Scroll down any online list of the world’s greatest rock guitar players and you’ll find the usual suspects; Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Brian May, Eddie Van Halen et al, but you won’t find any prominent female players.
Sue Foley just shrugs when this information is brought to her attention. A nominee for this year’s Guitar Magazine’s `Best Guitar Artist’ award, the former Ottawa native concedes that more established male players will always receive these plaudits, but when your best musician pals are ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Fabulous Thunderbirds’ Jimmy Vaughan and Charlie Sexton (Gibbons and Vaughan performed on her recent Ice Queen album release) you are not exactly lacking attention.
Foley, who performs Monday at Toronto’s Hugh’s Room, is a bona fide blues icon who has recorded an astounding 15 studio albums, been the principal artist on nine others and been a guest performer on 10 additional albums. In the process racking up 17 Maple Music Awards, a 2001 Juno Award for Top Blues Album `Love Coming Down’, three Trophies de Blues de France plus a number of nominations for the Top Blues Music Award in Memphis Tennessee.
Now, having moved to Austin, Texas at the age of 21, Foley is as much a part of the U.S blues fabric as she is Canadian, being an integral part of the Antoines, Austin City Limits scene. Yet she still loves to perform in her native country and she is tracked down during a stop at a chip wagon en route to a gig in Sudbury prior to her Toronto performance.
“I love going back and forth across the border, I am well accepted on both sides and it’s always exciting for me to play in Canada,” Foley enthuses. “I moved to Austin because I wanted to learn how to play the blues properly. It wasn’t enough just to listen to blues music, I had to go to the source and learn first hand how to play it. And then take what I have learned and bring it back to Canada.”
Foley certainly made a name for herself in a hotbed of U.S blues music and the fact that the likes of Gibbons, Vaughan and Sexton embraced her talents and she even performs with Gibbons and Vaughan in a spin-off band called Jungle Show proves how accepted she has become to this community.
“I grew up idolizing the likes of Billy (Gibbons) and Jimmy (Vaughan) and to get them to perform on my last album (2018’s Ice Queen) was an absolute dream,” Foley allowed. “It made me feel like I was one of them, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Responding to Jack de Keyzer’s observations that blue venues are dying out, especially in Canada, Foley instead analyses that musical tastes are changing. “The internet is introducing people to different styles of music so venues have to make adjustments and book artists that are performing special styles instead of being just a blues club for instance. It’s true that the old blues guard is dying out, that’s just a fact, but there are lots of blues festivals and venues that still support blues artists. Personally, I don’t have any problems finding gigs on this continent.”
Foley will be the first person to say that her records are not the kind of music played on mainstream radio but she still loves to create the kind of music she has grown up studying and performing and, based on the acceptance of her latest Stony Plain `Ice Queen’ opus, acknowledges there is still a hardcore audience who support her releases.
“I can’t believe that I can still earn a living making music, I realize there are a lot of young musicians who can’t do this full time and have to do other things”, she acknowledged. “I am more enthusiastic now than I have been in a long time, I am grateful that people are still coming to my shows. We’re having a blast on the road, it’s like we’re kids again.”
By Keith Sharp