round”, a song she co-wrote with her guitarist Chris Caddell, is absolutely stunning as the rollicking blues-rock rhythm would surely have had JJ Cale grinning from ear to ear.
“Blues is a really tricky genre to write in because so much has already been done,” she explains. “I mean, how are you going to come up with something better than what’s already out there with the same 12-bar blues? You know “Well I woke up this morning and my baby was gone.” Seriously? No, I think that’s been done perhaps once or twice (laughs). It’s really challenging to come up with anything that isn’t a snooze fest. You basically have to take a good song and then rearrange it in a more blues style.”
In terms of cover songs, Sass picks a couple of great ones in the form of Little Feat’s “Sailin’ Shoes” and the traditional African-American spiritual song “You Gotta Move”. Delta bluesman Mississippi Fred McDowell cut the latter in 1965 but Sass grew up with the Rolling Stones’ version of it from their 1971 album “Sticky Fingers”.
“I originally thought The Stones wrote it,” she says. “They were massively influenced by bluesmen like Muddy Waters. They loved that stuff and they completely copped it, but then it came out sounding like them imitating that, which made it a whole new world. It made it sound new. It was the British blues invasion but they got it from the American South or Midwest. It was news to me but they were a good generation or two ahead of me.
“As far as “Sailin’ Shoes” goes, I worship Little Feat and they are one of my favourite bands of all time. But I also love the version of “Sailin’ Shoes” that Robert Palmer did on his “Sneaking Sally Through The Alley” album. We mixed the two versions and there’s a mid-song time signature change. It’s such a cool arrangement.”
The album closes with another Sass original “Change Is Coming” which was co-written on the spot by Sass, her husband, and her band. It offers a positive message of hope, much like Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”, and she feels it’s something that everyone needs right now.
“The band got on a deck outside the studio and sat around in a circle and just figured out their parts. I wrote the lyrics to it right there and that was it. Considering what we’ve all just gone through and continue to go through with the pandemic, there’s been a shift. Nothing’s ever going to be the same as it was. It was a sweeping change across the planet and when you’re writing songs it’s impossible not to be influenced to some degree. That’s really what the song is about. Let’s get through this and start looking after our true need which is love.”
“Bitches Blues” recently topped The Roots Music Report’s Top 50 Canada album chart, and Sass finds herself in good company with artists like Colin James and Sue Foley certifying her blues credentials.
“I’m just exploring new frontiers. Usually, blues fanatics are very, very traditional and they look at me and say “You’re not an authentic blues artist”. It’s so ridiculous to me but I can’t change the world so screw it,” she says with a long laugh.
Sass and her band are currently slated to play upcoming summer shows in Brockville, Cornwall, and Little Current and she hopes to fill in some more dates along the way.
Blues, Rock & Miscellaneous Stuff:
Mike Waite and Paul Greig grew up in the 60s playing music together in the Psych/Blues-Rock band The Tour and forming the Prog-Rock Band Breathless in the early ’70s with Nash The Slash. Mike also produced the band FM which featured Nash as one of its members. Mike and Paul have created a new two-piece psychedelic blues-rock band called Knights of the Mystic Eye, and they have dropped a terrific album called “COSMIC TOP SECRET”. The record offers a balance of original songs and seriously reworked covers with The Beatles figuring prominently in the latter. “Come Together” ties together a trio of mellotron guitar-driven tracks including King Crimson’s “Starless” and Bob Marley’s “Exodus”. The “Sergeant Pepper (Reprise)” segues into another track but this time it’s a spirited cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” rather than “A Day In The Life”. “Fire In The Hole” is a rollicking original that sounds like it could have been written for Jimmy Reed. The album ends with a bluesy version of The Car’s “You Might Think” which morphs into “Just Like You”, a song Mike co-wrote with FM that became their highest-charting hit.
Toronto bluesman Danny Marks is back with a heartfelt new single called “Man On The Radio”, which starts with a Duane Eddy-Esque twang and soars from there. The song is certainly autobiographical in nature as Danny has served as the radio host of JAZZ.FM91’s Saturday night blues show BLUZ.FM, for over 20 years. This iconic musician’s roots go back to the sixties as a founding member of Edward Bear, who broke out with the hit single “You, Me & Mexico”. After a span as a journeyman session musician throughout the seventies, Danny settled into the club scene, establishing a dedicated following as a genre-bender in music and humour. About “Man On the Radio”, Danny says “Radio has come up big to reach people at home and heart in trying times, an intimate connection that reaches around the globe. ‘’Man On The Radio” comes from this place.”
Open Spaces has been a fan of Bournemouth U.K.’s Rich Baxter since the turn of the century, particularly his last Americana-tinged album from 2020 “BRU2TAL”. Rich has been known to play many shows as a one-man band and he’s come up with a remarkable invention that could be a boon to other similarly inclined musicians who may want to add a little bit of rhythm to the mix. “Stomp It” is the world’s first fully playable, customizable, and complete foot drum kit. You can find out more about this amazing kit at https://www.stompit.co.uk/home or just check out the video to watch Rich put the pedal to the metal.