Interview of Sue Foley
by Monica Yasher

Posted on 3/10/2010 by Monica Yasher

(Pittsburgh, PA) I had the opportunity to speak with Sue Foley. Sue has a lot going on. She was creating a new album with Peter Karp. She has written books on the music industry. She has created a compilation of women blues players. Let's see what Sue shared with us:

Monica: Hi Sue! I laid out this interview with a couple of subcategories. I would like to talk about the beginning of your career. I’d like to speak with you about songwriting, life in general and do some fun girly girl questions that we do.

Sue: Sure! Great!

M: You were very young when you first started playing the blues. I believe I read that you were around sixteen?

S: Yes.

M: And, you were fortunate and talented enough to sit in with a lot of major blues artists when you were so young. My question to you is, did any of those major blues artists give you any advice or tips that really sat well with you that the advice caused you to live by.

S: You know what, I wasn’t comfortable asking a lot of those guys for advice. Actually, the only advice I had was not to smoke on stage. And, I was told not to use a set list. I thought that because I was female, I always felt a little bit of distance between me and those guys. As for the other women I hung out with, I’m not sure they gave me advice. I was perceptive of how they handled things. I would watch people.

M: In regard to songwriting, what do you think was your best songwriting experience?

S: Probably the stuff I’m doing with Peter Karp in the "He Said She Said" project that I’m working on. I think it is definitely the best songwriting that I have done. He’s such a great songwriter and an inspiration and that has really stirred my creative impulse.

M: You are doing a CD?

S: We are finishing it up.

M: For all of the newer songwriters out there, let‘s share some thoughts. Cowriting is sort of like dating. Did you ever abandon a songwriting session?

S: Not abandon. But I have done a couple that it really didn’t click. Actually I don’t really do cowriting in the traditional way that people think of it, which is where two people get together and sit in a room and hack stuff out. I really have a hard time with that. Usually with Peter, for instance, we recorded stuff for my own upcoming record and he helped me finish some songs. But, I had already done my part and showed him what I had. We worked individually. I have a really hard time going to that place where I’m sitting in someone else’s presence.

M: So what he did is lay done some lycs and mp3’d the cuts to you, and then you wrote the lyrics. Is that what you had going on?

S: That’s what I did actually. I had songs that we were going to go in the studio and do. And, they weren’t finished. Or, I wasn’t quite happy with them. And, I couldn’t quite bring them anywhere. So, I showed them to him and he kind of added a little bit here and there. I think that’s a really good way to do cowriting. That way you can have your privacy as well.

M: I agree. Do you think your songwriting is unique?

S: I think we are all unique. I don’t know if I am more unique than anyone else or if my themes are. I really don’t know. I can’t say I have a perspective on that.

M: As a songwriter you bring your own experiences to the table. You pull from your own life. I guess that makes each songwriter unique.

S: Exactly. If you can tap into your own story and not try to take from someone else, that’s a good thing.

M: Let’s move on to the guitar. How do you determine when your body of work should be acoustic or electric?

S: I don’t really know. It’s just that some songs sound better acoustically, and you kind of know that when you write them. Some songs have a rock and roll feel. Some songs are good both ways. I have done some songs in my show both ways.

M: When you begin to write a song, do you typically start acoustically? Or, do you pick up the electric?

S: I always play acoustic. I always play my Flamenco guitar when I’m at home. I never touch electric. I like acoustic guitars.

M: Did you ever put your little boy to sleep playing acoustic guitar?

S: He used to put his hand on the guitar to stop me from playing! (LOL) It meant I wasn’t paying attention to him!

M: They are smart when they are young.

S: Too smart!

M: Why do you prefer the Telecaster and the Flamenco?

S: I’ve always been a Tele player. I got into it because of Muddy Waters Albert Collins, Keith Richards. I’ve always played Teles from the early days. As soon as I went electric, it was a Telecaster that I went for. Plus I didn’t want to play a Strat, because everyone else was playing a Strat because of Stevie Ray. I steered away from a Strat. My Flamenco I just love. I have always loved Spanish guitars. I studied a bit of Flamenco as a hobbyist. I really love the way those guitars sound. They are so sweet.

M: Let's talk life in general. How hard is it to be a woman band leader?

S: It’s hard to be a band leader. Woman. Guy. I don’t know. It was hard to be a young woman band leader. That was when I was eighteen or nineteen and just starting out. That was kind of difficult, because as a band leader it’s a job you have to grow into. You have to learn how to have authority. You have to separate yourself from your band to a certain degree. It took me a long time to do that. I always played with my friends, and I didn’t want to be separate from them. A good band leader has to walk tall alone. It’s a lonely job.

M: What do you mean you had to separate your self?

S: You can’t be everyone’s friend. You have to hire and fire people. You have to keep the show on track. It’s a boss. The boss can’t be on the same level as the employees. A boss has to be separate. Not that he is higher, but he is separate. You can’t get involved with the employees and stay distant to some degree. That can be hard on the road. As a young woman that was a very alienating feeling, because you feel a little vulnerable out there and you are tired and it’s a hard job. You want everyone to like you. I wanted to be everyone’s friend. It took me years to get away from that.

M: Management 101, you can never be one of the guys.

S: Exactly. Being one of the guys works out to a certain degree, but you are not one of the guys. It’s not a bad thing.

M: I see you lived in Texas for seven years, and for your family you moved back to Canada. Does being in Canada pose any dilemmas as an artist or with technology today it doesn’t matter where you are at?

