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Photo: Scott Doubt courtesy of the National Arts Centre.

Gig Pick: Sue Foley at the National Arts Centre—02.22.18

By Asim B. on February 19, 2018



One good way to shake off the winter blues is to listen to the latest album by Sue Foley, appropriately titled The Ice Queen. She is arguable one of the best blues and roots artists out there today AND she was born right here in Ottawa.

She picked up the guitar at 13, got her first gig at 16, and shortly after highschool, formed the Sue Foley Band and began touring the country. At 21, Sue moved down to Austin, Texas and began recording for the blues label and historic nightclub, Antone’s. The experience allowed her to work with many great artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan.

She likes to tour with her pink paisley Fender Telecaster, while letting her songwriting and music do all the talking. Winner of seventeen Maple Blues Awards and three Trophees de Blues France as well as a Juno Award for her album Love Coming Down, she is no stranger to the limelight.

The Ice Queen is the latest addition by Sue and is due out in early March. The album shows the tireless pursuit of her craft and the journey that helped her become the artist she is today.

And as I look out the window at the blowing snow, ice pellets, and flurries, which can only be described as a typical winter afternoon in Ottawa, I’m glad I’m warm, indoors and enjoying a wonderful telephone chat with Sue.

Apt613: Hi Sue, thank you for taking the time to talk to us today all the way from Austin.

Sue: No problem. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me too.

How are your travels going these days?

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling between Toronto and Austin (Texas) these days, as well as Ottawa and Kitchener for the record release, with the new album due out early March.

You’re a mom too and I was wondering if having a child had an impact on your career?

I had a son (he’s 21 now) and brought him on the road quite a bit before he was two. And after (two) we were able to have little separations, for a few days. I didn’t stay away for long periods and I kept my foot in my music career but made sure I was home more than I was away…

… there is a way to do both. I find a lot of women musicians that are about to have a baby, or want to have a baby, they think (their career) is going to disappear. Or you won’t be able to do it anymore, but you can do it, you can have both.

What made you fall in love with music?

I can always remember, and my oldest friends would always remind me that, from a very young age, I had always wanted to be a singer and when I was 13 I decided I was going to be a guitar player. I really focused on the guitar primarily because my older brothers played guitar and my father played guitar as well. That instrument was always part of our family, part of our heritage and I was the youngest girl and I just thought: “well, I’m just going to play guitar too.” And that was my avenue into the music business.

Did your brothers and father play blues music?

No they didn’t. I discovered blues music on my own, with a friend, back in highschool. They all played rock, which is now classic rock, and my dad played Celtic music. I was the only one that wanted to play the blues.

(My friends and I) started getting into (blues music) in high school. We started finding out about it through records and books and stuff like that. It’s really a history lesson if you go back and read about people like Led Zeppelin, or the Rolling Stones, or the British Invasion (bands), even the Beatles. I mean they were all listening to blues artists and early rock and roll artists. To me, it was always a natural progression. I’ve always been curious about what came before what and blues is really a foundational kind of music.

When did you know you were going to pursue music as a career?

I went to a show (in Ottawa) when I was 15. It was a show by a pretty well known blues harmonica player named James Cotton… I saw that live show and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I thought it was pretty magical… a blues show in a really good club… it can really change your life. And it did for me. I realised that this music is really powerful, there’s something about it and I though: I have to do this.

I thought it was pretty magical… a blues show in a really good club… it can really change your life. And it did for me.

How did your family feel when you decided to pursue music as a full time career?

My family really wanted me to go back to school, after high school that is. They wanted me to go to college, but I was just not having it. I was already involved in my career by then. I was just doing my thing and they couldn’t tell me what to do. You know, I left home when I was 18 and they kept telling me that I should go back to school, right up until I made my first album and I came back to Ottawa from Texas. And then they finally said: “I guess you can do this as a career.”

What is it about blues music that has kept your attention and love for it?

I’ve studied it and seen so many great artists playing it… it’s really hard to play blues music, it’s not something you can take for granted. It’s not commercial music, it’s not commercial art and there’s a lot of challenges to being a blues musician. And let’s be honest, I’m Canadian and a female artist, so I’m also not your typical blues musician. I’m an anomaly. However, now there are a lot of females in (blues music) and there are also a lot of Canadians in (blues music) and we have our own take on it. I think it’s powerful music and it’s something you can keep growing into. You know in other genres, like pop, you get like over 45 and you’re not classified as pop. There’s like an expiration date on it.

But in blues music, you hit 45 and you’re just beginning to get seasoned as a blues musician because blues is directly related to your life experiences and what you’re able to give back to your audience. And what you’re able to give back to your audiences is directly related to what you’ve done, what you saw, and what you have to say. So I’m like prime time for blues. Some musicians play well into their 70’s and 80’s.

This has been a fun conversation into the world of blues music. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.

Oh you’re welcome. Thank you as well.

You can catch Sue Foley’s album release at the National Arts Centre on Thursday February 22, 2018 at 8pm. Tickets are available online for $34.50 plus fees.