Not in a million years could I have predicted that after more than 30 years in the music business – most of which I spent as a working musicians – that my wife [2nd from right] would be the first one to have a major label release.


That’s right, Sharon Vernon, and her sister Maureen will debut on the new Nettwerk Entertainment released Trews album (eponymously titled) on April 22. Through an anonymous gift as part of a Pledge Music fundraiser, she was given the opportunity to sing back-up vocals on several songs on the new CD – including a great song called “New King”. Needless to say, she’s giddy with joy. I’ve always known she could sing but she’s been rather shy about sharing her voice with the world. She has also relegated her performances to family sing-a-longs. And her family can SING. It’s a gift. I’m glad it’ll be out there for the world to finally here.

Moe4It’s been a long education for me in appreciating and digging into the works of female singers. I fully credit Maureen Leeson with that. As her longest-running bass player/brother-in-law (it’s a package deal) I’ve played a lot of music by some of the greatest female singers of all time (and some iffy ones). Moe could turn even the flat and blasé of many modern female artists into gold and she can elevate the performance of some of the most difficult songs, vocally, that have stumped and belittled many who’ve tried. I’ve seen a lot of people try to sing Janis Joplin. With the exception of a great singer named Jamie Dart, Moe has been the only vocalist I know to nail that final scream in “Piece of My Heart”…or shred Heart’s “Barracuda” without getting winded or hold the hang note in Kiki Dee’s “I’ve Got the Music In Me”. And to this end I’ve been spoiled.

I used to co-judge a talent contest at the Hard Rock Cafe in Toronto where a series of, essentially, karaoke wannabes would get on stage to perform with a live band (fronted by Janis-Joplin_Grace Slickthephenomenal Michael White of Led Zeppelin tribute fame) – sometimes for the first time. The female singers without fail would sing one of two songs: “Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane or “Piece of My Heart” by Janis Joplin. Week after week we sat through this parade of ladies trying really hard. The running joke amongst us judges was: “How many singers does it take to sing Janis Joplin?” The answer is: All of them.

Jamie Dart was the only singer for three consecutive years ever to hit that final scream in “Piece of My Heart” – on time and on key. But that isn’t what won her the final contest. No, she promo_2won it by singing songs written by and for men. She nailed Zeppelin’s “Rock And Roll”, Humble Pie’s “30 Days In the Hole”, and “Highway To Hell” by AC/DC. It was the versatility and stamina that won her the contest. I signed her to a distribution deal on my label. Her original album was filled with hooks and was exceptionally well produced by Murray Daigle. Alas, radio didn’t bite (they were looking for the next Meredith Brooks – we were offering up the next Sass Jordan). A shame…but Jamie has continued on as a singer who calls her own shots down east now.

I’ve had a real hard time finding a modern female vocalist that can offer the versatility and range of the Golden Age Ladies of Song. Somewhere between the Arethas, the Ann Wilsons, the Melissa Manchesters, the Karen Carpenters and the Janis Joplins it all fell down. Whitney Bikini KillHouston was the first great hope. But she turned it into vocal gymnastics (listen to her climax in the FIRST chorus of “I Will Always Love You” which leaves 4 more minutes with nowhere else to go). Mariah Carey took up the challenge and created a new genre – the Hiccupping Squirrel. And don’t forget those alternative ladies of song who clipped that hiccup so it sounded like a cry for help while drowning. That became Sarah McLachlan’s international calling card. Thankfully, Alanis Morissette said “fuck the singing thing”, I’m just going to rage…and a generation of angry Grrrrls evolved and formed bands and started scaring little shoe gazer boys. They have band names like Lillith, Gallhammer and Eyes Set to Kill. Bring one home to mother, guys. http://metalholic.com/metalholics-top-25-women-in-hard-rock-and-metal-for-2011/

ToucheIt’s become clear that we’re missing some truly great female SINGERS (emphasis mine) like in days of yore. Where are the full throated Mama Cass Elliots or Lena Horns? Why are we now subjected to little girl voiced nasal whining, breathy whispering and yo yo yo’s? Melody has taken a back seat to talking. Singing has taken a back seat to emoting. Jully Black, Alicia Keyes and Pink have gotten the closest so far. They’ve done their homework. Christina Aquilera and Avril Lavigne not so much. Why did it take a set of Zeppelin cover tunes by Heart sung by a 60 year-old Ann Wilson at the 35th annual Kennedy Center Honors to bring back ‘The Voice’? She out-sang the master, Robert Plant. Hell, the woman made Plant CRY! [Page cried too – see the 2:00 minute mark]

I’m starting to see the resurgence of form and melody in women vocalists on top of creative, outside-the-box songwriting. My current faves are Kris + Dee out of Kingston who take what cover marta itunesBlue Rodeo have done as a 5-piece and match it as a duo – with a feminine slant http://www.krisanddee.com; I’m also digging the post-Rock era slant of Betty Moon and her continual re-invention of herself – something Dalbello used to do http://www.bettymoon.com; Anna Gutmanis is doing a really original sounding cabaret motif. I’ve gotten a sneak peak of a new song called “Diamonds and Stilettos” that I’m currently enjoying from her upcoming album http://www.annagutmanis.ca; For some alt-folkiness I adore Marta Pacek’s ‘Voodoo Dolls‘ album (out now) that’s both saloonish and sassy in places with stories of heartbreak, desperation and whimsical ambiguous lyrical double entendrés like on “Thar She Blows” http://martapacek.com; and finally, former The Joys front woman Sarah Smith is about to break out big time once the world gets to hear the musical growth she’s shown on her new release ‘The Journey’. Her edgy Bonnie Tyler/Kim Carnes/Melissa Etheridge vocals collides with some pretty contemporary pop and dance material through producer Pat Anthony – which is a whole new direction for the acoustic-based singer. Looking forward to this one exploding internationally. http://www.sarahsmithmusic.com

The bar has been reset, I think, in terms of what audiences are expecting from female vocalists. At least there are women still out there actually singing. Now, if only the world could find contemporary MALE equivalents to the best rock and R & B singers from the past. Oh, wait…here’s one now:

Send your CDs for review to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA


Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 35 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 17 of those years. He is also the author of the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ both of which are available at Amazon.com or http://www.bullseyecanada.com


  1. Great article Jamie – another name for your list of contemporary females throwing back to old school vocalists – Janelle Monae. I know she’s a pop icon and all that but I have seen her live and she delivers. She’s the lovechild of Prince, James Brown, and Jackie Wilson!

  2. Thanks for the tip. I’ll have to check her out.

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