Five Questions With… Sue Foley
The Ottawa-born, Austin-based blues artist is a veritable triple-threat of musical talent as a guitarist, songwriter and vocalist. Her skills have earned the respect of such peers as Jimmie Vaughan, Z.Z. Top’s Billy F Gibbons and Charlie Sexton, who all guest on her new album, The Ice Queen.
By Jason Schneider
Sue Foley is a multi-award-winning musician and one of the finest blues and roots artists working today. She is a veritable triple-threat of musical talent as a guitarist, songwriter and vocalist. As with many blues women of the past, Foley has a long history of defying convention and being a positive role model for aspiring, young female musicians. It’s all displayed on her latest album for Stony Plain Records, The Ice Queen.
Produced by Mike Flanigin, who also plays the organ on the new disc, The Ice Queen was recorded at Firestation Studios in San Marcos, Texas. Joining Sue Foley as special guests is a trio of legendary Texas guitar-slingers – Jimmie Vaughan, Z.Z.Top’s Billy F Gibbons and Charlie Sexton – as well as a host of other Lone Star State all-stars, including Stevie Ray Vaughan’s drummer Chris “Whipper” Layton.
Recorded throughout 2017, The Ice Queen represents the Ottawa-born Foley’s return to the roots of her career in Austin, Texas, where at 21, she began recording for Antone’s, the esteemed blues label and historic nightclub that helped launch the career of Stevie Ray Vaughan and many others. In the two decades that have followed, Sue Foley has been busy touring and recording steadily, all while toting her signature pink paisley Fender Telecaster.
Along with winning a Juno in 2001, she holds the record for the most Maple Blues Awards in Canada and has earned three Trophees de Blues de France. She has also garnered several nominations at the Blues Music Awards from The Blues Foundation.The Ice Queen represents Sue Foley’s undying commitment to her craft, and to keep the blues alive. She performs two shows in Toronto on April 16 and 18 at the Cadillac Lounge, and for more info go to suefoley.com.
What makes The Ice Queen stand apart from your previous work?
This album encompasses three things conceptually: My identity as a northerner…i.e. The Canadian blues artist; the song “The Ice Queen” which is a compassionate look into the world of a woman who is called Ice Queen; and as an ode to one of my favourite guitar players, Albert Collins who was known as the Ice Man because of his icy tone. He and I play the same brand of guitar, the Fender Telecaster.
The album stands out on its own because it’s a full circle journey that brings me back to Austin, Texas where I began my recording career and reconnects me with that blues scene and those musicians who were so influential to me. It’s the best work of my career. I’ve come so far as a player from being at this for so long that I feel I’m basically in prime time right now as a blues artist.
What do songs on the album do you best feel capture your musical vision at the moment?
The songs on The Ice Queen are quite diverse stylistically, even though they all fall into blues, country blues or blues-rock. It’s really hard to pick one but probably the title track just because it tells the story, and for the reasons I previously mentioned.
What's been the most significant change in your life in the past year?
The most significant change has been moving back to Austin where I’m settling now. The town has evolved in the last twenty years and feels a lot different, but the music scene is still excellent and many of my friends are still there and playing so well. It’s been very inspiring to go back to reconnect with them and also make new friends like Jimmie Vaughan and Billy F Gibbons who are two of my favourite players of all time.
How are you adapting your live show to the new material?
We’ve expanded the band to include a two-piece horn section, which has been very cool. I’ve also incorporated the acoustic element into the show on a nightly basis. On the whole, the show has taken on a nice arc musically that is really creative and well-rounded. It’s not the same all night—it changes and has ebbs and flows.
If you could fix anything about the music business, what would it be?
Wow! I guess it’s not the music business, but the culture in general. I’d like to see people venturing out more at night like they used to, to see live music. Musicians make their living on the road now, so it’s crucial for people to get out and support them. When I was coming up, we were able to play six nights a week on the road but those days have passed. It was so much fun and so good for your playing to be able to be out there that much. I don’t really know how young players can get that good without those live skills.