Candye Kane firmly believes that country music --traditional country music, that is--has universal appeal.
"The problem with country is that everyone lumps it all together, the modern with the traditional," said the 28-year-old singer-songwriter, who, since moving to Encinitas four years ago, has been perpetuating old-time twang in nightclubs all over San Diego County, either on her own or with her backup trio, the Jolly Ranchers.
"That's why you have people saying they hate country, but they really don't know. What they really hate is the modern stuff, which is just all so polished up," Kane said.
"The old twangy stuff, on the other hand, has integrity. It's raw and emotional, and it's something everyone can relate to."
Judging from the audience last Sunday night at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, where Kane and her band played their customary set of traditional country classics--including Patsy Cline's "Crazy," Ray Price's "Heartaches by the Number" and Ernest Tubbs' "Walking the Floor Over You"--she's right.
Out on the dance floor, a white-haired couple in matching cowboy boots did the two-step alongside a pair of kids in T-shirts and surfer shorts.
In the stands, a John Wayne type wearing a straw Stetson, his eyes glued to the stage, was tapping his feet. So was a long-haired guy in a baseball cap who before the show had been scanning the rock-concert ads in the Sunday paper.
"I think traditional country music is like the white man's form of the blues," Kane said. "I have this image of hillbillies sitting on their back porches, writing real songs from their hearts--just like black blues artists, but from a different perspective.
"And again, just like the blues, once you hear it, you're hooked."
There's a music industry adage that says it's not the singer, it's the song. But, in Kane's case, it's both. Her audiences might be swayed by her repertoire, but they're ultimately seduced by her voice, as sweet and pure and crystal-clear as that of Kitty Wells, the late Cline, Loretta Lynn and other past queens of country music.
Kane, who was born and raised in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood in East Los Angeles, said she discovered the seductive power of her voice at an early age.
"I was one of the only white kids in my school, and I was always getting beat up because I was a minority," she recalled. "So I started learning how to sing oldies because that's what all the gangs and cholos listened to, and by singing songs like 'Earth Angel' and 'Angel Baby' to these kids," and that's when she stopped getting beaten up."
When she was 14, Kane said, she appeared on the nationally televised "The Original Amateur Hour"; a year later, she encored on "The Gong Show," placing second to "some clown jugglers."
By the time she dropped out of high school in 1979, Kane said, she had switched from singing oldies a cappella to singing traditional country with an acoustic "hillbilly" band.
"That's the music I grew up with," Kane said. "I listened to my mom's records, mostly sound tracks, and the one I liked best was 'Oklahoma!' She also had a lot of Patsy Cline records, and Patsy quickly became one of my biggest idols."
For the next seven years, Kane plied the L.A. club circuit, singing covers as well as originals.
"I've been writing poetry since I was 12," she said. "And, when I formed my first band, I started using some of the poems I had written to write songs."
It wasn't until she moved south to San Diego in 1986--at the behest of Paladins bassist Thomas Yearsley, whom she later married--that Kane began getting some breaks.
In 1987, she cut a demonstration tape for CBS Records. The sessions were financed by the label and produced by Val Garay, who has also produced albums by Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, the Motels and Dwight Twilley.
A year later, "Please Tell Me a Lie," one of her originals, wound up on "A Town South of Bakersfield, Part II," a compilation album of songs by up-and-coming Los Angeles-area country artists. ("Part I" contributors included Dwight Yoakam.)
Next month, Kane is off to Nashville for a songwriters showcase at the Bluebird Cafe, along with fellow locals Robert Savery and Jack Tempchin, who wrote many hits for the Eagles and Glenn Frey.
"The Bluebird is where all the songwriters and music publishers and people looking for songs congregate and find each other," Kane said. "Robert and Jack and I have a night all to ourselves, and we're just going to swap songs and hope something happens."
Kane also recently began moonlighting as a jazz singer. Starting this Friday, she'll be at the Marie Callendar's restaurant in Encinitas every Friday evening from 4 to 7, singing torch songs such as "Stormy Weather" and "I'm Confessin' " in an acoustic jazz trio.
"It's something I've always wanted to do," Kane said. "Kay Starr, she's my other big idol, her and Patsy Cline, and every once in a while I'll go into some piano bar, anonymously, and just sit in and sing.
"After all, the old jazz is another pure form of American music, just like traditional country."
Candye Kane will be debuting her jazz trio Friday at Marie Callendar's restaurant in Encinitas and singing traditional country with the Jolly Ranchers on June 8 at the Del Mar Horse Show and June 13 and 23 at the Casbah in Middletown.