For more than a decade, Vernon-based singer Cathy-Ann “Cat” Wells has given a little piece of her heart to the late, great Janis Joplin.
Wells not only sounds like the throaty rock-blues vocalist, who tragically died in 1970 at the age of 27, but also looks the part with her flowing mane of long blond curls, vibrant, at times, outlandish stage clothes, and barefoot performances.
With her near four-octave range, Wells won’t be holding back when she brings her ultimate Janis Joplin experience, Move Over, to the Vernon Recreation Centre auditorium Jan. 15. (The tour also takes her to the Salmon Arm Recreation Centre Jan. 14 and the Creekside Theatre in Lake Country Jan. 16).
Accompanied by a band of the Okanagan’s hottest musicians as well as a horn section, the Uptown Hornz, Wells will perform all of Joplin’s hits from Ball and Chain, Summertime, Mercedes Benz, Another Piece of My Heart, Me and Bobby McGee and others.
Wells has been performing as Joplin for the past 15 years, but to this date has never performed her entire tribute show in Vernon.
“I’ve performed a song or two in costume and had a bit part in the musical Dem Crazy Blues, playing the role of Janis, but I realized I had never performed the entire show in the Okanagan,” she said. “I’m both nervous and excited to bring my own show to the Okanagan first. Your hometown fans are your most honest critics. After that, it just gets easier…”
A Toronto native, Wells moved to Vernon in 1990. She remembers the scene then had a lot to offer musicians and music fans.
“It was a time when AAA (adult alternative) and local bands played at the Lakeside Hotel; country bands periodically played at the Wild Horse Saloon; rock bands played at the Vernon Lodge; blues bands at the El Paso lounge, and it seemed there was always a local band throwing their own dances at the Paddlewheel Hall,” she said.
On top of that, there were jam sessions at the Lakeside, Coldstream, National and Village Green hotels, added Wells.
During her Okanagan heyday, Wells’ blues band, PHAT Betty, was a popular opening act for touring artists such as ZZ Top, Jeff Healey, Trooper, Crash Test Dummies and others.
As of late, Wells has taken her act aboard cruise ships due to the lack, she says, of performing opportunities in the Okanagan. She started her career aboard the seas as a vocalist in a show band, moved to pub guitarist, and now performs as a guest entertainer.
“I have a couple of shows that I perform but, by far, the most popular is my Janis Joplin tribute,” she said.
Wells now thrills crowds with her uncanny impersonation of the ‘60s blues/rock artist. Along with her ability to mimic Joplin’s voice with her throaty blues style, Wells has paid close attention to every detail from costumes to moves and mannerisms.
She claims to have fallen into the role by accident.
“When I would perform with my blues band, fans kept asking for Janis Joplin. I admit I was annoyed at first because I didn’t understand what they were hearing/seeing. When I finally sat down and watched a video tape of Janis performing, I was amazed at how similar our performances were. I’ve always been able to somewhat mimic voices so I began to study hers… What really caught you was her emotive vocal prowess.”
Wells has teamed up with promoter Mike Schell, of Schell Shock Entertainment, who also performs trumpet and flugelhorn in the Uptown Hornz, to produce the show and together they plan to bring more live performances to the Okanagan.
Along with Trudy Taphorn from Edmonton’s TCB Rock and Roll Legends, they hope to poll the audience to help dictate which acts to bring in. (Schell Shock and TCB Rock and Roll Legends are next presenting Donny Edwards, a Elvis tribute artist who has performed in Las Vegas, to perform at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre. Feb. 1.)
“We have a wide range of tribute acts to choose from right from Dolly and Kenny and Elvis to Boston and Pat Benatar,” said Wells. “We’ll see how it’s received and if all goes well, I plan to invite some of the cruise ship acts to perform as well.”
Move Over: The Ultimate Janis Joplin Experience takes place at the Vernon Rec Centre auditorium Jan. 15 at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $30, available at the Bean Scene in downtown Vernon or online at TCBLegends.com. To reserve a table of 10 or more, with a 10 per cent discount, call 250-864-3155. (This show is licensed – no minors will be permitted.)