Candye Kane has been called a survivor, a superhero and the toughest girl alive (all are also titles of her self-penned songs). They are apt descriptions of the jump blues singer, songwriter and mother of two from East Los Angeles who earned those monikers the hard way. Kane’s career was decorated by the many numerous awards and list of accomplishments she garnered over her lifetime, including eight Blues Music Award nominations by the Blues Foundation, winner of ten San Diego Music Awards, as well as starring in a sold out stage play about her life. She also performed worldwide for presidents and movie stars, but her path to success was not always glamorous or easy.
Raised in what she called a dysfunctional blue-collar family, Candye became a mother, a pinup cover girl and a punk-rock, hillbilly blues-belter by the time she was just 21-years old. Eleven CDs, seven record labels, millions of international road miles and countless awards later, Miss Kane had proven to be a true survivor, as she scrambled her way to the top of the roots-music heap, creating a world-renowned reputation that spanned over two decades.
A colorful mixture of the traditional and the eclectic, Kane cut her musical teeth in the early '80s onstage with Hollywood musicians and friends Social Distortion, Dwight Yoakam, Dave Alvin, Los Lobos, the Blasters, X, Fear and the Circle Jerks, to name just a few. While raising two sons, this role model for the disenfranchised, championed large-sized women, fought for the equal rights of sex workers and the GLBT community and inspired music lovers everywhere. Her fans are a mixture of true outsiders: bikers, blues fans, punk rockers, drag queens, fat girls, queers, burlesque dancers, porn fans, sex workers, rockabilly and swing dancers, gray-haired hippies, sex-positive feminists and everyday folk of all ages.
In 1986, then married to Thomas Yearsley of the Paladins, she was touched by the music of Big Maybelle, Big Mama Thornton, Ruth Brown and more. Her self-released 1991 “Burlesque Swing” caught the ear of Texas impresario Clifford Antone, who signed her to a deal with Antone's Records. Los Lobos' Cesar Rosas and Paladin/Hacienda Brother/Stone River Boy, Dave Gonzalez, co-produced the first album of the deal, “Home Cookin'.” Picked up by Discovery (later Sire) Records, the Dave Alvin/Derek O'Brien-produced “Diva La Grande” was followed by “Swango” in the height of the swing craze.
Rounder/Bullseye Records signed her in 1995, releasing “The Toughest Girl Alive,” produced by Scott Billington. Four albums followed on the German RUF label, including the Bob Margolin-produced “Guitar'd and Feathered.” She then hopped aboard the Delta Groove roster, releasing “Superhero” in 2010, which received a Blues Music Award nomination for Contemporary Blues Album of the Year, followed by “Sister Vagabond” in 2011.
Kane's live shows are the stuff of legend. She honored the bold blues women of the past with both feet firmly planted in the present. She belted, growled, shouted, crooned and moaned from a lifetime of suffering and overcoming obstacles. She used music as therapy and often wrote and chose material with positive affirmations that left the audience feeling healed and exhilarated. In a show that is part humor, part revival meeting and party sexuality celebration, she delivered a barrelhouse, tongue-in-cheek blues tune or a gospel ballad, encouraging audiences to leave behind religious intolerance. She’d slay the crowd with her balls out rendition of "Whole Lotta Love," or glorify the virtues of zaftig women with "200 Pounds of Fun." She often said that she is a, "fat, black drag queen trapped in a white woman's body," and she dressed the part.
In addition to her musical achievements, Kane became an activist and philanthropist in the later years of her life. In August 2009, she appeared in Dublin, Ireland for the World Congress for Downs Syndrome with her United by Music charity. The project provides performance opportunities, blues history lessons and songwriting instruction to young people with disabilities, encouraging them to write their own blues songs to help them overcome their daily challenges.
In March 2008, Kane revealed on her website that she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was undergoing treatment. This was found to be a neuroendocrine tumor and was successfully resected on April 18, 2008 at UCSD Medical Center/Thornton Hospital. Kane continued to record and perform following the procedure stating, "People ask me why I want to work so hard and so much, since I tour 250 days a year. Everyone says I should stay home and relax after my health struggle. But music is my life and neuroendocrine cancer is a mostly manageable disease. I will continue to work as much as I can because I know life is fragile anyway. I would be fine if I died onstage doing what I love like Country Dick Montana or Johnny Guitar Watson. I'm not planning on going anytime soon, but when I do exit this plane, I hope it's making someone else feel inspired by the powerful words in my songs."
Kane ultimately succumbed to the disease at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on May 6, 2016, aged 54. She is survived by her sons, Evan and Thomas; her mother and stepfather, Janet and Eugene Caleb; her two half-siblings, Christopher and Leslie Caleb; and her former husband, Thomas Yearsley, the bass guitarist and singer in San Diego roots-rock band the Paladins.