ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, APRIL 2, 1992
By Steve Newton
Talk about the harried, high-pressure life of a travelling blueswoman! In her Phoenix, Arizona hotel room, Sue Foley is getting it from all sides. It’s check-out time, and room service is banging on the door; she’s playing Tucson that night, and her fellow musicians are out waiting in the loaded van; and, to top it off, there’s some hokey journalist rattling off questions from her old home of Vancouver. It’s enough to give the blues artist inspiration for a tune called “Shut Up, I’ll Be There in a Second!”
But like an aged veteran used to the trials of the road, the 23-year-old singer/guitarist takes it all in stride. Foley keeps her cool—and her infectious sense of humour—and staves off the marauding maids long enough to explain how she became part of the Antone’s Women Blues Revue, which hits the Commodore on Friday (April 10).
Seems that Foley met Clifford Antone, who owns Austin, Texas’s famed blues bar, Antone’s, at the Handy Awards—the blues version of the Grammies—in Memphis a couple of years back. Antone asked her to send him a demo, so she did, and he liked it enough to ask her to come down to Austin. She’s been down there ever since, basking in one of the most vibrant music scenes in North America. There’s all kinds of stuff happening down there.
“Too much, really,” says Foley. “It’s like sometimes I just want to stay home, and I have to go out. I say, ‘Oh God, I can’t miss Albert Collins’—or whoever’s there. It’s a real hotbed of musical styles, like the Mexican influence, and the Cajun. Then they have a big alternative scene too, and a big rockabilly scene. And really good country there, too.”
From the sound of things, Antone’s invitation to quit Vancouver and head down south was just too tasty, although Foley claims that her sojourn in Lotusland was crucial to her getting where she is right now.
“It’s funny, you know, ’cause I moved out to Vancouver when I was 18, and that’s where I put together my first band, my own band, because up until that time in Ottawa I was kind of a sideman. So that’s where we started out of; we started workin’ the road from Vancouver.
“Vancouver’s still home, in a way,” she adds. “I have really good friends there. I always love to go back and see everybody. I should be there on my own in late summer, hopefully, so that’s cool.”
Before any solo appearances, though, locals will experience Foley in the company of four of the finest blues/soul belters either side of the Mason Dixon line. Angela Strehli, Lou Ann Barton, Lavelle White, and Barbara Lynn will all perform separate sets, backed by the legendary Antone’s house band. And while most of the Antone’s Women are best known as singers, Foley has also attracted attention as a blues-rock stringbender of the first order—even though her main influences weren’t Hendrix, Clapton, or Beck. She’s more swayed by the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Sister Rosetta Tharp, and, in particular, Memphis Minnie.
“I just remember her sound, when I first heard her, really knocked me out. She kinda played like a guy, but she was a woman, you know? She sounded like a female Robert Johnson or something, she was that heavy.”
Foley is a real advocate of appreciation for female guitar slingers. In the liner notes to the Antone’s Women compilation CD—which includes three cuts from her forthcoming release, Young Girl Blues—she is quoted as saying, “Women grow up faster than men, and it shows in the way they play guitar.” Foley winces a tad when asked about that one.
“I just had a different attitude about the instrument, I guess, than a lot of guys,” she says. “I didn’t pick it up to get chicks or nothin’—or even to get guys, for that matter. I picked it up to learn to play.
“But you don’t have to quote me on that,” she adds with a laugh. “I don’t want a bunch of guys mad at me.”