Rock Rewind: Sass Jordan Leads The Way For Female Rock Artists
Canada's Queen Of Rock
Sass Jordan is a British-born Canadian Rock musician from Quebec. Starting out in downtown Montreal’s music scene, Jordan sang her way to the Canadian rock charts.
Jordan’s unique and earthy sound quickly gained popularity. She began releasing music worldwide and collaborating with some of the biggest names in the industry. Her successes have made her a pioneer of female rock, winning her a JUNO for Most Promising Female Vocalist in 1989 and naming her Billboard’s 1992 Top Female Rock Artist.
So let’s get to know Sass Jordan a bit better and learn how this Canadian rocker made a name for herself in a male-dominated genre …
Sass Jordan’s Early Life
Sarah (Sass) Jordan was born in Birmingham, England in 1962. Sass was a common nickname used for the name Sarah at the time.
Jordan explains, “I’ve been called Sass my whole life. I don’t like hearing Sarah from people. That’s like calling me Penelope!”
When Jordan was just 3 months old, her family moved to France where her brother was born. Then when she was 3, her father accepted a position to teach at Concordia University and the family moved to Westmount, Quebec.
How Sass Jordan Discovered A Love For Rock
Having grown up listening to classical music, Jordan’s first introduction to rock was at the age of 7. She and her brother were playing with the dial on their parents’ radio when they discovered they could change the music. The first rock song she remembers hearing is The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
As she began listening to more songs, her list of musical influences expanded.
“My biggest influences were males. I never really liked female rock singers. I really like bluesy-type stuff. My favorite female vocalists are people like Bonnie Raitt and of course all of the black singers like Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin, but that’s a whole other genre and if I could have sung like that, you would never have caught me dead doing this.
The male singers who were my biggest influences were people like Steven Tyler, Robert Palmer and Paul Rodgers. These guys have such command of rhythm and it is rhythm that makes a great singer, just like it is rhythm makes a great guitar player or a great bass player or a great drummer. It is astounding how underrecognized that is. It is all about rhythm, freezing rhythm and timing.
Obviously pitch and the ability to turn a phrase that matters too, but it is rhythm. You can find that artificially in this day and age with technology like beat detective and with the recording technique, so you can move the track over slightly, so it melds in the pocket, mathematically, but a true singer does it naturally. We didn’t have that technology when I started out or when any of the guys that were my biggest influences Lou Gramm, Robin Zander, Rod Stewart and Lowell George, the slide guitar player from Little Feat started out.”— Sass Jordan, interview with Riveting Riffs Magazine
Becoming A Rock Musician
When Sass Jordan was about 9 or 10, she remembers telling her parents exactly what she wanted to do with her life.
“My mom was coming home from grocery shopping, and she said I came flying at her from the living room and went, ‘I know what I want to do.’ And she was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, ‘I just heard this music, I heard this song, and that’s what I want to do.’ … from that moment on everything changed because I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I was just a one-track mind, which is how I ended up becoming successful at all. It didn’t even occur to me that I wouldn’t be. I just knew that’s what I’m doing.”
By her early teens, Jordan was regularly getting together with friends to sing and play guitar at Westmount Park. Soon they had paying gigs and by the time she was 16, Jordan was playing at clubs in downtown Montreal.
Over the next couple of years, she would perform with various local acts such as The Pinups, Bündock, and The Box. Soon artists would be playing songs she had written, such as “Rain” by Michael Breen.
RELATED: 9 Canadian female rock artists who have made history …
Sass Jordan Releases Own Music
In 1988 Jordan released her debut album Tell Somebody. She ended up with 4 singles on the Canadian charts, including her title single. Jordan recalls, “They played the ‘Tell Somebody’ video on Much Music a lot … I remember going in two weeks from relative obscurity to being recognized as the girl in the video.”
Around the same time, Sass Jordan also charted with her remake of Fontella Bass’s 1965 “Rescue Me.” The song was part of the American Boyfriends soundtrack and charted #44 on Canada’s RPM Top Singles chart.
Her quick rise to fame inspired her to relocate to Los Angeles in 1990 so she could try and break into the US market.
