Not only does Hamilton-based singer-songwriter Ginger St. James play over 200 shows a year, she’s also a music booker, a promoter, a popcorn entrepreneur, and a sales rep for a CD and vinyl record manufacturer. And in her spare time, which apparently exists, she paints, visits a shooting range, or takes riding lessons.
This Saturday at BLUMartini, she’ll be joined on stage by Patrick Aaron, Damien Johnson, and Joey Lee, along with her guitarist of 12 years, SnowHeel Slim. Aaron, Johnson, and Lee are all Kingston-based musicians who met St. James when they made up three-quarters of now-defunct Kingston classic country band The Swinging Doors. They all share a love of roots music (“that umbrella term for rockabilly, country, blues, bluegrass, folk, western swing, and all that,” says St. James) and have played together in Kingston and on the road many times before. Opening the show is local country musician Clem Chesterfield.
While she has a core band that plays with out of her home base in Hamilton, she likes working with bands in other cities.
“I find it interesting to collaborate with other players who are into the same sort of music,” says St. James. “[Aaron, Johnson, and Lee] are really talented and pick stuff up on the fly, and make a song completely different, which is exciting. It’s like ‘hold onto your hats people, let’s see how it goes!’ Then we all high-five each other if it goes well. Sometimes it’s a trainwreck, but that can fun too.”
St. James cites Brenda Lee, Little Richard, and Loretta Lynn amongst her influences, all of which shine through quite clearly in her rockabilly-outlaw country music. Less obvious are influences like David Bowie, Blue Oyster Cult, and big band music.
“I like metal a lot, I love hip hop,” says St. James. “I took hip hop dancing, but it was called rap dance then, back in 1991. I learned ‘The Running Man,’ I was pretty proud.”
St. James not only covers some of the best classic country, but you’ll hear bits of rock, soul, and plenty of originals.
“I try to put my diary into words that aren’t completely offensive to everybody,” St. James says of her songwriting approach. “I’m definitely influenced by the old-timey stuff. I was schooled in bluegrass by some of the best players in Toronto. Lyrically, I just write what I feel. Country music is the most authentic form of expression there is. It’s the most honest, the most tragic. So that’s what I sing.”
The passion St. James has for roots music is evident not only in her stage show, but also in her off-stage life. Most of the shows she books at The Casbah in Hamilton fall into the roots category, and music is part of everything she does, either as a performer or behind-the-scenes. Even her popcorn business is designed to support the bands she books.
“I use that money to give the bands a good guarantee,” she says. “It’s harder to come by good money in clubs, so I sell popcorn to pay bands. I’m a popcorn empress, band-promoting, song-slinging, white-knuckling, fighting fucking cowgirl!”
Ginger St. James plays at BLUMartini this Saturday, Dec. 8 at 10 pm. Clem Chesterfield opens the show. There is no cover, but band tips are accepted.