Sass Jordan, performing at Rock Ambleside on Saturday, Aug. 17 at 5 p.m. The Rock Ambleside festival runs at Ambleside Park in West Vancouver Aug. 16-18 and features 11 bands. Visit rockamblesidepark.com for full lineup details and ticket information.
Her father was a professor of French literature and her mother was a former ballerina. She wanted to be a rock star.
“My parents were into music, but not popular music. Only classical,” says Queen of Canadian Rock, Sass Jordan.
On the eve of Jordan’s set at the Rock Ambleside festival in West Vancouver this weekend, the Juno-winning, multiplatinum-selling artist reflects on some of the past, present and future endeavours which have defined her 40-plus years in the industry.
For one thing, she’s ecstatic about the release of her new wine – available in both red and white varietals and appropriately called Kick Ass Sass – which she has produced alongside a winery in Niagara, Ont. “I am the only female musician in this country who’s doing booze,” she muses. “It’s flipping amazing.”
Her wine project is a current endeavour – one she’s naturally excited about. At the end of the month, she’ll be celebrating the 25th anniversary of her most successful album to date, 1994’s Rats, with a new vinyl special edition. But reflecting on that time in her life, which she describes as a “tumultuous period, filled with a lot of emotional chaos and bad decisions,” is more of a challenge.
“My manager had died, I was exhausted, I was being torn every which way, I did not feel like I was in control of my life – which of course I was, but I didn’t feel like I was,” she says. “It’s weird for me as a person and as an artist to be talking about something that’s so far in the past – and yet, that’s part of my job.”
While Jordan has released several albums since Rats, that record remains her commercial apex, boasting a trio of hit singles, including “High Road Easy” and “Sun’s Gonna Rise.” She left L.A. for good a few years after the album’s release, returning to Canada with her new husband and a child on the way.
“I’d thought that I was never ever going to go back to Canada back in those days. I thought, well, I’ve moved onto a different part of my life – it never occurred to me to ever go back to Canada,” she says, even though it all started for her here.
Born in the U.K., Jordan and her family moved to Montreal when she was three years old after her father got a job at a university. Her household wasn’t particularly musical, but Jordan remembers discovering that you could change the dial on the radio and in the process open up new worlds.
The first song she recalls being entranced by was the sound of four Canadians (and one American) reinventing roots rock and Americana with “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Describing that song by the Band as “a game-changer,” Jordan says her whole life changed and she exclaimed: “Oh my god, this is what I’m going to do!”
“It was odd that a 10-year-old child would have had that kind of a revelation,” she says, with a laugh.
As a teenager, Jordan and her friends would hang out in Westmount Park and, because “it was the ’70s,” someone always had an acoustic guitar. She learned to sing harmony as they sat around belting out numbers by the Eagles and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Jordan offers a hearty laugh when recalling the name of her first band: Sweet Thunder.
“Then we started doing shows and the whole thing morphed from there,” she says.
Jordan later landed a role as the bass player for popular local band, the Pinups. She recalls that while on tour with the group her bass chops were sometimes called into question by feckless men who inquired “Who’s really playing bass?” as if the idea of a woman behind the four-string was so inconceivable. Jordan would just laugh it off.
“I never thought about being female, I just thought about what I wanted to do. Gender didn’t come into it,” she says.
When her solo career took off in the ’80s, she really leaned into doing what she wanted to do. Now heralded as a pioneer of female-fronted rock – and hard rock, more specifically – she’s revered for her gritty, blues-infused rock ’n’ roll vocals and has sold more than a millions records worldwide.
Reflecting on the present and her continued touring, Jordan says she still gets a kick out of seeing fans connect with her music and she still loves to perform live.
“It’s a celebration and you get to hang out with bunch of people you don’t even know – and you don’t even have to talk to them. It rocks,” she says.
Asked what songs most people seem to still connect with the most when she performs, Jordan has a feisty retort: “The ones they know.”
Though that might be changing in the future. According to Jordan, her and her band are set to release a new album early next year, her first in a decade. “Oh my god, it turned out incredible,” she says. “My live band is so unbelievably great at playing this stuff.”
As for continuing to perform, she’ll continue to belt it out as long as it’s still exciting for her.
“I have a specific motto in life and that is: do not do anything that isn’t fun.”