Candye Kane: November 13, 1961 - May 6, 2016

Award-winning blues singer Candye Kane has died after an eight-year cancer battle. She was 54.

Born Candace Hogan in California, she first came to attention as a porn star in the 1980s, using her income to fund her first blues album after she progressed through opera, punk and country genres. Kane won a number of awards during a career that saw her appear on 22 albums and contribute tracks to several movie soundtracks. She was also an advocate of personal freedom, LGBT issues and body positivity. She was diagnosed with neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer in 2008 but she’d continued to tour until the weeks leading up to her death.

Here, her close friend and fellow blues musician Dani Wilde remembers a fearless and inspirational character.

It was summer 2007. Thomas Ruf, of Ruf Records, and I were welcomed into Candye Kane’s sunny Amsterdam apartment. With a dazzling smile and her best Mary Poppins accent, Candye offered me a spot of tea, some cherries and some weed. It was the first time I had met her ahead of our Blues Caravan tour.

That evening, I was invited to share the stage with Candye. Her band were swinging as she belted out her inspirational songs You Need A Great Big Woman, The Toughest Girl Alive and The Lord Was A Woman. She was a larger than life character. People from all walks of life found a place that they belonged at her shows. Having majored in women’s studies, Candye’s intelligence and wit echoed through her songs, which promoted self-acceptance and confidence to all shapes and sizes.

Candye’s son Evan Caleb, her drummer, always spoke with pride about his mom; they were very close. Candye fell pregnant with Evan when she was just 17. Evan’s father didn’t stick around and Candye was left a single mum on the poor side of Los Angeles. Surviving on food stamps and desperate to provide for her son, Candye turned to stripping and forged a career as a successful porn star. In her spare time she peddled cassettes of her original hillbilly music along Venice Beach.

Candye’s life really was sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. She decided enough was enough; she took her son and fled to San Diego. It was a narrow escape; later that week there was a shooting in her old neighbourhood and a bullet went through the window of their old bedroom.

San Diego was a fresh start. Candye met The Paladins’ rockabilly bassist Thomas Yearsley and fell in love. Yearsley produced Candye’s Home Cookin’, released on Antone Records in 1994. They got married and had a son, Tommy. The couple divorced but remained close friends.

By 2007, Candye was searching for a new guitarist. Canadian blues singer Sue Foley recommended Californian talent Laura Chavez. “When I picked her up at the airport, we were both dressed in skull shirts and ordered the same cocktails. We felt the same on so many topics,” Candye said. The pair became firm friends and musical kindred spirits.

In 2008, Laura, Candye, Deborah Coleman and I were travelling on a big bus across Europe. I was living the dream opening for these great blueswomen. With Laura on guitar, Candye’s show was something else! BB King described them as “the kind of thing men like because it’s seductive and women like because it’s powerful”. On stage Candye was charismatic and flamboyant. I remember her pulling a bottle of Jack Daniel’s out from her huge cleavage. Despite beginning to feel very ill, Candye brought joy to every crowd. None of us realised how serious her stomach pain was until she was admitted to hospital in Germany and diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Candye had told Laura: “This world needs to see how awesome you are… If you stay with me I’d be robbing the world of your talent.” Laura refused to leave and began researching Candye’s rare type of cancer. Candye teased: “She’s a guitar-slinging blues lover who reads pathology reports for fun.” In 2009, Candye and Laura recorded their first album together, entitled Superhero. Candye continued to “kick cancer’s butt” with the support of her sidekick Chavez.

That summer, I joined Candye in The Netherlands working for a charity she co-founded called United By Music. UBM supports young people with learning disabilities who have a passion for music. Candye took these kids on the road with her brass band and coached them through their performances. The love and commitment Candye showed was inspirational. She made such a difference to the lives of so many.

Despite her illness, Candye continued to tour the world over. In 2013, she released Coming Out Swingin’. Laura’s string-bending on this record is sensational and despite having lost a lot of weight, Candye had lost none of her huge voice. My thoughts go out to those who loved her, and have lost not just one of the most fantastic blues singers of our time, but a courageous superhero and a one-of-a-kind friend.