Two years after moving to LA, Jordan released Racine, which yielded 4 Top 20 Canadian singles and sold more than 100,000 copies in Canada alone.
This release was followed by 3 more, all of which commercially underperformed. The latter two, Present and Hot Gossip, completely abandoned the rock n roll genre in favour of a more mainstream sound.
It would be another 6 years before Jordan released another album.
An On Again Off Again Relationship With Her Solo Career
During her hiatus, Jordan worked on many other projects. In 2001, she played Janis Joplin in the theatre production of Love Janis. This was not her only acting gig. During her career, she also performed in The Vagina Monologues and was a feature actor in the 1990s family drama series Sisters.
In 2003, she played at the SARS benefit concert in Toronto with bands like AC/DC and The Rolling Stones. She also became a judge on Canadian Idol. She remained with the show until its last season in 2008. Her experience on the show resulted in her recording Get What You Give and From Dusk ‘Til Dawn.
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Speaking to both albums, she once shared, “There’s some phenomenal players on them. I love playing with great players and I have the enormous good fortune of knowing so many people that are really brilliant musicians … I don’t have fun doing stuff by myself.
The whole point of music, for me, is community and friendship and creativity together. Co-creating makes music exciting to me. I’m not one to sit alone in a room and concoct these amazing songs. There’s so many fantastic musicians like that, but that’s not my thing.”
Following the release of From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, Jordan took another break from recording her own music.
It wasn’t until 2017 that she released her next album, which was a reimagining of her 1992 release Rancine. This was followed by two all-Blues records in 2020 and 2022.
Facing Challenges As A Female Rock Artist
When Sass Jordan was first starting out, there weren’t many female rock singers in front of her whose footsteps she could follow. The few that there were had to compete for playtime.
Jordan explains, “The worst thing that would happen to me was being told by radio programmers that they couldn’t play my new single because they were already playing a female – one – Melissa Etheridge … It was a little frustrating because it was not a female genre apparently. I wasn’t Madonna. I was like, you know, Paul Rodgers, and that wasn’t going to fly.”
Speaking to female artists today, Jordan’s advice is to stay true to yourself, give it your all, and surround yourself with the right people.
“The only thing I can think of is the same old platitudes that you’ve heard over and over and over, which is, just stay true to what you want to do. I have no idea how I would do it now. I’ve been doing this since the ‘70s and the changes that have happened since the ‘70s are so dramatic and far-reaching. I think you need to be really social media savvy. You have to be into self-promotion and able to do it properly. And you always have to surround yourself with the right people. I think if you really want to do it nothing’s going to stop you.”
Sass Jordan’s Discography
Since 1988, Sass Jordan has put out 10 studio albums …
1. Tell Somebody (1988)
Jordan’s debut album, Tell Somebody, was released on Atlantic Records. A Canadian success story, the album featured 4 charting singles:
- “Tell Somebody”
- “Double Trouble”
- “Stranger Than Paradise”
- “So Hard”
The title single also resulted in a JUNO Award for Most Promising Female Vocalist in 1989.
On her website, Jordan recalls recording her debut album.
“30 years ago I started out on this wild and crazy ride of recording my own original music and this record was my first full-blown attempt. We recorded it in a little studio in Old Montreal and I remember getting my brother Daniel, and a bunch of my friends to sing backgrounds – including Estelle Esse and Angela Songui – who remain dear friends to this day.
The excitement and complete joy of getting to record with so many wonderful, talented and creative people was a revelation, and it cemented my determination to bring that same joy to as many people as were willing to listen. All these years later, that determination is still with me, as are so many of the fans that responded to it with such love and enthusiasm.”
Following the album’s release, Jordan headed down to Los Angeles to keep working on her music.
2. Racine (1992)
Jordan’s second studio album, Racine, was released on MCA records. The title of the album is the french word for “roots” and holds personal significance for Jordan.
“When I was kid, we had a place in the country outside of Montreal in a little village called Racine, so not only does it mean “roots” in French but it’s also my roots – from the name of the village.
