It’s sometimes difficult to separate a fascinating story from a compelling musical statement — and one shouldn’t have to, as most artists completely live their work through both glory and difficulty. Of course, the more obscure the musician and more complex their story, the heavier the extra-musical weight becomes. Soul singer Jackie Shane’s life, even if she hadn’t recorded, would have been legendary on its own. Born in Nashville in 1940, she played in R&B groups (as both drummer and vocalist), sang in gospel choirs, and fronted a Little Richard-inspired outfit in the late 1950s that eventually landed her in Toronto. There, Shane would link up with the trumpeter Frank Motley and his Motley Crew. Shane is transgender and has lived beyond norms and simple characterizations since her teenage years, navigating frequent mistreatment from male artists, club owners, mafia, and the police, all the while circumventing the obvious and gimmick-laden ends of showbiz during 10 years on the nightclub circuit.
In this period, traversing Canada and the US East and West Coasts, Shane recorded one live album and several singles before leaving the industry abruptly in 1971. Until a few years ago, she was off the grid and was assumed deceased. Any Other Way, the first-ever authorized compilation of her admittedly slim output, includes incredibly detailed notes and archival photographs, giving a taste of what must have been an overwhelmingly intense live experience. And even if her catalog was small, the 25 tracks on this set won’t likely leave anyone wanting. The second disc of Shane’s Any Other Way features the entirety of the 1967 Caravan LP Jackie Shane Live, recorded at the Toronto club Saphire [sic] with Motley’s then-new band The Hitchhikers. Motley, who could play two trumpets simultaneously, was a fiery disciple of Dizzy Gillespie, and his groups — which also featured one or two saxophonists, guitar, Hammond organ, and drums — were squarely in the soul-jazz tradition, though Shane’s voice does most of the stretching here.
In addition to the original LP’s nine cuts, this reissue adds another four and preserves the seamless experience of her lilting, preacher-inspired cadences and gravelly, impassioned, supple delivery. Billed as Little Jackie Shane or Lil’ Jackie Shane, her yelps and swoops, peppered with very personal and sometimes witty asides and sermonizing, is the floating energy heading the train, though The Hitchhikers’ rhythm section is unflagging (if occasionally rushed). She and the band get the opportunity to work through their paces on two tracks in particular, “Money” and “Any Other Way,” bringing the crowd along for sweaty, knowing, and, especially in the case of the latter, somewhat bittersweet parables on individuality, love, sexuality, and queerness. But even as a terse coo closes one piece, the ensemble takes off with a bang, wiping away any quaver and taking the patrons for a ride into the stratosphere.
The title tune, written by William Bell, was also Shane’s first studio single, split with “Sticks and Stones” and issued in 1963 on Sue Records. “Sticks and Stones” opens the set’s first disc, completely overdriven and thunderous, a berserk barrelhouse charged with piano, tambourines, and syrupy electric bass. The label followed these cuts with a deep version of “In My Tenement” and Bobby Darin’s “Comin’ Down,” which didn’t do quite as well but nevertheless holds up decades later. Our introductory view into Shane’s music is through her 45s, all recorded professionally (as much as any indie 45 can be) and given roughly two and a half minutes or less to bust through the door, say what needs to be said, and get out. Shane’s other singles were issued by labels like Stop, Modern, Paragon, Star Shot, and Cookin’; it’s not clear whether all of these were legitimate, as they seem to have made their way overseas in various bootleg forms (not a surprise when it comes to underground soul) and many small labels were notorious for not paying royalties.
Although none of Shane’s records charted high, in Canada they were solid sellers and got regular airplay around Toronto, Montreal, and Boston, where Shane also plied her sequined and tough trade. Certainly there are several cuts that hew toward standard fare — “Walkin’ the Dog” and “You Are My Sunshine” are a bit glib and impersonal in comparison to the whole enchilada — and as punchy as a single can be, rarely can it bottle the genie. But Any Other Way will hopefully get Shane her due, whether or not she returns to the stage.