Recreating the magic of R&B legend Etta James

Local blues singer Jane Archer performs tribute show at the Pig's Ear in Peterborough on July 11

Local blues singer Jane Archer will perform a recreation of Etta James' legendary 1963 Nashville concert (photo: Jackie Wimbush, Jaxfoto)
Local blues singer Jane Archer will perform a recreation of Etta James' legendary 1963 Nashville concert (photo: Jackie Wimbush, Jaxfoto)

On Saturday, July 11th, local blues singer Jane Archer plans to recreate the magic of legendary R&B vocalist Etta James at a special concert at the Pig’s Ear Tavern in Peterborough.

Over 50 years ago, a 25-year-old Etta James took the stage at the New Era Club in Nashville, Tennessee. Dressed in a white one-shouldered dress, she and her band — led by famed guitarist David T. Walker — put on a fiery and energetic performance that was recorded for posterity.

Etta James Rocks the House, released in 1964, is now considered one of the greatest live blues and R&B recordings ever made. The energy of James’ vocal performance is reflected by the rowdy crowd that can be heard shouting and applauding throughout the recording.

At the Pig’s Ear show, Jane will be singing the same tunes that Etta recorded that night, including songs like “Something’s Got A Hold On Me”, “Money (That’s What I Want)”, “All I Could Do Is Cry”, and more.

“Etta chose the club because she wanted a certain type of audience for this live recording — a loud, raucous, free-wheeling crowd that’s not afraid to shout and holler,” Jane explains. “That’s what I’m hoping to get as well. I chose the Pig’s Ear Tavern because it provides the kind of throwback atmosphere of that era.”

Currently performing with Balls and Jane, Jonny and Jane, and The Rocket Revue, Jane’s love affair with the blues goes back a long way.

“When I started playing guitar as a teenager in the mid-sixties, I was introduced to the music of Fred Neil and Tom Rush, two American folk/blues artists who were huge on the burgeoning folk music scene that was sweeping North American colleges and universities at the time,” she recalls.

“My husband and I began to seek out blues artists who came to Toronto to perform at places like the Colonial Tavern, El Mocambo and the Riverboat, where we were privileged to see artists like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGee and many more. I was also very fortunate to have seen Janis Joplin perform and Etta’s influence on her is well documented.”

Jane’s own journey through the blues has been inspired by both the musical and vocal stylings of Etta James.

“When I discovered Etta James, her singing style was just so raw and gutsy and just plain exciting that it gave me goose bumps,” she explains. “Although I never thought at the time that I would ever get a chance to perform her material — nor did I think I actually could do it!”

“Only Time Will Tell” by Etta James

However, as Jane continued with her singing career, she realized she had a powerful voice and she started covering some of Etta’s songs. As she learned to channel her vocal power into confident and passionate performances, she discovered she could share that energy with the audience. She intends to bring that energy to her tribute to Etta at the Pig’s Ear.

The show will also be a birthday celebration of sorts for Jane, who turns 64 on July 11th. Most recently recognized with the 2014 Wire Award for Female Vocalist of the Year, Jane began her musical career as a folk singer in the 1960s, before studying anthropology at Trent University, running a dairy farm with her husband Cecil, and raising four boys.

All of her children were very musical, and later Jane even formed a group with her boys called Mamaz Boys, which performed blues and classic rock (that’s when she started covering Etta’s songs).

Like Etta — who had a bandage on her wrist at the New Era Club concert, masking a heroin addiction that would soon devastate her life and career — Jane has faced her own personal tragedy. In 2010, her son Jesse “Peck” Archer — who was embarking on his own musical career as a respected blues and metal guitarist — was accidentally shot and killed at the age of 26.

Now, every year the Archer family holds a musical celebration in Jesse’s honour, raising funds for the Blues in The Schools (BITS) program in Northumberland County. The fifth annual “Party for Peck” takes place on Saturday, August 1st in Campbellford.

The “Rocks the House” concert at the Pig’s Ear is the second part of what Jane calls “The Etta James Project.” She performed Part 1 with Al Black and the Steady Band at Peteborough Ribfest in 2012, and plans to continue the project in the future with Part 3 (James’ 1992 tribute to Billie Holiday called Mystery Lady) and Part 4 (James’ 1997 country/soul/blues record Love’s Been Rough on Me).

On July 11th, Jane promises to do her best to represent the music and vocal style of Etta James, as well as the atmosphere of the New Era Club in 1963.

“The Pig’s Ear will be so hot that night that steam will be pouring out the door onto the street,” she says. “If folks have ever wanted to be part of a no-holds barred, old fashioned, rip-roaring blues party, this is their best chance.”

“Wang Dang Doodle” performed by Jane Archer at the 2011 Frankford Island Blues Festival