Musically I was exploring the roots of the types of music that I really adored when I was growing up. That would be the bloodline of the Faces, Rod Stewart Jeff Beck, Bad Company, and the list goes on. Every Picture Tells a Story or Gasoline Alley or A Nod is as Good as a Wink to a Blind Horse. All these phenomenal records that I so loved.”— Sass Jordan, Artsmania Interview
Racine became her highest-selling album and produced four hit singles:
- “Make You A Believer”
- “I Want To Believe”
- “You Don’t Have To Remind Me”
- “Goin’ Back Again”
On her website, Jordan explains, “[‘Make You A Believer’] was the song that the whole record was built on. It was the song that made everyone excited and Rick I knew we had something special pretty much right away. It’s funny, as my good friend, the singer Stephanie Calvert, told me recently that she used to sing it in church when she was younger – they used it as a praise song – which, in a way, it is. I’ve heard it at sports games and anytime people need something uplifting. I wanted something with that Rod Stewart & The Faces vibe meets Memphis – so that’s what we were going for.”
“Make You A Believer” and “I Want To Believe” both made it to Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Chart. That same year, Jordan became Billboard’s 1992 Top Female Rock Artist.
3. Rats (1994)
After the release of Racine, Sass Jordan recorded “Trust In Me” for The Bodyguard movie with Joe Cocker. Jordan got the gig after Kevin Costner heard her playing on the radio.
Two years later, Jordan released her third studio album.
Though Rats failed to reach Racine’s success, Jordan has said it’s her favourite album and it continues to be a fan favourite. The single “Sun’s Gonna Rise” was Jordan’s first song to make it on the Hot 100 and is her most successful track in the US to date.
Her backing band for the album included Stevie Salas, Brian Tichy (Ozzy Osbourne drummer), and Tony Reyes. It also features special guests like Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick and George Clinton of Parliament and Funkadelic.
Looking back at the album, Jordan says, “This record was truly a milestone in my life, marking a turning point into a darker period. It was released in ‘94, 3 years before I left Los Angeles for good. It was a tumultuous period, filled with a lot of emotional chaos and bad decisions. The music was a fitting soundtrack to the confusion and anger of those times, as well as a catharsis, and it obviously ignited a fire that has burned well, even all these years later.”
4. Present (1997)
Following the release of Rats, Jordan dropped MCA and signed on with Aquarius Records for her next two albums.
Present steered away from her rock previous sound, with Aquarius suggesting she take a more mainstream approach. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the effect they were looking and the album did not do well critically or commercially.
Jordan is known for experimenting with different musical sounds. Pop, blues, rock, hard rock … nobody ever knows what her next project will be. While she recognizes that this may have been one of the reasons she faced challenges in her career, she’s unapologetic.
“It’s my own goddamn fault, it’s nobody else’s fault. But that’s just who I am. So at least I’m authentic and there’s no bullshit at all. I think it’s harmed me more than it helped me as far as being hugely successful. I am pretty successful, considering.”
Jordan goes on to explain, “I could have said no, but I didn’t. I said, all right, fine, because I’d love to sell a bunch of records. But it’s also so much to do with timing and cyclical things, and what’s in fashion and isn’t in fashion, and what your image is if you’re talking about commercial success musically.”
5. Hot Gossip (2000)
Even though Jordan’s last album didn’t perform as well as the label hoped, they continued to give mainstream a chance. But like Present, Hot Gossip failed to garner the same success as any of the past albums.
Reflecting on Present and Hot Gossip, Jordan shares, “Those are probably my least favourite records. There’s some good shit on them, but not really. I think there’s some great songs, I just don’t like the production at all.”
Following the release of Hot Gossip, Jordan took a break from recording new music.
6. Get What You Give (2006)
Get What You Give returned to Jordan’s blues rock sound and, in Jordan’s own words, it was recorded with “some amazing players.”
It was her first album following the failure of Hot Gossip and Present. Jake Gold, the former manager of Tragically Hip and another of the judges on Canadian Idol, took over as Jordan’s manager for the album.
The track listing includes several originals as well as a few covers, including her rendition of John Fogerty’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain.”
7. From Dusk ‘Til Dawn (2009)
From Dusk ‘Til Dawn was produced by Jordan’s husband, Derek Sharp, who’s the lead singer of The Guess Who. The album was the first and only released with Kindling Music.
