By Jennie Orton
CALGARY — You know that story about the single mom who is waiting tables at a blues bar when her boss finally gives her the shot to sing onstage and she blows everybody’s mind and subsequently starts packing the venue on a regular basis? Well sometimes that’s not a movie of the week; every so often it’s a real-life tale.
Deicha Carter’s regular gig at the Blues Can marks a turning point for the singer and her group of soul brothers and sisters, The Voodoos. It also has served to liven up the home life of her most wide-eyed fan.
“Ava Lynne is our number one fan. She knows the lyrics to all of our songs and proudly invites friends over to hang during practice,” Carter says of her 11 year-old daughter who listens in on weekly jam sessions. “It has also allowed me to expose Ava to music and culture that I didn’t realize until my 20s. She’s the only kid I know walking around singing Zappa,” she adds, laughing.
Sharing home life with her band requires the fine art of cultivating a line-up that Carter could count on and grow with, especially when that involves a seven-piece outfit.
“Stabilizing our large line-up with so many different skill sets, visions and styles has been one of our biggest challenges,” says Carter. “We have had quite a few great players float through, all of which brought some sort of value or lessons. I have to say, though, that our current group of Voodudes is the longest standing, best-feeling line-up yet.”
One of those visionary characters is Marvin Yakoweshen on tenor sax. A musician with a tireless lust for playing, who also happens to be Carter’s saxophone instructor, Marv brings a shaggy and legitimate backbone to the music with solo jams and electrified fills that show not only passion but the poise that comes from weathered experience.
“Marv has been playing music for longer than I’ve been alive. With an intense five-hour daily practice regime, he has managed to keep his chops and endurance stronger than ever even at age 63. He has one of the most humble attitudes and some of the greatest touring stories. We embrace Marv as our saxophone Yoda, “ Carter affectionately laments.
But it’s the blond in the gold hot pants center stage that brings the self-professed “doctorate in black magic” to the force that is the Voodoos. At a recent Dickens gig, she and her Voodudes made an entire crowd of people completely forget they were there to see the headliner, Five Alarm Funk. And for anyone who has seen the giant throbbing behemoth that is Five Alarm Funk, they know what a feat that is — it’s like telling someone not to think about the bull in the corner of the room with a massive erection. Yet the Voodoos brought the house down and primed it for that bull with a great deal of established swagger.
One would never guess when watching Carter hold court in such a hurricane of soul infused energy that she was the mild mannered and sweet soul that serves tables at the Blues Can. Carter is a presence, simultaneously humble and bold. She has a belting voice that drifts between Dusty Springfield, Janis Joplin and Melissa Etheridge and all those unknown torch singers that blow your mind working some secluded stage in some secluded bar. Then, when she asks for higher levels from the soundman or addresses the crowd, she takes it down in a velvety, sugary tone that disarms and seduces at the same time.
The momentum of the night is owed in large part to the band’s large repertoire. In their arena, a pure and gutsy cover of Jolene leads the evening into a series of gradual locomotive sets that wrap and wind around a diverse selection of material than includes Portishead, Ray Charles, The Coasters, Jack White and the aforementioned Zappa, with original work liberally thrown in along the way. This myriad of influences has helped Carter cultivate a voice that is both old and new all at once — both old soul and new gusto.
“I remember seeing Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings at Mac Hall and my head exploding. I was so pleasantly shocked that this type of music and performance was still happening and relevant.“
Soon after her Sharon Jones experience, Carter set out to put her own soul, jazz, R&B project in motion.
“We fought [sometimes still do] the stereotype of being a ‘corporate’ jazz cover band, not that there is anything wrong with that, but we are finding more and more people, live music venues interested in supporting this movement. Calgary Festivals like Sled Island and Folk Fest have also brought in some great soul acts, like The Bellrays, The Chantrelles, Fishbone and Valerie June, inspiring locals like me.”
Along with Blues Can manager, Teena Wilson, Carter is spearheading an initiative to re-ignite a collaborative community for local female musicians. A true ladies night, dubbed Torch Singing Soul, the next free-form female jam takes place Thurs., March 12th at the Blues Can.
“There are so many amazingly talented women that play this city! From Meisha & the Spanks to Liz Stevens to Abbie Thurgood to Samantha Savage Smith to Adele Ledger. It’s inspiring to see so much quality, lady talent,” muses Carter.
Women in soul have always been a population of strong women with strong voices who live and breathe from the guts; Deicha Carter has hustled her way into that population with the same drive and desire to purge and celebrate as many of her predecessors.
“I remember feeling like I had discovered some sort of secret world that I could tap into…It quickly became an outlet to funnel the emotions that were less desirable in ‘real life.’ It is now something I can’t live without.”
Deicha Carter and the Voodoos play Valentine’s Day at the Nite Owl Feb. 14.AB, Alberta, Blues Can, Deicha Carter and the Voodoos, Nite Owl