"Music is so important in all our lives, even when one doesn't realize it. The beauty of hearing music can sometimes humanize people that you don't agree with, and make peace with the world."
Sue Palmer: Lady Who Skates on the 88s
Known worldwide as the Queen of Boogie Woogie, Sultana of Swing, and Lady Who Skates on the 88s, Sue Palmer has been a presence on the live music scene in San Diego and the world for over 40 years. She was inducted into the San Diego Music Hall of Fame in 2018, had a day named after her by the city in 2008, and won numerous San Diego Music Awards for her bands and albums. She has recorded over 12 albums under her own name, securing an international award from The International Blues Challenge (IBC) in Memphis for Best Self Produced Album (Sophisticated Ladies). She was the beehive wearing music director and longtime pianist for blues diva Candye Kane, through the 90s, appearing on many of her albums, touring worldwide (France, Germany, England, The Czech Republic, Turkey, South Africa, Australia, and more) as well as all over the US and parts of Canada. Palmer has been an integral part of San Diego's music community for over 4 decades, and she has amazed audiences all over the world with her unique style and phenomenal left hand. (Photo: The Queen of Boogie Woogie, Sue Palmer)
Sue has also toured Switzerland, Russia, The Netherlands, and Argentina under her own name. Her current high energy Motel Swing Orchestra, is up for a 2021 San Diego Music Award, once again, for Best Local Recording for their recent EP titled "Movin' Along" (2023) is a blues-oriented set comprised of eight songs that feature her Motel Swing Orchestra, a rollicking septet. She had a radio show for 3 years on San Diego's local Jazz station KSDS 88.3FM, and now hosts a podcast called "The Motel Swing Happy Hour KSUE San Diego." According to Claudia Russell, DJ Extraordinaire on KSDS 88.3FM, "When her heavily jeweled hands hit the 88s, you're in for a ride!" WATCH OUT: YOU may become a slave to the dance floor!! Sue Palmer, who is billed as "The Queen Of Boogie Woogie," has been a fixture on the San Diego music scene for several decades.
Interview by Michael Limnios Archive: Sue Palmer, 2014 interview
How has the Blues and Rock n’ Roll Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
I was a child/teenager of the late 60s. I definitely learned how to challenge the forces that be, especially when it comes to going to war (Vietnam at the time). That time period pretty much radicalized that generation. We learned how to amass our own power. So, I was prepared to be someone who could question the status quo. After that, the Womens Movement continued to galvanize me. Women were not encouraged to do anything more than get married, etc., so I found my path to being a musician by playing for benefits, women’s projects. This gave me practice learning my craft and performing in front of an audience, meeting other musicians.
What's the balance in music between technique and soul? Why is it important to we preserve and spread the Booogie Woogie?
One can always be better technically and should strive for that. I have noticed a lot of musicians are fantastic technically but have trouble performing or don't seem to be into that aspect. So, in the end, the soul aspect becomes very important. Otherwise, you might as well be playing a typewriter. Boogie Woogie is a very infectious and joyful type of music. In some ways it was the start of rock and roll. Its just fun to play and dance to and since its still popular, I think preserving it is important. It is interesting how it morphed over time, even the Big Band music of the 40s incorporated it.
Life is more than just music, is there any other field that has influence on your life and music?
I am pretty much a political junkie, being a political science major in college, going through the Vietnam war, Womens movement, and everything since. I also love to read, especially historical fiction, and much prefer that to watching TV. I am also an avid gardener. Love my fern and dracaena garden. Also, love spinning vinyl from my collection. (Photo: San Diego Music Hall of Famer Sue Palmer & Steve Wilcox)
"I have felt prejudice, of course, due to being a woman. All women will attest to that. At some point, you just have to make your way, despite that prejudice. If I couldn't get into certain venues, I would find my own. I found that women supported me, and I managed to practice my craft in gay bars, political scenes, friendly homes, etc. I played the music I wanted, and it turned out lots of people enjoyed it."
What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?
Music is so important in all our lives, even when one doesn't realize it. The beauty of hearing music can sometimes humanize people that you don't agree with, and make peace with the world. I think the pandemic made a lot of people realize how much we need to celebrate life with music. My band and friends would do porch concerts in the neighborhood and the neighbors were so grateful, they tipped us out more than a club would pay! We were all just so starving to hear and play music. I am thrilled to be back playing now.
What moment changed your music life the most? With such an illustrious career, what has given you the most satisfaction musically?
I have had many lives changing moments, meeting some of my most influential friends and mentors. Its not like you know they are happening at the time, so you have to look back on your life to figure it out. I would say meeting the late Candye Kane changed my career the most. It propelled my career into a much more national and international scene. Candye was an ambitious musician and great performer/singer, with an edge that I found provocative. We quickly began our life on the road, as she had a concept of getting out of San Diego. I knew how to work and perform in town, but had no idea about the record business, touring life, or recording scene, really. We went to SBSW in Austin, got a record deal with Antone’s, and began touring the US and, shortly later, Norway, and all over Europe.
I spent the 90s on the road, replete with a giant beehive hairdo and another persona. I enjoy all aspects of music, from small very intimate settings to big stages. Musically, I love it when the sound on stage and off is really good, and the musicians I'm playing with can play off each other. That has been the biggest problem - to get the sound right so that can happen. But in my old age, it is finally happening more often than not. One learns what to ask for!! (Photo: Sue Palmer and the late great Candy Kane)
"Boogie Woogie is a very infectious and joyful type of music. In some ways it was the start of rock and roll. Its just fun to play and dance to and since its still popular, I think preserving it is important. It is interesting how it morphed over time, even the Big Band music of the 40s incorporated it."
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?
Being in a band and working successfully with people you enjoy, both musically and personally is very important. Bands are like teams and certain ingredients have to be there for there to be any longevity. I have had the same band for over 20 years (except for our lead singer, Liz Ajuzie, who has now been with us for two and a half years). Some of us have played together for 40 years and most of us played with Candye at some time. Liz wasn't born till 1989 so she never met Candye. ha...
What does to be a female artist in a Man’s World as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?
I have felt prejudice, of course, due to being a woman. All women will attest to that. At some point, you just have to make your way, despite that prejudice. If I couldn't get into certain venues, I would find my own. I found that women supported me, and I managed to practice my craft in gay bars, political scenes, friendly homes, etc. I played the music I wanted, and it turned out lots of people enjoyed it. One of the first supporters was Ingrid Croce, who hired my band at one point 3 times a week at her restaurant. Some of the jazz and blues men were not supportive, but some were. If you can get out there and be heard, you have a chance. So, thank you to Ingrid. There are so many young women out there now, it makes me happy. When I was their age, you really had to want to play.
Otherwise, it was easily disheartening. Fortunately, I had the disease. ha... And I had my family (they were very musical), my friends, and some fantastic mentors (Preston Coleman, bass player in a band we had called Tobacco Road, a wonderful boogie woogie player, Miss Hadda Brooks, my friend Wendy Dewitt -who propelled my solo career in boogie woogie, and many more). While there are wonderful young female players, there are still not enough. I would like to see bands with equal amounts of both men and women, more often. I also am very grateful to the pioneers that came before me: Mary Lou Williams, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Camille Howard, Bessie Smith, and many many more.
(The members of Sue Palmer and her Motel Swing Orchestra are April West, Jonny Viau, Pete Harrison, Sharon Shufelt, Sue Palmer, Steve Wilcox and Liz Ajuzie / Photo by Nick Abadilla)
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