Sue Palmer is flash, frills and fun! After spending years as a boogie-woogie piano playing band member with Candye Kane, Sue has gone out on her own and is creating all kinds of buzz. She is lots of fun to talk to and offers some serious insights…read on!
Sue, so what was up with that beehive hairdo girlfriend?
I played with Candye for about two years before I finally figured out what to wear that would feel right. I tried being Butch (harder to do in my more womanly body), I tried being sort of femmy vintage trendy (and I've never been that good at that), and finally, one night we were opening for Etta James at the Belly Up. I had had a gig that afternoon and the woman was a performance artist and had me dressed in 3 inch heels and a platinum beehive. I decided to wear that outfit to make it seem like more of a show with Etta. The reaction I got was unbelievable. All these guys went crazy and acted all turned on or wanted to wear it. Ha! At any rate, it worked for a long time.
I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall…
Did the music thang run in the family?
Yes, everyone in my mother's family is totally musical. My aunt also lived with my parents and brother and me and was a great piano player. My earliest musical memories are of family gatherings in the living room with my aunt playing sax, another piano, and my grandfather playing his violin, with the chewing tobacco dripping down his chin. Ha! We were all expected to participate, so I often ended up playing percussion, ukelele, or just clapping. That's what we did when all the relatives blew in from out of town.
When did you get introduced to the blues?
At first, I was really interested in jazz (in high school). Then, I heard Janis Joplin and Turtle Blues and realized I could play that. It was an exciting moment. When I was around 11-12, I was totally into Elvis and his piano player , then a while later Ray Charles.
I asked this of your fellow featured artists also: there are not many women out there playing boogie-woogie, what influenced you to move in that direction?
My piano teacher at the age of 10, gave me the music to Pinetop Smith's "original Boogie Woogie". This was the first published boogie woogie music. After that, I played B.W. constantly for years. My left hand became a completely mindless skill, so I could concentrate on my right. My poor parents had to hear that over and over again! The first time I heard B.W. was in vacation bible school at the Baptist Church :"Do Lord". I later recorded it on my first solo album.
Candye Kane is one of our mo4re flamboyant ladies of the blues. She has an act that is not to be missed. You performed with her for several years. Define that experience and what motivated you to decide to become a solo performer?
My experience with Candye was like being in a Fellini movie 24 hours of the day!! It was wild and funny and full of excitement. I guess I got tired of the road life after 6 years of being on the road 6 months of each year. And I wanted to be in my own movie.
What was the recording experience like?
My latest CD is called "Soundtrack to a B Movie". It is totally a figment of my imagination, with some of my real life influencing the "script." There is no movie yet, but I think there may be before all is said and done. I wrote the opening tunes and several others as part of a soundtrack (or what seems like a soundtrack) . Some of the songs were just small outlines and I told the musicians what I wanted. The great part of it was that they gave me even more than I could have asked for!! I really love this album for that.
Do you tour regularly? Any good "on the road stories"?
I could tell you some wild things that happened with Candye, but I have limited my road trips to occasional one nighters in the last 2 years . I'm hoping to do some Olivia Cruises and occasional trips to Europe. I'm concentrating on festivals and boogie-woogie shows at the moment.
Worked with any cool folks?
The coolest cat I've ever worked with is an old guy named Mister Preston Coleman. I lucked out and ended up playing with him for over 15 years in a swing/'20's and '30's/boogiewoogie band called Tobacco Road. He was a wheel in Chicago and New York in the '40's on upright bass and played with Mary Lou Williams, Art Blakey, Cats and the Fiddle (house band at the Apllow Theatre in the '40's), etc. He was also a sweet guy and a wonderful performer. We always "swang" really hard with him and I like to think I still do.
Is being a woman musician an asset or liability?
I feel I have always had good luck in that area. Basically, If musicians hear that you can play, they like playing with you. I guess I've always been pretty good at getting gigs, so that helped me (I wasn't dependent on guys to do that for me). However, I have to say that the worst part of being a woman ( in any field really) is that one is never expected to "do" anything, as a little girl. So ,even though I had piano lessons early (cuz in my family you were expected to play), no one expected me do what I've done. That's partly why it took me till I was almost 30 to start playing "out." And even then, it had more to do with the Women's Movement of the '70's.
Share a musical dream…
My dream gig would include a fantastic sound setup and probably light setup for more theatricality. I'm usually not perfectly happy with the sound on any stage. One of my favorite moments was playing "I Love Paris" (the Cole Porter song) for the French in a hip club in Paris, with one of the best bands Candye ever had. I've had some great moments already and the best are the ones that are great musically, sound-wise, and connection to the audience-wise. All the artistic possibilities at the same time (setting, mood, music, etc.). Now that I'm writing more and seeing my visions played out, I only see myself doing that more. So far, I'm being encouraged in that area. In 10 years, I hope to be playing gigs that are totally art gigs , and not working quite as hard as I am these days.
Who dubbed you "Queen of Boogie Woogie"?
I AM SELF PROCLAIMED!
How do you want to be remembered?
Actually, I think my mission on Earth this time around is as a healer, through music. I hope to be remembered as a person who brought joy, peace and love to the world.
Amen. Thanks Sue.Lea A. Gilmore and P.W. Fenton, All Rights Reserved.