Last Saturday night, super woman Sue Menhart opened the show at SWAN Day CT in Hartford and closed the show at the Good Sponge CD Release in New London! That just illustrates the energy from this amazing lady. She started singing and playing guitar when she was 8 in St. Louis. By age 15, she had her first band. For many years, she played with numerous cover bands until a fateful Springsteen concert after which she wrote her first song. She’s a soulful, bluesy, rock n roll girl with a lot of grit and heart. I got to chat with her a couple of weeks ago…
lsg: You’ve been playing guitar since you were a young lass in St. Louis, what made you pick up the guitar?
SM: That would be folk singers at church. I wanted to be like them. When you live in the mid-west, kind of like the bible belt situation, it’s all about church. So the only place I could see live music was at church. So, quite a while ago – not to give a way my age! – there was some pretty hippie people hanging in church and I thought it was cool and I wanted to be one. So that’s why.
lsg: Tell me about a few of the bands you’ve played in and the transition to what is now The Sue Menhart Band.
SM: I got my first band when I was 16 and we did Journey, Judas Priest, Aerosmith, Pat Benatar. Then it was a steady succession of cover bands after that. Whatever was popular at the time. It went on and on and on for years and years and years. And the bands would break up and then just, one day, I said I am so sick of these bands breaking up. I’m going to start my own band and bring in my own artists. I’m going to just do my own thing and write my own songs and if people want in, they can get in. If they don’t want in, I’ll do it myself. So I started writing these songs that I could actually play and sing myself. And then, my husband talked me into being a band – he’s a drummer. So we started finding people and a lot of those people just never left! Sue Menhart Band has been going strong with original music.
lsg: So who is your current line up?
SM: That would be Kevin Clark on drums, my husband of like a million years. Don Bergeron on lead guitar. Dave Foret on bass. He’s my neighbor and he walks down to band practice literally with his bass on his back! And occasionally, we add more members when they can make it. There’s Dan Spano on keys and he also plays with The Rivergods from New London. And occasionally we have Don Packer from Boston on sax.
lsg: Very cool. And you’ve got that co-banding with The Rivergods.
SM: Yes and we also share a record company called Good Sponge Records.
lsg: So I love the story about a Springsteen show prompting you into writing your own material. Tell me about your current song writing process.
SM: Well that first Springsteen concert was an epiphany. He’s kind of old. I’m kind of old. So if he can do it, I can do it, right? I wrote my first real song on my steering wheel on my way home from that concert. I started studying people that I liked like Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen. How they were doing their chord progressions and their lyrics and their choruses. So I just figured out that I can do it myself. I did not take any classes. I didn’t read any books. I didn’t go on any retreats. I just sort of copied what they were doing in my own little way. So now that it’s four years later, I don’t have to think about it so much. I think about a mood or a thought or a feeling and I just kind of take it from there. I don’t have to think about the mechanics of a technique or a theory. It just sort of pops out!
lsg: I’m intrigued by the description of “Forever”. Care to elaborate further on that?
SM: You mean the album itself? It’s a love story that starts from love at first sight to a horrible demise at the end. I’ve been in many relationships. The one I’m in with my husband now has lasted for freaking ever but…You can start with love at first sight. You can lust at first sight. Then you go through one person wants to control the other and then you start not trusting what you’re feeling and what else is out there. Sometimes when you get that “I’m not getting what I want from you” or the other person cheats or whatever and then…it ends. So this is what happens in the album. This one love story that just comes to an end. And it happens to a lot of people a lot of the time. Unless you stay married to someone like I have forever!
lsg: Going back to Good Sponge. Tell me about the Good Sponge Sampler.
SM: My “Forever” album which was released last year in June is actually under Good Sponge and I was their second artist to be signed. First was The Rivergods and it’s all run by Ben Parent who is from The Rivergods. He approached me about going under his record label for my album so I thought ok. Why not? So I did and he helped me design the album cover and really promote the crap out of it. I had a kick ass CD release show. I sold every CD that I made up to that point. Sold them all in one night because he’s very good at marketing. The whole idea behind Good Sponge is more like an artist umbrella for people of like-minded musical tastes and aspirations to just get under it. He’s not really interested in making any money off of anybody or anything like that. It’s just a good way to collaborate and join together and hit the street running. So the Good Sponge Sampler CD release party is March 31.
(note: Obviously spoke with Sue prior to the 3/31 events!)
lsg: Why is it sticking in my head then? Oh wait! I know why. You’re going to be a busy woman that day! The Good Sponge CD release show is the 31st AND you are performing at SWAN Day CT that same day! Wow! How did you get involved with SWAN and what does participating in SWAN Day mean to you?
SM: I had heard about SWAN Day for a few years but I wasn’t too sure about what it was all about. I know that Jennifer Hill works her ass off for SWAN Day. She contacted me and and said Sue are you gonna get in with SWAN Day or what? And then as the planning progressed, I realized I also have this CD release party the same night so could you put me on early. And then I had to say to Good Sponge could you put me on as late as you can. So, I’ll be performing first at SWAN Day and then I’ll be performing last at The Good Sponge CD release. What SWAN Day really means to me is a chance to get together with other women who sometimes may have been squashed by men in other bands because it happened to me for years. I was just a singer. I didn’t have any real say in what was going on. And this kind of thing, I think, still may happen. Unless you do your own thing, and this is one of the reasons I called it THE Sue Menhart Band. It’s my band. You’re in or you’re out. I don’t care if you’re male or female but I’m not gonna be pushed around anymore! So, what SWAN Day means to me is women just putting it out there and doing their thing and nobody’s going to push us around! I don’t care what you guys say!
lsg: Who is the greatest guitar player that ever lived?
SM: It’s either Eddie Van Halen or Stevie Ray Vaughn. Yeah. One of those.
lsg: You’re not gonna choose?
SM: Eddie Van Halen
lsg: I love you. I love you. I love you because I have the problem with Eddie Van Halen vs Jimmy Page and Eddie. Yeah. He’s my first love when it comes to guitar players.
SM: (Sings) Panama!!!
lsg: What does 2012 look like for you?
SM: I am working on a new album. It’s going to be blues/rock. I want to make it new, sound new yet traditional at the same time and I’m having trouble with that. How to make 3 chords 1, 4, 5 sound new. But somebody told me, I think it was my guitar player, you know it’s your voice, your singing voice that’s going to make it sound new and unique. So I’m trying to figure out how to do 3 chord songs, blues/rock, respecting what’s come before me in the blues, but yet looking forward because we are in two thousand fucking twelve, and making it sound new and interesting so people will actually buy it. And emphasizing on vocals and lyrics and lyrical lines so that it’s something that people want to listen to but do not feel they’ve heard a million times before. So that’s my challenge for 2012. Looking for more gigs. Better gigs. I’ve played in every bar I think that there is in the world! So I’m looking for better venues. We are opening for Jim Weider, of The Band and Levon Helm. He’s a Telecaster master guitar player. We want to open for more national acts. I wouldn’t mind my next album album selling more than 10,000 copies!
lsg: My last question is usually just a nonsense question. I’ve been thinking about cars because I’ve seen so many people with their tops open for the last couple of weeks with the weather being so nice. What would your dream car be if you could drive anything that you wanted?
SM: That would be the car that was my first car when I was 16 years old. And that was a 1973, candy blue, Pontiac Firebird.
lsg: That’s kick ass!
SM: Hell yeah!
lsg: What happened to it?
SM: That car. I think it pretty much…I think I broke the engine!
lsg: Were you drag racing??
SM: Most. Likely!
Sue performing a new unreleased song at Swan Day CT 2012