Dana Fuchs has been compared to Janis Joplin more times than she can count. Like the ‘60s blues rocker, Miss Fuchs belts out songs with an edgy, urgent alto that is as anguished as it is attention-getting.
Yet despite the affinity between their voices, Miss Fuchs insists she knew little of the iconic singer-songwriter while growing up the youngest of six children in Wildwood, Florida.
“[She] was one artist that I just somehow missed,” Miss Fuchs, 39, told The Washington Times during a recent tour stop with her band at Gypsy Sally’s in Georgetown. “My parents were into music, but nobody ever played Janis Joplin in our household.”
Ms. Fuchs describes her kinship with Joplin as little more than “two Southern white girls influenced by the same old black dudes,” but others have made more of the singers’ sonic similarities: Miss Fuchs was cast as Joplin in the 2001 off-Broadway musical “Love, Janis.”
“The timbre of our voices are very, very different,” Miss Fuchs said of the uncanny resemblance. “My voice is so much lower. Her vocabulary was amazing, which I didn’t even realize until I had to learn those songs, especially the more obscure ones [such as ‘To Love Somebody’ and ‘Get It While You Can’]. What a vocabulary for a 24-year-old! But no, I never had the intention to sound like her.”
Miss Fuchs, who now calls New York home, has been touring with her band for years. She composes all of her songs in conjunction with her guitarist, Jon Diamond. She counts classic rock and classic country — such as Hank Williams and Johnny Cash — among her many influences.
“I wanted to be Mick Jagger in female form,” Miss Fuchs said. “But then I remember as a young girl [in] a predominantly black neighborhood, my first-grade teacher got us all into Donna Summer. And my parents listened to a lot of soul, Stevie Wonder. So all of those influences are iconic to me.”
In 2007, Miss Fuchs was cast by Broadway director Julie Taymor to sing on the soundtrack for her Beatles-themed film “Across the Universe.”
“She had gone to the producers of ‘Love, Janis’ needing a voice” for a demo, Miss Fuchs said. “She asked if I could act, and of course, because I’m an actor, I said yes.”
After the success of “Across the Universe,” Miss Fuchs was nudged to move to Los Angeles to pursue more acting gigs while her name was hot among filmmakers. However, music was — and still is — her first love.
“I didn’t want it that badly,” she said of an acting career. “I wanted to hit the road with music. I have friends that are trying every day to get acting gigs. It’s so hard, and I’d rather put my time into music. That’s where my heart is.”
Much like that of her heroes, her music has gained a foothold in Europe, which made the U.S. sit up and take notice.
“The U.S. is sort of a harder country to tackle,” Miss Fuchs said. “When you build the resume elsewhere, they go, ‘OK, Europe likes it, what’s wrong with us?’ It’s so funny.”
She has been touring in support of her latest album, “Songs From the Road,” a live CD recorded last year at the Highline Ballroom in New York. Miss Fuchs is quick to say that in order for a musician to survive in the Internet age, going out on the road and performing live is about the only way to make it.
“It’s easier to sustain yourself out there if you have a good, live thing that you’re offering that’s genuine to you and to the people,” she said. “So that’s where this whole flip in the industry has given people like me a chance. But it is grueling too, because the only real surefire way to do that is to put [yourself] on the road.
“There’s no magic bullet. You’re not going to get that million-dollar record deal. I don’t even know if they do those anymore. If you’re willing to [constantly work] to write your own songs and get out there and perform, and you’ve got something to offer, I think it’s a better world [for contemporary musicians].”
Miss Fuchs has been fortunate to work with some of her idols, including the late Etta James and Joe Cocker, who died in December. Miss Fuchs and Cocker both sang on the soundtrack for “Across the Universe,” although they had no scenes together.
However, fate brought them together in the recording studio.
“[Music producer] T Bone Burnett called and said, ‘Joe loves your voice. Come down to the studio and record,’ and that was just high heaven,” she said. “And he invited us to open for him in Germany not long after, and I kid you not, I stood there watching the show, bawling. He was 70 at the time and just hadn’t lost a thing. It was miraculous.”
Miss Fuchs puts her all into her live shows, screaming for the hills and channeling enormous energy into every note. She maintains that it is not riches or fame that keeps her going, but the music and her fans.
“The people [are] what sustains us,” she said. “I don’t mean financially, you know. I’m all about giving the music away. Just help us get out there and play our country a little more. It means everything.”