Susan SurfTone - Voices Interview

After Susan Surftone saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, she started guitar lessons at age nine. From an early age, her ambition was to become a lead guitarist in a band. After law school and employment with the FBI (as a Special Agent), she started her first band in NYC and played venues like CBGB. After moving to Rochester, she started an instrumental surf band, The SurfTones. The name was changed to Susan and the SurfTones when they were signed by Gee-Dee Music (Hamburg, Germany) in 1995 for three CDs. Four European tours followed along with recordings for two more European labels. Susan eventually ended up in Portland, OR, and assembeled the west coast version of S&ST. In 2011, Susan recorded her first CD, "Shore", as Susan SurfTone. In 2016, she released her first song with vocals, an original called "Little Bit Lied To." Susan also made a film called "Hanging With My Sisters" about four female musicians over forty, and she writes political columns for The Advocate. In 2020 it was time to return to the beach with an electric guitar. She recorded Lee Hazelwood's "Baja" with LA drummer Nick Vincent and it got a lot of attention. Nick and Susan recorded "Blue Hammer", an original, for single release as well as an EP that will be released in October or November of 2020.

What is your earliest memory of music? And, how did you get started in music? My earliest memory of music was listening to Elvis Presley and The Everly Brothers. My mother liked Elvis and rock and roll although she was of the Big Band Generation so she had AM radio on a lot. I got started in music by playing a tennis racket as a guitar to Elvis records. After The Beatles appeared in America, I started guitar lessons and picked things up easily. My first band, Black Tights, was started in NYC in the early 1980's with a vocalist who sounded like Cyndi Lauper and looked like Edie Sedgwick. We generated a lot of interest, but we weren't signed. There are some very good demos on Soundcloud. That was before the DIY days. What was the first song you ever wrote? What or who inspired you to start writing music? The first song I wrote was called "I Know The Story" for Black Tights in 1983, I believe. It was a three chord song with a good guitar hook. Parts of it found their way into the version of my original, "Little Bit Lied To" that I recorded in 2016.

Do you play any instruments? If yes tell us about it. If not, do you work with a band or studio musicians? Do you produce your tracks or work with a producer?

I am first and foremost a guitarist. It is what I do. I started playing bass in earnest in 2011. I enjoy playing bass a lot having an appreciation for James Jamerson, Paul McCartney, Carol Kaye and John Cale's bass work with The Velvet Underground. I started singing reluctantly, but it worked out okay. People seem to enjoy it. Among my best sellers are my original "Little Bit Lied To", a cover of Elvis Presley's version of Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky" and an acoustic version of The Rolling Stones "Jumpin' Jack Flash." I arrange and produce my own recordings with the able assistance of a good engineer.

What is your favorite part about being an artist (performing, recording, writing, playing)?

Music is what I love doing. Between Elvis and The Beatles there was nothing else I truly wanted to do with my life. The guitar is a natural part of me and it is my strongest voice. I've spent my life proving a woman can play a guitar as well as any man can. It hasn't been easy although after doing it for decades there aren't many doubters left. I like the challenge of writing a new song and arranging a cover in my own style. Performing is fun once I'm on stage. I'm always a bit nervous prior to the show. The studio is fun too. There isn't much of being an artist I don't like. Do you have any advice for young women pursuing music?

Get good at what you do. No matter what your level of natural talent it takes hard determined work. Earn the privilege of taking the stage and always appreciate your audience. If they aren't there, you aren't either. Your audience looks to you for many things so never neglect them. Learn about the artists who came before you. Read their biographies and know their stories. It's interesting and it will make your music better. You might learn a thing or two about the music business. Learn how to handle criticism. Some criticism is meant to help you improve and some is meant to make you doubt yourself. Learn the difference and keep improving. Try new things. You will broaden your audience by branching out into different genres and you will learn from it. Challenges, even the ones you set for yourself, are fun. For readers who have never heard your music, can you suggest one or two songs to start with?

I'd start with the newly recorded ones, "Blue Hammer" and "Baja" They are where I am at now. For the vocal songs, "Little Bit Lied To" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash". Both could be my biography.

What do you feel your strengths are as an artist?

I never gave up. A stranger once told me after a disappointing show in NYC, "It belongs to those who stay in it." He was right. I didn't find success until I turned 40.

Tell us where fans can access your music.

The best link is my website.

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