When writing for the album, Jordan explains, “I was thinking about how human beings seem to be more sensitive and worried about things from sunset to sunrise. When you’re alone is when the fear of death really hits you, and I was trying to write songs that were related to the fears of the middle of the night.”
While Jordan wouldn’t release any more solo studio albums until 2017, she did continue to create music. During this time, she worked on hip-hop tracks with John Forté, formerly of the Fugees.
In 2011, Jordan joined Something Unto Nothing (SUN) with Brian Tichy and Michael Devin of Whitesnake, and Tommy Stewart. Jordan had previously worked with Tichy on Rats.
The newly formed hard rock group wrote their debut title album in a mountain shack in Canyon Country. The group felt that the only way to write trend-free music was to get away. The, which was the band’s first and last, was released in 2013.
In a 2015 interview, Jordan shared, “Something Unto Nothing is on a we-don’t-know-how-long hiatus because we just can’t for the life of us get together scheduling-wise… It was more of a labour of love because we don’t really get paid for that. Actually, we paid for it … As much as I love and adored the music and the project, it’s just not, for us right now, financially feasible.”
8. Racine Revisited (2017)
Racine Revisited was a reimagined version of the original Racine album. Jordan explains, “We pushed the sound back to the Misty Mountain Hop days of the 1970s and made it as if we were actually recording back then … We would all live together in the studio and record live off the floor [without] Auto-Tune or click track or anything like that.”
The album was released 25 years after the original in 2017 by Linus Entertainment.
9. Rebel Moon Blues (2020)
In 2019, Jordan toured with A Bowie Celebration: The David Bowie Alumni Tour. During the tour, Jordan shared, “I am extremely honored to be part of a show that celebrates the astonishing legacy of one of my ultimate idols, David Bowie, as well as getting to play with some of the master musicians from his bands. Bowie is one of the reasons I wanted to be a performer, and doing this tour is like playing a love letter to his memory every night!”
The following year, Jordan released Rebel Moon Blues.
A lover of blues music, Jordan’s music often features a hint of the genre. But this was her first-ever album dedicated to the Blues. The album features covers of classic blues songs, with one original – “The Key.”
“[The Key] was written about three weeks before we went into recording. Derek and I realized we should have at least one song that we wrote together on here, and so we came up with ‘The Key’. The whole song came together in an hour. When it’s meant to happen it really just flows out,” Jordan shared in an SXMCanadaNow interview.
Her band, The Champagne Hookers, backs the album with Chris Caddell and Jimmy Reid on guitar, Derrick Brady on bass, and Cassius Pereira on drums. Harpist Steve Marriner and keyboardist Jesse O’Brien are also heard throughout the album.
The album received a lot of praise, debuting at #5 on the Blues Album charts.
“After three decades in the business, many singers lose that certain something that may have launched their career. Not so with Sass Jordan. Not only is her voice as muscular as ever, I think, like fine wine, it’s improved over the years.”— American Blues Scene
10. Bitches Blues (2022)
Sass continued with the blues theme in her 2022 release, Blues Bitches.
Sass explains, “There’s been an undercurrent of blues throughout my whole career … The music that I have mostly been drawn to has always had that gritty, rootsy vein running through it, and that’s why I’m enjoying making these records so much.”
The album examines the emotions of the pandemic and its aftermath. Backed by The Champagne Hookers, Blues Bitches features 5 covers and 3 originals including “Change Is Coming” and “Still The World Goes Round.”
Prior to recording the album, Jordan found an interest in how frequency fields affect humans. Inspired by what she had learned, Jordan recorded the frequencies of gold and silver, which are used for healing in ancient cultures. The frequencies were then mixed into each song. While they aren’t audible to the human ear, Jordan explains that they can be felt by our energy systems. “ The great thing is, if you don’t need it, it won’t affect you at all – but if you DO need it, it will positively influence your energy system!”
Sass Jordan is an inspiring musician who has contributed significantly to the world of rock music. Her unique approach to music and raspy vocals have earned her a place as a pioneer of female rock, and her successes have won her numerous awards and recognition.
Despite facing challenges in the male-dominated music industry, Sass has remained true to herself and her passion for music. She continues to inspire young musicians and fans alike with her incredible talent, dedication, and perseverance.