blues survivor (published at www.blueswax.com)
What happens when you take three in-charge divas from different countries and put them all together on a bus in the dead of winter for 65 shows? Each one of them used to calling the shots and running the show, each with distinctly different personalities, playing styles and communication skills. Who will fold? Who will triumph? Who will cry first? Who will get their period? Who will cheat on their boyfriend? Who will throw a tantrum and have to be coaxed back onstage? Who will have it out with the band? Who will show up late? Who will get drunk and forget the words? Who will have a catfight? Who will rise above it all and overcome the challenge? Find out in this edition of Blues Survivor!
First, meet our divas:
Canadian citizen Sue Foley is a blues veteran. She has been playing guitar and recording since the age of 17. She has been nominated for a WC Handy award and has won beaucoup Maple awards (Canadian Grammy) over a decade and a half career. She is known for her laid back, groove heavy simplicity and her genuine love for traditional style blues. She is sensitive and thoughtful both offstage and on, but she is no pushover. A fiery redheaded Mom to seven-year old Joe, Sue shoots from the hip and is always down to earth, blunt and funny. Her song writing has been compared to Bob Dylan and she is writing a book about guitar women and interviewed numerous female guitarists while on the road.
At 28, Ana was the baby of the Blues Caravan. Ana pulled herself out of communist Serbia, moved to the Netherlands and built a career out of nothing but sheer talent, determination and gorgeous long legs. Her father was a blues fan and a Milosevic protester and he’s the one who first encouraged her to sing and play guitar. Ana helped her younger sister Maya leave Serbia and finances her education with her music salary. She has only three CDs out but rose to success quickly when she was nominated for a WC Handy award for “Best New Artist” In 2003. She has a sexy stage style and she loves jazz and rock fusion along with Chicago blues.
Candye (that’s me!) is a super sized belter from East Los Angeles with huge knockers. She has been touring for over 15 years and has released seven internationally acclaimed CDs. She has appeared on countless television shows both for her music and for her background as a plus size porn star. She raised two children and escaped the welfare rolls, all the while pursuing a musical career and touring 250 days a year. She is a flamboyant show person who loves to inspire and communicate with an audience. Her newest CD White Trash Girl is available in stores now.
At first I was reluctant when Thomas Ruf asked me to participate in the Blues Caravan. Thomas and I had emailed back and forth, discussing the possibilities of a package tour show. Thomas Ruf is the charismatic label owner of RUF records from a small town in Germany. He started his career in music as Luther Allison’s booking agent and eventually became his Manager. His deep love and respect for Luther and his extensive knowledge and respect for the blues as an idiom, prompted him to start his own record label. He asked me for my advice about a revue show because he knew that I had participated in several different revue shows starting with the Texas Blues show with my Antone’s label mates, Teddy Morgan and Miss Lavelle White in 1994 and most recently was part of the Netherlands Night of the Blues theater tour with Melvin Taylor, Sax Gordon and the late George Wild Child Butler. I enjoy packages because the hustle and bustle backstage is so colorful and interesting. I love the opportunity to learn from my co-stars and be entertained by their music and personality. As much as I love the company aspects of a troupe, I had experienced them with mostly male co-stars. I knew that playing with other women might be difficult. We have so much more to prove in this male dominated business. We all must have big egos to start with to have any kind of longevity. And when I saw how many shows were involved, I was really worried.
I knew Sue Foley and I already loved her. We were label mates at Antone’s and toured together on the Texas Women in the Blues tour in 1997 with Lou Ann Barton. Sue and I have followed each other through the blues world from Austin to Germany, from Antone’s to RUF records delicately balancing motherhood and music. I like Sue’s musical style and am a big fan of her guitar work. I was excited about hanging out with Sue again and catching up on her life.
I met Ana Popovic only one time prior, at the Bay Car Blues Festival in France. We met in the lobby of the hotel (a moment Ana doesn’t remember.) My first impression was that she was very pretty but maybe a bit self-absorbed. I heard her show and I have to be honest, I wasn’t blown away. I am a traditionalist musically although my music takes on provocative themes sometimes. Ana’s electrified sound and all those wah-wah pedals she uses made me cringe and I didn’t stick around for her entire set. I didn’t know how the three of us with our distinctly different styles, could come together, make music and be mutually supportive. I was certain that there would be many fights to come. I wasn’t convinced that it could work but I knew it would be an interesting bill and crowds would love it. I committed to joining the Blues Caravan and vowed to put aside any pre-conceived notions.
The first fight we had was the back up band. We all agreed to choose a common rhythm section both to save money and to keep the continuity of the show fluid. Of course, each of us wanted our own rhythm section. Committing to 65 shows without your own band is risky. Our bands could quit during our absence. They are devoid of income while we are running around the world, getting paid to play music. Each of us are used to our own band of musicians. We all had to compromise a certain tightness with our regular groups to make this happen. Finding musicians who could play all of our collective styles convincingly was another challenge. Sue and I are similar in our love of low down traditional blues grooves. Ana had more of a rock edge coupled with jazz-fusion. It was hard to find a rhythm section that could do it all. I suggested a few Austin and a few Los Angeles musicians including Preston Hubbard from The original T-Birds and Greg Boaz, who plays bass with Dave Alvin. Sue and I discussed her former bassist John Penner who is now playing with Junior Brown. Ana wanted her own band of French musicians.
Eventually Thomas Ruf suggested Billy McClelland and Mike Griot from Michael Hill’s Blues Mob. I had just played with them down at the Narooma Blues Festival in Australia. I knew they were nice guys and I respected their style and musicianship. Both men are from the New York City area and they carry with them that hard edged East Coast confidence. If anyone could do this difficult job, it would be them. I decided to bring along Tucson pianist Lisa Otey. Lisa and I played together on other occasions when she accompanied me at the Blues Passions Festival in Cognac, France and many times in her hometown of Tucson. She played on my Rounder CD The Toughest Girl Alive and I sang on her self released CD. Piano is an important part of my show because of its barrelhouse sound, but also because if all else fails, I can always crack up the audience with my impromptu breast piano solos. I was sure that Lisa would add a lot to the rhythm section and I knew that Sue would use her on some songs, once they met. Now that the band was complete, we had plenty of time to stress out about the months ahead.
The tour commenced on January 13th 2005 in Oldenburg, Germany. We all flew into Frankfurt for a rehearsal day before the launch of the Blues Caravan. I had a horrible cold and there was snow on the ground when I landed in Germany. It was our first chance to rehearse together and we met in an old social hall in Lindewerra, Thomas Ruf’s hometown. The musicians had learned our material from CDs that had been sent through the mail. The rehearsals went amazingly smoothly and we adjourned to Thomas Ruf’s Swiss Family Robinson style home for dinner. His girlfriend Sabine made homemade pizza and we had a lovely time drinking wine and laughing. Sue, Ana and I listened to his record collection trying to decide on a few songs that we could perform together. After many, many vetoes, we finally decided on a song I had never heard before Etta James “Come to Mama” and a song Sue and Ana had never heard before, Koko Taylor’s “Mother Nature.” With the songs in place and a rehearsal under our belt, we were ready to take on the European Union with a vengeance.
It was difficult deciding who would go first on the bill. None of us wanted to give the impression that we were opening the show. I really wanted to go first because out of the three of us, I felt that my show was the most laid back. I don’t play guitar and Sue Foley was going to be playing guitar in my set as well as hers. We knew she would need a break in between her set and mine. I felt that Ana was so powerful and rocking, she would be a hard act to follow with my cabaret approach to the blues. Thomas Ruf wanted me to go last. He said I was too hard to follow. I think it’s because my jokes, banter and breast piano playing provide the comic relief. At any rate, it was decided. Sue would play first, Ana in the middle and I would close the show, followed by the finale when Sue and Ana would rejoin me onstage. It was also agreed that we would do an opening number all together to give the show the revue element and to diffuse the idea that Sue was opening. This was another obstacle for us to overcome. I didn’t like the idea of an opening song. I am from the old-fashioned vaudeville school of entertainment where you don’t show the audience your best bit until the end of the show. I like a show to build gradually, culminating in the high-energy finale. Plus, I wear goofy outfits onstage. I feel that I am a black drag queen trapped in a white woman’s body and so I glam myself up with feathers and sequins. I like my costumes to have the impact of surprise. On this point, I was overruled. I agreed to do the opening number with my blues sisters and found it to be a lot of fun.
