By David DeRocco
When a country girl named Ginger St. James aims to serve you up a heapin’ helpin’ of “Diesel and Peas,” – well mister, you just better accept her invite and her hospitality. ‘Cause if you don’t – well sir, you’re a’gonna miss yourself some mighty fine sangin’, and a mash up that’s equal parts sassy sexiness and sexy sassiness.
Of course, if you’re one of them there city slickers in uptight britches that can’t speak no country, don’t’cha pay it no mind: this Ginger’s body language is the universal kind, earned and learned whilst she was a dancin’ and sangin’ in a one of them there burlesque shows. Now she’s frontin’ up a mighty fine band of gee-tar players and turnin’ heads as a purdy and provocative sanger with a taste for beer, barrooms and blues – mixed with a big shot of rebel rock-a-billy for good measure. Even if you claim to be more a Mary Ann type of fella, you’re gonna walk away from this little lady’s show a total Ginger girl.
Ginger St. James – recent recipient of the Best Female Vocalist Award at this May’s Hamilton Music Awards – is a force to behold, a radiant red-haired ball of fiery talent who’s on top of the world now her first full-length CD “Diesel and Peas” has been released. It’s an apt and authentic name for an album recorded by a “chick from the sticks,” and she owes her daddy a nod for giving her the idea for the title.
“Diesel and peas is a farmer’s remedy for something that ails you,” explains Ginger, who grew up in the primarily farming community of Binbrook. “I’m a farmer’s daughter and I was riding my four wheeler and was kind of going too fast. We have a tree-lined lane, so when the fender blew up I kinda turned and smashed into a tree. I was yelling for my dad that I had to go to the hospital, and my dad being him said ‘let’s just pour some diesel and put a bag of peas on it and you’ll be fine.’ He’s a muse for a lot of the things I write.”
Ginger’s full-length CD delivers on the promise made by her earlier EP releases, 2010’s Spank, Sparkle & Growl and its 2012 follow up, Tease. Those releases were a showcase of Ginger’s sultry and powerful voice and her signature hybrid of country, rock’n’roll and blues music, sung in the tradition of country songbirds like Loretta Lynn and Wanda Jackson. It’s the music she remembers most as a child, even though her earliest tastes indicated a bigger appetite for Broadway than blues.
“Well, the big joke always is, ‘at least she’s not singing “Tomorrow” from Annie,’ because I used to sing that at the top of my lungs for about three years, followed by “Hanky Panky” by Madonna when Dick Tracy came out. Anything that had to do with Broadway was big for me. But I was exposed to country music very young. Going to the barn my dad would always have country music playing on 820 CHAM. It just didn’t hit me until I was song writing. Then I was like, wow, there it is!”
While listening to country icons shaped her musical taste, it was her brief career as a burlesque performer that helped Ginger develop her command of the stage; with her striking mane and pin-up queen features, Ginger St. James on stage wields a visually and aurally compelling presence that makes her seem much bigger than her five-foot frame.
“I guess just being able to perform music is the same as burlesque because essentially you’re baring it all to your audience,” says Ginger, who has finally chosen music after a career as a dancer, actress and model. “So, doing burlesque not only let me express my theatrical side but also let me push boundaries, push envelopes and be like, okay, we’re doing this, you can’t turn back now. You have no choice. So, just get into that sassy side, add some theatrics to a song – it may not have been the right decision, but it definitely helped shape me!”
With “Diesel and Peas,” Ginger has delivered an 11-track slice of roots rock that inhabits a unique space on the Canadian musical landscape, especially for female artists. Recorded in Oakville’s River 16 Studio with producer Steve Kirstein, the songs reflect a tapestry of influences woven into short blasts of sonic perfection. The song “Beer Bottle Pockets,” for example, owes much more to the keyboard stylings of Billy Preston than it does honky-tonk piano players like Jerry Lee Lewis. It’s a sound Ginger says happens more by chance than design.
“I like everything to happen organically, so it’s never strategic. It’s like, ‘here’s the song, let’s just let everyone play their parts and let the music grow that way.’ It depends on who’s on board as musicians and what their backgrounds are. But I like it all to happen naturally. For example, “Furious” was never supposed to turn out that way, it just did.”
With other songs like “Lonely Cryin’ Blues,” Ginger connects the dots between classic female rockabilly stars like Lorrie Collins and new country stars like Miranda Lambert, while “Zipper” displays the sexy playfulness that keeps the male-folk coming out to see her acclaimed live performances. With her music straddling multiple genres, her audiences are becoming equally diverse with both rock and country fans in attendance.
“We certainly don’t classify ourselves as total country or anything, but as you can tell in our music it totally comes through. I listened to punk rock and heavy metal music growing up. We play to audiences who are 12 to 90, so it seems to appeal to everyone. I just like music to be limitless really. With this band that we have that’s what gives it its cohesiveness. We’ve found the same feel for the whole record, a little bit of twang, a bit of sass, some punk influence, some blues. We want to make music that’s palatable to everybody.”
Hitting the road in support of the new CD, Ginger St. James and The Grinders hope to find new fans with an appetite for music she describes as “country blues and rock’n’roll with sass on the side, served up like home cookin.” With a full course menu like that, you can’t help but want to see what Ginger ST. James is serving you for dessert. See Ginger St James making a guest appearance with The Old Winos June 12th at the Old Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake.