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Sue Foley

Sue Foley is a Canadian guitarist, singer, songwriter and bandleader based in Austin, Texas. Her trademark instrument is a pink paisley Fender Telecaster. She signed with Antone's Records for her 1992 acclaimed debut album Young Girl Blues, and followed with Without a Warning a year later. Foley's wicked lead guitar made her a rarity among blueswomen at the time. She signed to Shanachie for 1998's Ten Days In November, then returned to live in Canada where 2000's Love Comin' Down won a Juno award. In 2001 Foley started a music history project called Guitar Woman based on dozens of interviews she conducted with the world’s leading female guitarists. Between 2001-2008, she wrote articles, organized and promoted concerts, and worked on a book. After 2002's acclaimed Where The Action Is... she left Shanachie for Germany's Ruf Records where she issued two solo outings: 2004's Change and 2006's now-classic, New Used Car. She issued Time Bomb in collaboration with label mates Deborah Coleman and Roxanne Potvin in 2007. The Guitar Woman project went dormant between 2009-2015 while Foley cut two albums for Blind Pig with guitarist Peter Karp (He Said, She Said, 2010 and Beyond The Crossroads, 2012) and attended university to earn a graduate degree. She returned to Austin in 2018 and released The Ice Queen for Canada's Stony Plain in 2018, and played in a supergroup with Billy Gibbons, Jimmie Vaughan, and organist Mike Flanigin. Foley released Pinky's Blues in 2021. Foley was born in Ottowa, Ontario in 1968. She spent her early childhood in Canada longing for her father's guitar. She learned to play at age 13, became interested in blues from listening to the Rolling Stones and other blues and roots rock bands. She played her first professional gig at 16. After graduating high school, she relocated to Vancouver where she formed a band. The Sue Foley Band toured the U.S. Canada and Europe with Mark Hummel. They played 300 shows in 1989. Austin blues impresario and club owner Clifford Antone saw Foley sitting in with Duke Robillard while the band was in Memphis for the W.C. Handy Awards that year. Foley sent a demo tape to the Antone's Records label in 1990, and Clifford arranged an audition. She moved to Austin and signed a recording contract with the label. In 1992, her debut album, Young Girl Blues was released. It was acclaimed by a number of blues publications and set into motion a period of intense global touring. Two years later she released Without a Warning, and followed it with Big City Blues in 1995. Her final outing for Antone's was 1996's A Walk in the Sun. After signing to Shanachie for 1998's Ten Days in November, she returned to live in Canada, became a mother and returned to university to complete a graduate degree in gender studies. In 2000, she issued the Juno award-winning Love Comin' Down and began the Guitar Woman project in earnest. Back to the Blues appeared in 2000 and signaled a new period of activity for the artist. Where the Action Is, her final Shanachie outing, was released in 2002 and won several Maple Leaf awards in Canada. (She holds the record with 17 of them). She signed to Germany's to Ruf Records for 2004's Change and 2006's classic New Used Car --which is often referenced by critics and academics as a unique offering from a blues guitar stylist. Foley moved back to the States to accept a role as a professor at Catawba College in North Carolina, and worked in earnest on Guitar Woman. In 2007 Foley released the acclaimed Time Bomb in collaboration with label mates Deborah Coleman and Roxanne Potvin; they took it on the road and played sold out shows across the U.S. and Canada. Foley was so busy being a parent, an academic and a blues professional, she put Guitar Woman on hiatus in 2009 (she has since resurrected it). Foley signed to Blind Pig in 2010 for He Said She Said, the first of two duet albums with guitarist, songwriter and vocalist Peter Karp. The project came together after he’d written a duet and his manager suggested Foley for the female part. The cut didn't make the album, but it birthed a correspondence and a friendship sustained by email. Foley and Karp began to record individual projects, but during a conversation realized their correspondence held the basis of songs more relevant to their lives, and decided to work together. The set won international acclaim and peaked at number 10 the U.S. Blues albums chart. The pair re-teamed for 2012's Beyond the Crossroads. In 2015, after returning to live in Canada, Foley received a text from Mike Flanigin, one of her running partners from the 1990s. Once a guitarist, he had become a formidable Hammond B-3 player working with Jimmie Vaughan and Billy Gibbons, and had just released his acclaimed studio outing, The Drifter. Flanigin told her that Antone's had reopened and she should consider gigging there. She returned for the venue's 2016 anniversary bash. There, Flanigin convinced her to move back and record her most recent batch of songs with him as her producer. Upon returning later that year, she also joined the Jungle, an occasional, revolving, live supergroup with Gibbons, Vaughan, Flanigin, among others. In 2018 Foley released The Ice Queen for her homeland's premier folk, blues and roots music label Stony Plain. The set contained duet cameos by Charlie Sexton, Gibbons and Vaughan. It shot up the blues charts and peaked at number four. Foley worked in Austin and on the road, returning to Europe to a hero's welcome. She spent most of 2019 playing live and when sidelined by the shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, returned to songwriting and working on Guitar Woman. She also won Best Traditional Female (Koko Taylor Award) at the 2020 Blues Music Awards in Memphis. Further, she was nominated for a Juno Award, and took home the award (her 17th) for Best Guitar Player at the Toronto Maple Blues Awards. During the pandemic, Foley and Flanigin entered Fire Station Studios in San Marcos, Texas, with engineer Chris Bell, former Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton, and veteran bassist Jon Penner, who played on Foley's early records. They'd just finished recording the organist's West Texas Blues outing and were comfortable enough with their brand of social distancing to work in an otherwise closed studio. They completed the 12-song Pinky's Blues in three days, cutting tracks live from the studio floor without overdubs. Among the songs they recorded were Lavelle White's "Stop These Teardrops," Frankie Lee Sims' "Boogie Real Low," Lillie Mae Donley's "Think It Over, Angela Strehli's "Two Bit Texas Town," and three Foley originals including the single and video for "Dallas Man." Pinky's Blues was released by Stony Plain in October 2021.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo
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