S: It really doesn’t matter. I came back up here to raise my son, and he is in a good support network. He has what he needs. I love Canada and I love my country. I will move back to the states someday, because that is where the music I’m playing is really happening. There’s more going on. There’s more of everything. More players. I came up here for a personal reason and not business. However with the internet and flying, it doesn’t matter as much. You can live anywhere and do your business.

M: Do you think the US is more happening than Europe?

S: Yes. I mean, the gigs are better in Europe, and they generally treat you better. They have more of an artistry feel about it. They have a real respect for African American Blues artists. There may be more respect in Europe. However, the players are all in the US.

M: Whenever you talk players, are the road players and session players the same for you?

S: A little bit of both. Generally we have the band. Whenever you record a CD, you might bring in extra people. Or if you want a certain sound, you bring in a specific person for a certain feel. I use some guys in the studio, but I have my main guys on the road.

M: I did read your Myspace blog, in regard to management. You said that you were told that you were unmanageable! Why would someone say something like that?

S: It’s hard for me to let someone else navigate my career.

M: Do you think you have to?

S: When you work with a manager, yeah, you do. They have their own agendas and their own ideas of where you are supposed to go. I’ve never had luck in that. It doesn’t mean that it can’t work. I still think that you need to be sitting on top of the heap, and be able to manage the manager.

M: Well, yeah, It’s YOUR career!

S: I’ve been self managed forever. I have had a couple of managers. But, I always come back to self management.

M: Speaking of your day and self management and family, what is a typical day for you?

S: Busy busy busy. If you video taped me and put me on speed, I would look like a Charlie Chaplin movie. I’m constantly in motion. I write a lot. I spend a lot of time with my computer.

M: Does he ever go on the road with you?

S: Yeah sometimes. We went to Tennessee last year and that was fun.

M: Guitarist, songwriter, entertainer, author, producer, probably a lot more onto that list..

S: Mother.

M: Yes, Mom. Which one is your favorite to do or you’re most successful at? Who are you?

S: The most important and most successful is being a mother. As soon as I got into that role it took precedence over everything else. That’s basically my identity in a lot of ways.

M: Does it affect your songwriting?

S: It opened me up. It definitely gave me a perspective on life that I didn’t have before. Any life experience you have….that’s what makes blues players so great. As artists get older they have this richness of experience. They are able to relate to their audiences and share this gift from all those experiences. They can relate more to an audience that way.

M: That’s true.

S: Blues, of course, aging is a beautiful thing. Mother is definitely my biggest role. Everything else is a big mosh after that. After I take care of my son’s needs and I know that he is good, there’s food in the fridge and the house is taken care of, then the business takes up. All of those other things are at one level.

M: Thank you. What is your most requested song?

S: 'New Used Car' gets requested a lot. 'Two Trains'. People like that one a lot too. Probably those two. 'Mediterranean Breakfast' gets requested a lot too.

M: I’m always a fan of having a phrase mean more than one thing, so I enjoy 'Baby We Got a Good Thing Going'.

S: I didn’t write that.

M: I still like it. You performed it. It’s very country musicish.

S: Right. It’s a Barbara Lynn song. It’s great lyrics.

M: What is your most memorable moment?

S: Period!?

M: You have many awards, played with some awesome players. What one ranks up there?

S: I don’t remember anything! It is my problem right now!

M: It must all be good then!

S: I’m being honest about it. My most memorable moment must be at Antone’s. I played with a lot of those older guys that are gone now. Maybe sitting and drinking with Gatemouth Brown, watching cartoons with him, was pretty memorable.

M: Let’s talk about your book on female guitar players. What have you learned from women in other genres?

S: I’ve learned a lot. There’s a lot of common ground. Mostly I’ve learned that we are similar kind of people that do this. The guitar thing. At the same time, I’ve learned that I can’t make generalizations that we are the same. Does that make sense? It’s fun to discuss other music forms and talk to other women how they raise their kids and go on the road. How they handle their careers and aging. It’s all really good stuff.

M: In your research who do you think is the upcoming woman guitar player? Who should we keep our eye on?

S: Laura Chavez by far. Do you know Laura? She’s with Candye Kane. She’s the best. She is really good. Debbie Davies turned her onto me. She is a great person and a damn fine guitar player!

M: What’s the best advice you could give Laura today?

S: Just be really serious about your music. Don’t get sidetracked. Laura and I have traveled together. Just keep your nose clean and be serious about your playing. There are so many things to distract you. Keep your playing first. There are so many things that can pull you off track. It can be drinking or partying or too much self esteem. You really have to be sharp and on top of your game. It’s easy to be in your twenties and let some of that slide. But once you hit your thirties and forties, you really got to pull it together or someone else is going to get your gig. I really like the idea of being supportive of these other musicians such as these women guitar players.

M: What about your blues guitar women?

S: That was a spin off from the book. There happen to be a lot of women blues players. We put together a compilation, and it ended up being a two album set. And, it could have been bigger. I was pretty blown away. I could do another version right now, and that is with just blues. I think that record is a fine piece of music. It is very playable. I get a lot of compliments on it. The first song on side A is Laura Chavez.

M: I have a few favorites on that one! Sue, I think we covered a lot and I thank you for your time.

S: Thank you!

If you enjoyed reading this electric guitarist, you may enjoy reading about Shannon Curfman. Copyright © 2010 Copyright Monica L. Yasher. All Rights Reserved.

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