Posted August 11, 2020 by Jeff in Tunes

Jessie Wagner Discovers ‘Purpose and Determination’ on Solo Debut

Jessie Wagner
Jessie Wagner

Over the course of her career, singer Jessie Wagner toured with the likes of Lenny Kravitz, Chic, Duran Duran, and Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul and fronted the New York-based rock/soul band Army of the Underdog.

Now, she’s just finished recording her debut solo album, Shoes Droppin’. It arrives on Oct. 9 on Little Steven’s Wicked Cool Records.

The album’s first single and music video, “End of Time,” features soulful backing vocals and spirited horns as it recalls the best soul music of the ‘70s.

“It’s exciting to stand alone and see if anyone connects with [it],” Wagner says in a press release. “I’ve had some of these songs with me for years, but I was always waiting for the right time to put them out. It’s scary, because this is my voice, my words, just me. It was cathartic to get out some of that anger and sadness, but there’s also the presence of faith that it will all get better. [‘End of Time’] is just pure bubblegum fun! This song is about finding the perfect person and wanting to just love and be loved by that person for the rest of your life.”

Drummer Dave Diamond (Bob Weir, Derek Trucks) produced the track, and you can pre-save the album here.

The songs on Wagner’s debut run the gamut and range from bluesy R&B, neo-soul, acoustic balladry and rock.

“’Shoes Droppin’ was the song I wrote when I was at my lowest point,” Wagner says of the title track. “My ex went into cardiac arrest and almost died. He spent the next couple of years fighting to regain a semblance of his former existence, and because of that, my life was arrested in a strange way. I thought I’d have to give up my music career. I fought my way back from that, and ‘Shoes Dropping” is a testament to losing and regaining your faith in what is possible.”

Recorded during downtime from the Little Steven world tour, the album features seasoned soul guitarist Sherrod Barnes, who co-wrote six of the songs; he’s previously written for or with Beyoncé, Angie Stone and Ashanti and recorded with Whitney Houston, Roberta Flack and Queen Latifah. The album’s striking horn arrangements are by longtime Little Steven cohort Eddie Manion, who’s also worked with Bob Dylan, Diana Ross and Darlene Love.

Wagner didn’t think that singing in Stevie Van Zandt’s band would lead to being signed to his label.

“When Stevie said he thought I was a real artist, I could’ve cried,” Wagner says.

After fighting to be heard in this industry for so long, it means so much for someone of his stature to say your voice is unique and needs to be heard.

Van Zandt can attest to her talent.

“Her music is eclectic and unique and impossible to categorize, which makes her the perfect Wicked Cool artist,” he says.

“I started the year with a record deal, and then shortly after, the world fell apart in so many ways,” Wagner says. “I’m happy that I have this album to look forward to. It gives me some purpose and determination. This album really addresses every aspect of me as an artist. I don’t settle well in any box. I’ve hinted at that with my rock band Army of the Underdog. But this really shows my versatility — or my schizophrenia! I like that It’s honest and playful, with touches of hopelessness, but also the idea of redemption and faith. After talking to Dave [Diamond] about how I thought ‘What You Get’ sounded like a Paul Simon song, I asked a friend how to say ‘This is me’ in Swahili, and it sounded so beautiful. Then I had to figure out how to sing it and make it fit with the song.”

A future single, “My Darlin’, My Dear” has a slow burn kind of feel.

“I had Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings in mind,” she says. “It was this person begging to be recognized for her worth, and it needed to be bluesy and gritty.”

The pandemic interrupted Wagner’s tour plans, but she plans to hit the road as soon as it’s safe to do so.

“That will be the dream realized,” she says of touring in support of the album.

In the meantime, she’s doing live streaming shows and putting together several music videos and lyric videos within the constraints of social distancing.


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].