The first shows went surprisingly well. No train wrecks and no noticeable mistakes. I enjoyed the band immensely especially in the low down blues numbers. Sue is such a great guitarist and she played her best when she was accompanying me. I enjoyed watching the shows those first few nights. I learned to appreciate Ana’s flying finger technique and the more I got to know her as a person, the more I enjoyed her music. Sue’s homespun candor was a great opener. She tenderly led the audience on her musical journey in her gentle, down to earth way. By the end of her set, she’d have the audience cheering and jumping up and down to her songs “Doggie Treats” and “Shake that Thang.” She was the perfect prelude to Ana and her complicated, well- amplified guitar gymnastics. Ana is so easy to look at with her ultra-high, over the knee, suede boots and her sexy barely - there stage outfits. Then, when she starts wailing on that guitar, she gets them eating out of her hand. By the time my set rolled around, the audience was well-lubed and ready to laugh. Ana and Sue aren’t big talkers in between songs so my one-liners and story telling was welcomed and well received. By the time Ana rejoined us onstage for the finale, the rhythm section were exhausted. They played three hours non-stop with only the briefest bathroom breaks when each of us did an acoustic number, mine with just piano, Sue and Ana with guitar. Billy and Mike had the hardest job and yet they did the least complaining. Each night, they got up there and did their best performance behind us. I think the audience perceived the difficult job they had and rewarded them nightly with thunderous applause.
We traveled from town to town in a night liner bus. Our bus had twelve bunks, a bathroom, two televisions and VCRS, a DVD player and even a Sony Playstation. It was a bit of a bummer to find out that our USA purchased DVDS would not play in the European system but we all started buying movies to watch while we were over there. We had a driver who took us from venue to venue. This made it a lot easier than touring in the states where we have to drive our own vans in shifts, pay for the gas and navigate the map. We had two crew members who traveled with us, Hermann and Sebastian. Hermann did the lights and Sebastian did the sound. Thomas Ruf was with us as well, on the road, selling merchandise each night and fielding requests and complaints from us all, day in and day out. There’s not many record label heads that would get on the bus and travel with the group. I think it’s a real testament to the kind of man he is. It was fun getting to know him and his little quirks. For instance, he never wears matching socks. It’s just his thing. And when I found the “Best of White Snake” CD in his Walkman, I was very surprised. I guess even he needs to escape from his job now and then.
It was hard for me to hurl my 200-pound plus frame up into my bunk every night. I found out early that I couldn’t sleep at all on the bus when we had overnight drives. I am from California where a little bumping and shaking makes you run for the nearest doorway. On the bus, if I did actually fall asleep, I was haunted by dreams of earthquakes and volcano’s. I was happiest when we had a hotel for the night. Ana on the other hand, held the record for the most hours of consecutive sleep on the bus. She once lay down at midnight after the show and didn’t wake up again until noon the next day! I envied her ability to sleep soundly while the bus flew down the autobahn.
We had a lounge area in the back of the bus and that’s where I spent most of my time. We had band meetings back there to discuss arrangements and show changes but mostly we three divas sat back there and wrote on our computers. Sue was working on her Guitar Women book, I am writing my memoirs and Ana had a new laptop and was always working on songs and pictures for her website. It was here we really got to know each other. We shared photos of our boyfriends and children. We shared stories about our previous tours and our recording plans. We exchanged record company horror stories and gossiped and laughed about people we had met in clubs and in the audiences. We commiserated about being women on the road and each of us got our periods! Sue informed me that the dominant female in the group always gets her period first and yes, it was I! It was there, in the back of the bus that I really started to love Ana and her earthy friendship. Underneath all that beauty is a simple Taurus girl who longs for a family and a normal life. Getting to know her made me really appreciate her music and the effort she puts into her art.
Sue spent a lot of time with the band and the crew up in the front of the bus, staying up late and playing poker or Texas Hold em’. Sue is like one of the boys and proud of it. She bonded quickly with the band, playing tennis with them and exchanging lots of laughter. During the day, she was often my companion. We’d look for Internet cafes and shoe stores. We both love shoes and shopping. We found cute little cafes and took turns treating each other to lunch. We’d go for long walks and sight see. After our shows in Holland, we’d have weed-smoking and wine tasting sessions with the band late at night after the show ended. We shared song ideas and started to write a song one night on the ferry between Finland and Denmark. On the last week of the tour, Sue, Mike, Billy and I went to a neighborhood bar, sat in with the local cover band and danced the night away. These were the times I really felt like a family with my road compatriots.
Little by little we got to know each other. Billy was the emotional, moody one. He was the one who would smile broadly behind those drums and put on a great show for the audience. He was easy to connect with onstage and off. Mike was the funny one, quick with a laugh and a story. Both of them were very proud of their children back home and carried pictures in their wallets. Sebastian and Hermann, our German road crew, were also sweet, hard working and fun. Sebastian had a great camera and took tons of pictures to chronicle our daily lives. Hermann’s wife and toddler joined us on the road, as did Thomas Ruf’s daughters. It made it feel more like family when there were kids around us. Kids always make everyone a little less frustrated and a little more human. The time went slowly and we took turns talking about what we would do when we got back home. We enjoyed each other but all of us had loved ones waiting for us and we all desperately missed them.
Like a family, there were a few arguments and confrontations. Mike and I had it out one night in Spain over some mistakes on stage. Ana and Billy had a shouting match on the bus one night in Avignon. I had a fight with my boyfriend on the phone. I made Ana cry when I said something insensitive. Sue and Ana had it out at one point, onstage. I ran off the stage crying one night when my voice finally gave in to my cold. Thomas Ruf had a fight with a promoter. Being professionals, we all managed to somehow move past our blow-ups with dignity and go on with the show. And what a show it was.
There were happy times along with the emotional ones. Billy celebrated his birthday in Stockholm and with the help of some friends we were able to surprise him with a birthday cake onstage. We featured some up and coming young female guitarists in the show. Holly Kinnear, a 16 year old from Great Britain, sat in and surprised us all with her thoughtful playing. Eve Monsees from Austin came over to take Sue’s place for a few shows. Just 19 years old, Eve really slayed ‘em with her singing and playing prowess. It was great to see the future of the blues right from the bandstand. We ran into my buddy, Bob Brozman in Copenhagen and met a Swedish all girl blues band, Little Jenny and the Bluebeans. Gary Primich sat in with us in Norway as did Norwegian guitarist Peer Gynt.
The audiences were unbelievable. It was fun seeing the fans discover us anew. Ana’s fans were becoming Sue and Candye fans and vice-versa. After every show, we stood out in the lobby with Thomas Ruf, signing Cds and taking pictures with the crowd. This is always my favorite part of every show.
From the packed out show in Amsterdam at the Melkweg where Ana filmed her live DVD, to the show in Benidorm, Spain where a freak cold spell made it so freezing cold, we wore our heavy jackets onstage; From the amazingly exotic Dubai Jazz festival to the standing room only crowd in Paris at the New Morning; From the funky sound and low ceiling at the Banana Peel in Belgium to the huge Erdgas Arena in Riesa, Germany where Mohammed Ali had boxed; From the Savoy Theatre in Helsinki where beautiful Finnish guitarist Erja Luittenin sat in, to the Blues Festival in Bergen, Norway where I sat in with my buddy Earl Thomas, the blues once again bridged cultures and the music brought us together. Once and for all, the blues proved itself the glue between fragmented peoples and the great healer when you are feeling lonely and heartsick. Once again the blues illuminated our common ground and diminished our differences, shedding light on our souls and bringing together those who might never have even met at all.
