Brave is the soul that dares insinuate that Ontario rockabilly guitarist Ginger St. James drew from a narrow field of musical influence as she was growing up.
“When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents who often had a lot of big band music playing,” St. James says. “They also had a lot of musicals on video. One of the first ones I saw was Annie, which I fell immediately in love with. I’m sure I was still singing ‘Tomorrow’ for the five years that followed.”
It wasn’t just big bands and musicals that caught St. James’ ear, however.
“My father was a farmer, and so I would spend a lot of time in the barn with him, listening to classic country greats like Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn.”
At age 13, St. James received the gift of a guitar from her mother. She admits first learning “all the popular songs that the popular boys at school liked,” but her musical boundaries would be opened again with the aid of her brother, who was an avid collector of Guitar World Magazine.
St. James taught herself to read guitar tablature, and proceeded to learn songs from Van Halen, Soundgarden and Nirvana. Any and all music was fair game from that point forward.
“Previous to high school, I had attended theatre camp, and, while I had enjoyed it, I never felt like I fit in. When I reached high school, I knew I didn’t want to be in a drama class pretending to be a lion in the jungle,” she laughs.
“Music struck me as something special though.”
St. James says it wasn’t until she turned 18 years old that she sang in public, when she did karaoke at a local bar. Although some people could easily forget such a moment, it turned out to be a pivotal moment for her:
“I ended up getting hired by the company to host karaoke nights. My life in music eventually grew from there.”
Following a move from Hamilton to Toronto, St. James was contacted by guitarist Snowheel Slim, who would go on to become her bandleader and songwriting partner.
All of the pieces of her musical puzzle were seemingly falling into place. As she established a respectable fanbase with her solo debut, 2010’s Spank, Sparkle and Growl, the release brought together the disparate musical worlds that musically influenced her as she grew up.
St. James’ debut would go on to win the Alt/Country Recording of the Year at the 2010 Hamilton Music Awards. She would go on to win the title of Best Female Artist by Hamilton’s View Magazine for five consecutive years, while earning supporting slots for Canadian country music sensation Johnny Reid, The Reverend Horton Heat and Sleepy Labeef.
St. James’ followed up the successful Spank, Sparkle and Growl in 2012, with the release of the Tease EP. She released her full-length debut, Diesel and Peas, last year.
Given St. James’ rural upbringing, it should be no surprise that she devotes a significant amount of time and energy performing in locales that are off the beaten path. While she also regularly performs in some of the country’s largest cities, she finds great pleasure connecting with the people in Canada’s small towns and communities as well.
“I come from a small town so I know first-hand how exciting it can be to have an artist come to town to play. Even if you happen to live in a rural community that is close to a big city, going ‘into the city’ is not always something that people are keen on doing,” St. James says.
“Our absolute favourite thing is playing smaller towns. We recently did a Western Canadian tour, and I would say that at least half of the shows we did were outside of major centres. It is the interactions with people in those small communities that make it worthwhile; people there are always so friendly and welcoming to the band.”
What: Ginger St. James
When: Sunday June 21, 9:00 p.m.
Where: Plan b Lounge, 212 St. George St., Moncton