You probably have seen Samantha Reed at some time.
She is the powerhouse vocalist for ubiquitous cover band Dance Candy, the only local singer who can easily hold her own in the metal roar of NoBS! Brass, and she shows up as a backing vocalist on a host of other projects, notably playing Sheila E. to Anthony Cosby Jr.’s bracing Prince tribute.
For a brief time in the mid-2010s, she did album of her own songs backed by RVA wunderkind D.J. Harrison on every instrument. Over the past few years, she has developed her own tribute shows to ‘1960s blues legend, Janis Joplin, more recent soul rock star Sharon Jones, and the transcendent, “high priestess of soul,” Nina Simone.
And now, all of these individual programs have been assembled in a new monthly series at Gallery 5, with the first, “Black Janis,” hitting this Thursday, Aug. 17. The shows will take place every third Thursday of the month, according to the Gallery5 website.
A Port Arthur, Texas native, Joplin is one of the icons of the ‘60s, her career flaring brilliantly and all too briefly on the era-defining San Francisco psychedelic music scene. She fronted Big Brother and the Holding Company, went solo for a second album, played Woodstock, and died a heroin overdose at the age of 27 before the release of her third album.
In TV appearances, she was funny, charismatic, and touched with sadness. In those few years, she recorded a series of hits, including Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Ball and Chain,” “Piece of My Heart,” with a raw intensity that still feels fresh over half a century later. Her inspirations were the classic blues performers of an earlier era, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Odetta.
If Joplin’s style was cultural appropriation, Reed’s “Black Janis” appropriates it back, inhabiting the songs as if they were custom built for her own blazing talent.
Sam Reed's “Black Janis” is at Gallery 5, 200 West Marshall St. on Thursday, Aug. 17. Doors are at 7 p.m., music at 8 p.m. Admission is $15 advance, $20 at the door.