Music & Nightlife

A Canadian in Carolina – blues musician Sue Foley turns teaching gig into residency

Sue Foley.
Sue Foley. SD3 Photography

For years, blues singer-songwriter/guitarist Sue Foley played the Double Door Inn, and occasionally Evening Muse, whenever she toured through Charlotte. But this month, she’s a regular fixture at Plaza Midwood’s the Rabbit Hole, where she and a few choice guest musicians are doing a Tuesday-night residency through the end of April.

The gig comes as Foley wraps up a year teaching at Catawba College’s music program.

Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin is her guest the last Tuesday in April. Earlier this week, she was joined by internationally acclaimed Gaston County musician David Childers, who she met by chance at a coffee shop in Salisbury a few months ago.

“I just caught them by chance,” she says over lunch at Dish on Thomas Street. “They came in and started playing and I was like, Wait a minute. Who are these guys? This is not like coffee-shop music. These are real craftspeople.”

Foley introduced herself and eventually began sitting in with them at gigs.

“I think he’s really special. It’s a regional sound. It really is distinct. It’s got Piedmont. It’s got blues in it. It’s got some gospel. It’s got country and bluegrass. It’s this melting pot of styles that I think really personifies North Carolina music,” says Foley, who has lived in Austin and Nashville. “North Carolina music is really historical.”

Foley was recently named one of Guitar Player Magazine’s “50 Sensational Female Guitarists” along with stars Joni Mitchell and Heart’s Nancy Wilson, as well as lesser-known players Kaki King and Foley’s hero Memphis Minnie (who she describes as a female Robert Johnson – i.e. skilled not only as a guitarist, but as a singer-songwriter, too).

Foley was raised in a musical household where her father and three older brothers played. She took up guitar at 13. Initially influenced by the Rolling Stones, ’60s and ’70s rock, and punk, she saw female guitar players on television as a kid in the ’70s – Suzi Quattro on “Happy Days,” Charo, and eventually Wilson.

It’s a subject she’s revisited as an adult. She’s been working on a book about female guitarists for several years, conducting more than 100 interviews with other players. The amount of material she amassed was so overwhelming, she put it aside for a few years. Now that’s she’s almost completed her upcoming solo album, “The Ice Queen,” she’s back at it.

While she wishes it wasn’t necessary to single out female players, she sees the importance of documenting their accomplishments in the field from a historical perspective.

“Role models are really important,” she says, noting that her female students often just need to recognize their capabilities. Some aren’t as comfortable playing lead as male peers who already see themselves in the lead role. “I tell my female guitar students that you have to change your mindset, break that barrier.”

Foley will tour again once the album is out and may pursue her Ph.D., but she hasn’t put N.C. or Catawba in her rearview: She’d like to build on the residency with a series that features N.C. musicians and incorporate a Q&A format.

“Wouldn’t that be ironic?” she says with a dry laugh. “A Canadian coming in to highlight North Carolina music.”

Sue Foley

When: Every Tuesday in April at 7:30 p.m.

Where: The Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Ave.

Tickets: $10.

Details: 704-333-9197; www.therabbitspot.com.

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