Eric Clapton gets a lot of credit for being an ambassador of the blues, but it’s been at least 50 years since he’s played anything with the kind of fire that Sue Foley brings on her latest album, “Pinky’s Blues.” She exudes a natural confidence and energy in her six-string attack that makes every note memorable for the listener.
If you were at Sportsmen’s Tavern this past Thursday evening, you experienced that fury first-hand, as she and her band tore through the album with aplomb on one of the most intimate stages in town. If you weren’t there, well, hopefully she enjoyed herself enough to grace us with an encore performance sometime in the future.
I had an opportunity to catch up with her in the days leading up to the show and found her outlook on the music she loves to be engaging on every level.
MNOD: What is the story behind Pinky?
Foley: Pinky is the pink paisley Fender Telecaster that I’ve been playing for the last 30 years. I’ve had this same guitar pretty much my whole career and used it on every album as well as the live shows. It’s unusual to use the same guitar all the time, but there’s such a strong bond with this guitar and I wanted to put this album together as a tribute.
MNOD: What was the pandemic like for you as a musician that lives to play on the road?
Foley: We got through it. I worked on various projects and also stepped my YouTube game up a bit, but it definitely went on a little long. We’re pretty resilient, though. Now, it’s almost like it didn’t happen, because things are opening back up and starting to feel normal again.
MNOD: How did “Pinky’s Blues” come together?
Foley: I didn’t do as much writing during the pandemic. I wrote a few for this album, but we also went with covers that represent the Texas blues vibe we were going for. We recorded this album live off the floor, so there’s a definite spontaneity to it that I really like. The room where we worked was a really cool hang. There were four of us in this great big room and it was very sparse, but the sound is very pure. I just plug my guitar into the amp and turn it up loud. We’re actually playing the whole thing during the live show, because it all translates well on stage. It’s become like second nature. I didn’t really think about the solos, because it was more just playing within the framework of the song and letting the emotion guide me. The album has been doing really well. It’s been charting up in Canada for 20 weeks and we’re up for some awards. We’re jazzed about it. I always look at it as a group project and I want to share the spotlight with everyone who played on it. When you come to our show, what you hear on the album is exactly what you’ll hear on stage.
MNOD: What is your practice routine at this point in your career?
Foley: I still practice. I’m always trying out new styles and techniques, because I don’t take anything for granted. I love to play and, I’m going to be sitting around the house, I might as well be playing. The best players I know play a lot and that’s what I try to follow.
MNOD: You came into the blues at a time when so many of the older players were still around. How did the experience of seeing them live impact your development?
Foley: When I started out, Muddy Waters had just passed, which bummed us all out. Seeing guys like Bobby Bland, Little Milton, and Gatemouth Brown was life transforming. Just to be able to feel the air move around while they were performing made me who I am. It was a vibe that can’t be replicated. I think I always knew I wanted to be a musician. I was musically inclined at an early age. The Rolling Stones were the big band for me and really my ticket to the blues. I was also into ’70s rock like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple.
MNOD: Where do you see the blues heading in the future?
Foley: I see a lot of young people coming to the shows and they really dig it. There’s a lot of vibrancy to the current scene and some cool young acts coming up. I think the blues is in a really good place.
“Pinky’s Blues” is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor and spring for a physical copy.