65 shows ago, I worried I might not be able to get along with the people of the Blues Caravan. Now, months later, I miss the new friends I made. Back in my mini-van, driving across the USA to Lincoln, Nebraska to start my Midwest tour, I keep thinking about how much fun it was on the bus traveling from city to city. I even miss my lumpy bunk and the morning breakfast raids we pulled in the hotels. I miss the strong coffee Thomas Ruf made for us in the morning and the family feeling of being in it, all for one and one for all. I don’t miss the way the bathroom smelled on the bus after all those months. I don’t miss the smelly cheese that someone left in the fridge that overpowered even the bathroom stench. I don’t miss the overnight drives and I don’t miss the long wait between the opening song and my set. I miss the people.
I think we all learned something about ourselves on the Blues Caravan. Each of us had a lesson to learn and a lesson to share. I am proud of myself for surviving that long tour with all its emotion and beauty. Music comes from the very core of our emotional being and sometimes it touches us in ways we can’t even convey. I realized that being on the road and tackling everything that comes along, being flexible and open to new experiences, being able to overcome my emotions and sometimes my frustrations, learning how to play well with others and appreciate their diversity, learning when to keep my mouth shut and when to open up, makes me a Blues survivor.
I know first hand that every one of us who gets in that van or bus night after night, driving hundreds of miles, just to play music for an hour or two on that stage is a blues survivor.
I’m proud to be a blues survivor? Aren’t you?
BluesCaravan/ Ladies Night 2005
13.01. D - Oldenburg, Kulturetage, Germany
14.01. D - Siegen, Jazzclub, Germany
15.01. D - Worpswede, MusicHall, Germany
16.01. D - Bonn, Harmonie, Germany
17.01. D – off
18.01. D - München, Metropolis (Kunstpark Ost), Germany
19.01. D - Karlsruhe, Jubez
20.01. D - Tübingen, Sudhaus
21.01. D - Hannover, Bluesgarage
22.01. D - Berlin, Quasimodo
23.01. D - Soest, Alter Schlachthof
24.01. D - off
25.01. D – Aschaffenburg, Colos-Saal
26.01. D - Hamburg, Downtown Bluesclub
27.01. NL – Den Haag, Paard van Troje
28.01. NL – Rijssen, Lucky & Co.
29.01. NL – Tilburg, 013
30.01. NL – Amsterdam, Melkweg
03.02. United Arab Emirates - Dubai, Media City, Amphitheatre Park
03.03. E - Getxo-Bizkaia, Antzokia
04.03. E - Alicante, Universidad
05.03. E – Terassa-Barcelona, Jazz Cava
06.03. E – La Villa Joiosa (near Alicante), Centro Cultural
07.03. E – Benidorm, Calle Gambo
09.03. F – Montpellier, Salle Victoire 2
10.03. I – Pisa, Metarock Live Club
11.03. I – Forlì, Naima Club
12.03. F - Strasbourg, La Laiterie
13.03. F – Magny-Le-Hongre, File 7
14.03. F – off
15.03. F – Paris, New Morning
16.03. F – Alençon, La Luciole
17.03. F – Clermont-Ferrand, Coopérative De Mai
18.03. F – Castres, Bolegason
19.03. F – Toulon, Omega
20.03. F – Avignon, Rouge Gorge
21.03. F – off (Reims)
22.03. D – Freiburg, Jazzhaus
23.03. B – Ruiselede, Banana Peel
24.03. B – Ruiselede, Banana Peel
25.03. GB – Burnley, Burnley Mechanics
14.04. CH – Rubigen, Mühle Hunziken
15.04. CH – Schaffhausen, Kammgarn
16.04. CH – Aarburg, Moonwalker
17.04. D – Riesa, VIP-Balkon der erdgas arena
19.04. DK – Aalborg, Skraaen
21.04. FIN – Helsinki, Savoy Teatteri
22.04. FIN – Vaasa, Goodmood Club
23.04. FIN – Lathi, Bluesmafia
25.04. S – Karlstad, Sundsta School
26.04. S – Stockholm, Fasching
27.04. S – Gothenburg, Neffertiti
28.04. N – Oslo, Rock Bottom
29.04. N - Trondheim, Festival
30.04. N – Bergen, Festival
02.05. DK – Copenhagen, MOJO (showcase)
03.05. DK – Greve, Portalen
04.05. DK – Haderslev, The Moon
05.05. DK – Odense, Bluesdays