About Sue Foley ★ ★ ★
For as long as I can remember I knew I would play and that if I was honest and followed through things would work out.
I was born in Ottawa, Canada, March 1968 from a typical Irish working class family and a neighborhood called Mechanicsville. The first thing I remember and the main thing that had an impact on me was music. Music was everywhere in the 1970’s. It was blaring out of the speakers of my older sister’s car radio, it was in my brother’s electric guitars, it was coming out of my father’s mouth when he’d come home from a bender and teach me old Irish songs and poems. Music and sound, yelling, fighting, crying, laughing, rock and roll, country, George Jones and Tammy Wynette, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Clancy Brothers, Elton John and the silly insipid radio songs that I heard everywhere. I never cared what I was hearing, what style it was or where it came from. I was just in love with words, expression and melody. I would recite twenty verse poems from the time I was 2 or 3 to whoever would be my audience and I especially loved when my dad would take me to the pubs he played on Saturday afternoon and I could get onstage and pretend to sing into the microphone.
As a teen I became more shy and introverted. That’s when I started writing things down, taking notes, observances, trying to get all that angst inside me out on the page. By that time my family had been split apart. My father’s drinking had broken us up and left me roaming with my mother as she tried to make a life for us. The other older kids stayed behind, a few had already left home. It was a really difficult time and I clung to music to keep my sanity and stay grounded. It occurs to me now that all that moving around with my mom prepared me for my life as a touring musician. I got really good at picking up and going. I still am.
Early on I focused on the guitar and learned to play really well. That’s how I built my reputation. I was determined to be a great guitar player, to play lead guitar, like the boys, like my older brothers and their heroes. Songwriting started out of necessity. Back then in club shows we had to play 3 to 4 one hour long sets a night and without enough material I’d just start making stuff up on the spot. It was easy in the Blues style because you only had to write two lines for each verse as the first line got repeated. So my songs were like... ”I love my baby, he has brown wavy hair, I love my baby, he has brown wavy hair...I love my baby, take him anywhere” ...stuff like that. I noticed a change in the crowd’s reaction when I sang my own words even though in the beginning they were simplistic. Though my guitar was my trademark it ended up being an original song I wrote that got me my first record deal and the recognition of Blues impresario, Clifford Antone. Clifford called me direct from Austin with an open invitation after he heard my song “Gone Blind” from a demo tape. We ended up using that demo on my first CD, Young Girl Blues (Antone’ s Records 1992).
From 1990-97 I was living and touring out of Austin. Antone’s was my Alma Matter and Clifford was like a father to me. For most of those years I was on the road learning and experiencing everything about my business and craft. I have been an artist, manager, road manager, roadie, booking agent, driver, sideman, band leader, psychologist, ingenue to expert. By the time I was 28 I had 5 releases under my belt, had done about a million miles on the highway and had sat at the feet of and played with many Blues Legends like Otis Rush, BB King, Albert Collins, Pinetop Perkins, Buddy Guy... I was in Blues Heaven. I had arrived.
Then I got pregnant and everything changed. Within a year I had left Austin TX and was back living in Canada, baby on the way. I hunkered down and embraced my hometown and country and continued to record and write. Motherhood gave me a new sense of myself, a deep and real life experience. My writing started to develop even more. I think it’s because I was really living and had something that tied me to the rest of humanity. Before that I was just a musician on the road, in my little bubble, but being a parent broke me out of that and life became a lot more meaningful. In this period I recorded another 6 albums, won many awards and continued to grow my business, all the while raising my son.
In 2001 I was being interviewed by journalist, Don Wilcock and he was telling me about a biography he’d written about Buddy Guy. I mentioned off the cuff that he should write a book about all the great female guitarists like Bonnie Raitt, Nancy Wilson, Chrissie Hynde etc.... After thinking about this for several days and doing some research I decided to write this book myself and call it Guitar Woman. That week I started to reach out to women players an interview them candidly. The idea was to find out all about their lives and music and uncover the “mystique” of the female guitar slinger. But even more than that I was trying to find out how my life related to theirs, kind of like a mirror but even more conceptual. I was trying to see how you could take yourself and relate it to a universal idea. I know I didn’ t want to write a simple biography on these women. I wanted to honor them and their accomplishments but I also wanted to ask bigger questions. Guitar Woman remains a work in progress.
My partnership with Peter Karp came out of the blue; a rushed and forgotten meeting at the 2006 Ottawa Blues festival, a phone call from his manager, a haphazard recording session that I sang horribly on but that made us laugh our asses off and two years of email correspondence that turned into a CD, a tour, an entirely new concept and show, the reinvention of two careers and whole new approach to making music. Working with Peter brought back my love of writing and having fun with words and ideas. I have never written better songs in my life and I’ve never made better music that connected so deeply with an audience. It’s partly due to the fact that I am trying to keep up with him but more so, it’s because we have such good chemistry and working together has broken me out what I thought I was and allowed me to grow into something new.
I’m not sure who or what called me to do this or where this “calling” would lead. I’ve followed along, sometimes sailing and other times stumbling and fumbling in the dark. I wouldn’t have it any other way...and yes, things do always seem to work out just fine.
- 2001 Best Blues Album
Maple Blues Award
- 2004 Acoustic Act of the Year
- 2004 Recording of the Year "Change"
- 2004 Female Vocalist of the Year
- 2002 SOCAN Songwriter of the Year
- 2002 Recording of the Year "Where the Action Is"
- 2002 Electric Act of the Year
- 2002 Female Vocalist of the Year
- 2002 Entertainer of the Year
- 2001 Guitarist of the Year
- 2001 Entertainer of the Year
- 2001 Female Vocalist of the Year
- 2000 Guitarist of the Year
- 2000 Famle Vocalist of the Year
- 2000 SOCAN Songwriter of the Year
Trophee de Blues de France
- 2003 Best Female Guitarist
- 2001 Best Female Guitarist
- 2000 Best Female Guitarist