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.