Sister Suzie: A Musical Journey
By Rod Webb
We often hear about musical journeys, but for Hastings-based singer Sister Suzie it has been a literal and cultural journey as well as metaphorical one. Brought up in a small rural village in Northumberland not far from the Scottish border – even its one pub has now closed – she started singing like others before her, in front of the mirror at home, songs by gutsy singers like Aretha Franklin.
Her debut in public was in a rough pub in nearby Alnwick at 16, singing Whitney Houston’s The Greatest Love of All, in part to impress the girls she hung out with, who had been picking on her. The strategy worked and she got the respect she was looking for.
Later she got into rhythm and blues, singing the likes of Lavern Baker and Ruth Brown in pubs in Gateshead with a piano player friend. This proved so successful that she earned enough money to give up full-time work.
But the real travelling began in 2010 when the musical journey took a new route. With time on her hands after leaving her husband, Sister Suzie visited Graceland for Elvis’ birthday. That took her to New Orleans and her first experience of the complex fusion of blues, funk, Dixieland and jazz that took over her life. After a brief spell in Scotland, she came down to St Leonards to visit a drummer in Pevensey – and loved it. “The closest thing to New Orleans I have experienced in the UK,” she says. “I was surprised at how many young people are into the 50s sounding rock and blues down South, very different from what I’d experienced in Northumberland.”
Since 2016 she has been singing with The Right Band, this year playing venues across Europe, in Nashville, and finishing up at Gaz Mayall’s Rocket Lounge at Glastonbury. In July they played the Sage in Gateshead where she was billed as bringing “natural downhome charm to her take on classic rhythm and blues”. In August they were at the Lindisfarne Festival. A busy year. In was in Gateshead that she had an opportunity to reunite with some of her schoolfriends. It was only then she realised what a journey she had been on and, finding that some of her friends were already grandparents, what she could have become.
Sister Suzie went on to have a once-a-month residency at Ain’t Nothing But Blues Bar in Soho. Lady luck was with her on her first night and she made over £5,000 – which enabled her to cut her first single – but that’s another story.
To top it all – if that’s possible – this year saw the release of her first album Ain’t no Lady nominated by Blues Blast magazine from Chicago for the best New Artist Debut Album. Their review included the following: “Mixing blues and ballads with some full-bore rockers, spiced with touches of the Louisiana swamp, Sister Suzie is another notable female vocalist putting her own spin on the sounds of a bygone era.”
But Sister Suzie’s involvement with the blues is not just at a performance level. She was inspired by her visit to New Orleans (now five visits) to study for a degree in sociology (graduated this year!) and wrote her dissertation on the blues.
Although Sister Suzie rarely plays the pubs of Hastings, she was at the Nelson on Sunday and you can still catch her at the Horse & Groom in St Leonards on 23rd September, where she and her band have agreed to play at Dave the landlord’s birthday bash.
We hope you have enjoyed reading this article. The future of our volunteer led, non-profit publication would be far more secure with the aid of a small donation. It only takes a minute and we would be very grateful.