LONE STAR Mojo
Guitar Player|January 2022
Sue Foley brings swagger, sweetness and bite to the bold and unfiltered Pinky's Blues.
NIKKI O'NEILL
ALTHOUGH SUE FOLEY is originally from Canada, on two major occasions her life has directed her to Texas. At the end of the '80s, the guitarist and singer-songwriter moved to Austin when the city's late blues impresario Clifford Antone signed her to his record label and became her mentor. The timing and location couldn't have been more perfect for a 21-year-old blues guitarist building a career. Right when Stevie Ray Vaughan was blowing the music world away and putting Austin on the map, Antone made sure Foley shared the stage with every national and local blues master who came through his eponymous club. Playing three sets per night, six nights a week, Foley honed her chops and found her musical home and kindred spirits within the Texas blues community (one memorable off-stage moment involved shooting dice with Albert Collins). Seeing her potential and dedication, Antone also ensured Foley went on the road to open for Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor and Johnny Winter.

Following her pregnancy and marriage, Foley returned to Canada to raise her son but continued touring and releasing a number of albums, always staying faithful to her love for traditional blues, even as she began studying flamenco guitar and incorporating some of those influences into her blues. Then she was suddenly contacted by Mike Flanigin, a Hammond B3 player with Jimmie Vaughan and Billy Gibbons, and an old friend from her Austin days. The Antone's club had re-opened, and Flanigin wanted her to come down and play. This led to them working together on Foley's critically acclaimed 2018 album, The Ice Queen. Anchored in Texas electric blues, yet musically varied with horns and acoustic solo numbers, the album featured duets with Gibbons, Vaughan and Charlie Sexton, and showcased Foley's talent for writing blues songs and lyrics that avoid genre clichés. It also showed that it's fully possible to make a blues album with a modern approach and still win the Blues Foundation's Koko Taylor Award for Best Female Traditional Blues Artist, which Foley did in 2020.

Riding a wave of success - including appearances with Vaughan at the Beacon Theater and Royal Albert Hall, and a packed calendar of festivals and international tours — Foley saw her performance schedule grind to a grim halt with the pandemic. As a response to current circumstances and restrictions, she presents Pinky's Blues with no overdubs and few guest musicians, capturing a heavyweight blues power trio with bassist John Penner, and drummer Chris Layton in electrifying interactions. The result is a raw and unfiltered tribute to Texas blues and R&B. We spoke with Foley about the album after seeing her perform in Chicago with her trio, featuring Penner on bass and Corey Keller on drums.

You've followed up The Ice Queen with a straight-ahead Texas blues album. What made you go in this direction?

It was actually our producer, Mike Flanigin, who came up with the idea to make a blues guitar album. He produced The Ice Queen as well, and that was an artistic project that was really varied, where we were looking at each song individually and having different lineups of musicians. Then we did Mike's album, West Texas Blues, which used the same group of players in the studio. So we decided to take the more stripped-down approach. Since we were in the framework of not gathering in big groups, we knew it was going to be a small, close session, with just a few people spaced out in a big room, and that we had to do everything live with all of us playing together and in the moment.

The album sounds bold and ballsy, and your playing has the swagger to match.

Thank you. I listened to it recently to refresh my memory before touring, and I thought, Yeah, this sounds pretty greasy!

There is some tender and lyrical R&B playing on it too, but the overall vibe is intense.

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