Sue Foley: Playin’ the blues on a pink guitar
Photo credit and copyrights to Shane Collins & Gonzo Okanagan
I was at work when I saw the message from Brad Krauza. He informed me that Sue Foley was coming to town the following evening. He asked if I’d go to her show. Have a chat. Snap some photos. I agreed. I’ve been hungry for a chance to photograph a live show.
I hadn’t heard of Sue Foley before I read Brad’s text. After work, I looked up her website. I read her bio. I pulled up a few of her music videos. I drove around listening to her music. From the sticky honey of Texas heat, I heard in her guitar and in her voice, I knew I was in for a treat.
I arrived at the Rotary Center for the Arts twenty minutes before the show. Not really enough time to have an in depth chat. I figure I’ll wait ’til after. I see Miles Overn, the veteran live show photographer. He’s photographed thousands of bands, so whenever I see him at a show, I feel like I’m working with one of the best.
The doors open and the people slowly pour into the theater. Masks – it was announced just hours before I arrived that masks will no longer be required in public venues. Finally, two years of COVID and it looks like we can lose the masks. Tonight’s crowd, however, they’re masked up, ready to see Sue and her band.
The lights dim. I get into position at the front of the stage. The drummer and bassist walk on. Sue appears soon afterwards. Two identical pink guitars sit to the side of the stage. A Spanish guitar, too. Sue walks out. Her hair is wild red and her boots are candy pink. Leather pants, pink blouse and jacket. A matching, pink cord attaches itself to her pink guitar. This girl is all attitude. She begins with a catchy instrumental. Warming up, she has smoke coming off her fingers as she nearly melts the cheering audience’s masks right off with a series of high voltage solos.
I move around, scuttling from center stage and over to the left, away from Miles so I’m not in his eyeline.
Sue talks to the crowd as she plays. She explains how she had been living in Texas. Says she fell in love with the place after going down there on tour. You can hear the influence in her music. It’s got that sexy, hot, foot tapping rhythm and she keeps people grooving with her opening song, Pinky’s Blues, the title track from her latest album. I hear shouts and whistles. Her fingers zip from fret to fret. Once she finishes, people break into a ruckus of whistles, cheers and exuberant applause.
Sue retrieves a nail file and starts filing her nails. She introduces her band and her guitar, Pinky. She says it’s been with her on tours stretching out 30 plus years now. She says it all started in Vancouver. She found herself in a band, went on tour down south and ended up in Texas. She fell in love with Austin in particular.
“Austin is where it’s at for the blues. Forget New Orleans. Austin, Texas is where you wanna be.”
She wound up recording for Antone’s, a famous blues nightclub and record label. Her hard work and talent has earned herself not only a Juno award for her album Love coming down, but she holds the record for most Maple music awards received. Yeah. 17 of them. Songs like Southern Men, Boogie Real Low and Say it’s not so will have you understanding all the accolades. She collaborates with legendary rock and blues artists like Jimmie Vaughn and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.
Leading the way as one of the leading, female talents, she is also a passionate advocate for women in music. She tells the crowd how she interviewed dozens of women. Hearing their stories about being a women from a time when women weren’t supposed to be center stage. They changed the game. All of them lead the way as some of the most influential female guitarists. “I’m going to publish a book on the subject. Someday.” She chuckles at herself and shakes her head. “One day I’ll have the time.”
She walks over and retrieves a Spanish guitar. She takes a seat and leans over, tuning the guitar. “I’ve absolutely fallen in love with the strings of a Spanish guitar.” Classical guitar. Her red nails softly sweep across the nylon strings. “This song’s called Mediterranean breakfast.” A delightful combination of both Spanish guitar and the blues are woven like a delicate tapestry. It blows the sounds of Texas out of the whole room. If I knew how to tango, this would be my jam. There’s something very sensual and exotic within the sweeping lullaby that serenades my senses.
Sue plays with her eyes tightly closed. She makes fast, sudden moves and at times, she faces straight down to the ground while sitting on a stool, her fingers dancing across the frets with masterful precision. She plays a few Spanish songs for us, and then, with that tango rhythm still playing on the drums, she walks her acoustic guitar to the side and swaps it with Pinky. She comes back, plugs her pink cord into the guitar and splashes us with those riffs of some two bit texas town.
Before I know it, I’ve taken 300 photos and she signs off with one last song, a dancing masterpiece, Hurricane Girl. She receives a standing ovation. The crowd goes nuts. Karma Reine, organizer of the nights show, announces that Sue will be in Kamloops with ZZ Top at the end of April. “Sue will be signing merchandise after the show so come on up to the mezzanine for a one on one with Sue and her band.” Then she asks if we’d like to hear one more song. Sue reappears. Everyone screams. She picks up her guitar and within seconds she has everyone clapping along for one last song.
After the show, I wait for a while as people line up for autographs and a chance to say hello. Sue stands with a multitude of people and signs their merchandise. Finally, I walk over and introduce myself. We talk only for a short moment as more people come to get autographs. More and more people are showing up. Quickly, I ask her one question that’s been on my mind. “I wanted to ask you something. I’ve never been to Texas, but so much amazing talent comes out of there. What is it about Texas? What is that influence like on the way your approach your song writing?”
She ponders the question a moment as an enthusiastic lady scuttles in next to me, holding a CD in her hands. I can’t see her face behind her mask, but I can tell she’s eager for Sue’s attention.
Sue smiles at the woman, bends forward and signs her CD. Without looking at me she says, “You know, it’s something in the air I guess.” She smiles again at the woman and thanks her for coming to the show. She looks up at me.
“It’s something I don’t think you can really put into words. That’s what the blues are all about. Music does the talking when the words can’t.” She gives me a wink and takes another CD into her hands. “It’s something you just have to experience for yourself, I guess. All I know is that it’s a hotbed for the blues. You’ll have to get down there sometime. Then you’ll understand.” She looks up at me again, gives me a smile and then turns her attention to the lineup of people scrumming for her attention.
I left the venue feeling like this whole COVID thing is finally on its way out of our lives. Of course, as soon as we’re allowed to take our masks off there is war wreaking terror across the globe. For me, the idea of dancing again helps ease these helpless feelings I have. I hope to get to her Kamloops show.
If you want a little Texan heat on the stereo, dear reader, I highly recommend giving Sue Foley a listen. It’s a sound that’s been grown in the hotbed of the Texas sun and it has been crafted from an award-winning Canadian who may live down South, but she sure rocks that stage up here in the cold just fine. All that heat is played loud and it is played perfectly atop the smoking hot frets of a pretty pink guitar.