Since she began singing more than 25 years ago, Lana "Shawty" Spence has gotten use to being compared to Janis Joplin — the rock icon who has gone to the big concert hall in the sky.
With vocals that are powerful and bluesy, Spence understands the similarity and considers it a compliment. It was her voice, after all, that landed her a brief stint with Joplin's band, Big Brother & The Holding Company.
"But I'm past the point of singing 'Bobby McGee'," the singer noted. "So, folks, don't ask, OK?"
Spence would prefer making her own mark in the music industry. And as lead singer with Moondog Medicine Show, she feels she's doing just that. Area music buffs know her name, and the band has a loyal following. Now, a well-received EP, featuring four original tunes, has been released.
"I've done well for not being famous," Spence shared. "Music has been good to me."
Moondog Medicine Show was formed in 2009 by Spence and bass player Keith "Polk Chop" Sylvester. But this wasn't her first taste of music. It's in her blood. Spence said she comes from a musically talented family.
"My mother sings, (plus) sisters and brothers, cousins and uncles, grandparents," she said. "I've made a career from my talents. That's the only difference, I think."
Spence said she was about 23 years old when she knew she wanted to seriously sing, she said.
"I had played around in a few bands and had not taken it seriously," she said. "Then, I helped form a band in the late 1980s called 'NV.' We were regionally successful, I'd say. We did a little traveling up and down the East Coast and played hard rock."
But, eventually, it came time to part ways. Then, in 2001, while living in San Diego, Spence said she had the opportunity to sing with Joplin's old band, Big Brother & the Holding Company.
"It was a good thing for me to experience, in that I could experience Janis' fans," she said. "They are very loyal."
After she returned to the Hagerstown area and began looking for a music outlet, she and Sylvester formed Moondog Medicine Show.
Since then, the band has developed its own loyal fan base.
"Their presence inspires us," Spence said. "They spread the word, too."
Spence describes the band's original music as blues-rock.
"We have some funky blues tunes, as well," she said. "The blues genre is a wide, wide genre. We're not traditional, by any means. However, we fit nicely where our goals lay."
While their sound is special, so is their stage presence.
"Medicine show is a Victorian-era thing," Spence said. "Keith and myself thought it would be a good idea to dress of the era. We don't go overboard with the style but enough to help us stand apart from other groups. There was a time in the music business that dressing for stage was an integral part for an artist. It drifted away, in our opinion. There are exceptions, of course, but it seems that the idea of dressing for stage is the last thing that is considered. We are trying to find our niche and dress is a part of that."
Spence said people especially love the band members' hats, which include derbies and top hats.
"We receive compliments on our clothing on a regular basis," she noted.
The band's logo even has a nod to the past — medicine show bottles from the 1800s.
There have been changes in the band since it had its start, Spence said. But current band members include Spence on vocals; Sylvester on bass; Joel "JoMo" Newman on guitar; Kenny "Scowlin" Jackson on drums; and "Gentleman" Skip Grove playing saxophone.
While Spence has performed with Joplin's band, other band members have played with Gary U.S. Bonds, Dr. John and David Sanborn, to name a few.
Spence said Moondog Medicine Show plays throughout the four-state area and recently began performing in Washington, D.C.
"We have high hopes to branch out more and more," she added. "We like the festival season because there are splendid gigs. And we are doing around five festivals this summer. I wish it were 25, but we'll get there."
Spence is hopeful the band will receive even more recognition with the recent release of its first EP, "The Original Cure."
"There are five songs — four of which are original tunes and one that is a remake of an old song by Big Mama Thornton called 'Hound Dog,'" Spence said. "Some may know the tune for it was done by Elvis Presley. However, the original version is quite different than Elvis' version."
Spence said the band had planned on having more tunes on their record, "however, we experienced some difficulties while recording — one being equipment letting us down. We recorded in Keith's recording studio, so we didn't have the normal costs involved as in an hourly rate. But, when components broke, they needed to be replaced. It took our release date and pushed it up and up. So, we decided to do an EP rather than a full-length album."
While music is the band's life, Spence said each member earns a living outside of the band, both full time and part time.
"We are weekend warriors with goals," she said.
if you go ...
WHAT: Moondog Medicine Show
WHEN: 9 p.m. to midnight Friday, March 23
WHERE: Crazy Horse Steakhouse and Saloon, 104 Railway Lane, Hagerstown
COST: No cover charge
MORE: For more information about Moondog Medicine Show and a schedule of upcoming gigs, go to www.moondogmedicineshow.com. To purcase their EP, email firstname.lastname@example.org.