Singer Jane Mortifee has no idea what songs she will be playing on Saturday night (Sept. 29) at the Brackendale Art Gallery (BAG), when she performs with Bill Sample on keyboards and David Sinclair on guitar.
“I haven’t even put together a set list,” the Vancouver-based performer said. “I’ve actually never had this much trouble putting together a set list before.”
It’s not like she doesn’t have a wealth of material from which to choose.
Mortifee’s career began in the 1970s, when she started singing solo shows and at clubs. Eventually, she became a regular background singer on the Tom Jones, Paul Anka, and Rolf Harris TV series filmed in Vancouver. She also did background vocals on a Heart album, was an opening act for Bob Newhart, and performed background vocals for legendary musician Ray Charles.
“That was certainly one of the highlights of my career,” she said. “He had come to play at the Variety Club Telethon and he needed some backup singers. I’ll never forget the rehearsals. I was sitting close to him on the floor — literally at his feet — while he played this incredible song, just on his keyboard, no other instruments, and I’ve never heard that song since, and I’ve looked everywhere for it. It was one of those ‘is-this-really-happening?’ moments.”
Mortifee has also been active in theatre, film and television, including starring in the award-winning Canadian movie My American Cousin, playing Patsy Cline in A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline, appearing in TV series like Neon Rider, 21 Jump Street, Danger Bay and Airwolfe, doing voiceovers and creating songs for animated series — and she even sang at the launch of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Year of the Flood.
But she gave most of that up when she had a daughter.
“I remember I was working on a film set for a mini-series when my daughter was eight months old,” she said. “I had to wait around for eight hours while other shots were taking place, and I remember thinking I had wasted a whole day that I could have spent with the most amazing and exciting thing on the planet. A film set just can’t compete with your child.”
So, Mortifee took time off to take care of her daughter, although she still did studio work when time permitted.
“When my daughter hit university, I thought ‘Gee, I had this career once,’” she said. “I don’t have any regrets, but I was anxious to do something.”
Mortifee has released three albums, mostly covers of R&B songs and bluesy ballads, and has even begun writing a work of fiction.
“I’ve developed a love for creative writing and yoga,” she said. “I’ve been to several retreats for creative writing and yoga with the same woman, and she is retiring, so I am hoping to begin leading creative writing and yoga retreats myself in the future.”
But it is to the past that she may be looking to as a way to solve the dilemma of what songs to cover at her show at the BAG.
“It’s going to be ballads and bluesy songs,” she said. “But my set list always reflects my current mood, and the songs on my current list just don’t move me the way they used to. But I did play in Brackendale 30 years ago when I was starting my career. It was a great, intimate place to play, and I always enjoyed playing there. I just found some photos from those days, and maybe I can find my old set list and some of those songs will make Sunday’s set list. Who knows?”
You can know what songs Mortifee chooses by heading to the Brackendale Art Gallery on Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 at Xocolatl and at the BAG.
For more on the artist, go to janemortifee.com.