Valerie June belts heartfelt ‘Workin Woman Blues’ 

click to enlarge Valerie June
  • Singer Valerie June’s rootsy, bluesy album “Pushin’ Against A Stone” is earning rave reviews.
In “Workin’ Woman Blues” — which opens her 2013 recording “Pushin’ Against a Stone” — Memphis, Tenn.-bred R&B singer Valerie June moans: “I ain’t fit to be no mother / I ain’t fit to be no wife / I’ve been working like a man, y’all / I’ve been working all my life.”

She’s not kidding. She first punched the clock with her father’s construction and demolition business, refurbishing old bricks.

“You’d actually get each brick in your hands and, with a hatchet, just clean the mortar off and stack them on pallets,” she says. “That’s how we paid most of our bills — by him selling used bricks.”

At the time, June — who opens for Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings concerts in The City this week — knew she had a great old-school blues voice. She already had started singing in church.

But as she grew older, she juggled countless day jobs to put food on the table, and played any club or coffeehouse she could at night.

“I’ve always done music while I was doing other things, and a lot of the artists I admire and respect did it that way, too,” she says. “And ‘Workin’ Woman Blues’ came to me when I finally stopped working like a man.”

In Memphis, June started at Applebee’s, then — through word of mouth — launched a popular housekeeping service. “People knew me to be a trustworthy person,” she recalls. Soon, she had a huge ring of house keys and regular assignments like laundry, dry-cleaning and even cooking a family’s Thanksgiving dinner.

In the afternoons she sold oils and soaps at an herbalist called Maggie’s Farm.

“Afterward, I’d do a little exercising, play my guitar, go play a gig that night, then get up and do it all over again the next day,” she adds. “I was working so hard. I was overworking.”

The thrifty singer was saving for a full album session.

“My parents raised me not to take anything from anybody else,” she explains. She eventually self-financed three albums, plus the Kevin Augunas-Dan Auerbach co-produced “Pushin.’”

Without health insurance, she was diagnosed with Type 1.5 diabetes, characterized by symptoms of both Type 1 and Type 2.

“And my body just stopped,” she says. “I could not go to work. The only thing I could do was play shows.” Her money went to medical bills.

Thanks to the Affordable Healthcare Act, June is now insulin-powered and re-energized.

Somewhat ironically, JC Penney was among the first to license one of her songs, “You Can’t Be Told.”

“When I was a teenager, I was working for JC Penney, selling bras and drawers! That was one of my first real jobs,” she says.


Valerie June

Opening for Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

Where: Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday; 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Tickets: $47

Contact: (415) 345-6000,

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Tom Lanham

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