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By Deirdre Kelly
With her painted fingernails, Sue Foley strokes, strums, shakes and shimmies a six-string, unleashing a tone that doubles as her voice, loud, proud, and true. Undistorted by pedals and multi effects, her pure and clearcut sound reflects a cascade of sparkling notes and intricate chord changes that bedazzle like diamonds, whether on the fretboard of her signature pink paisley Fender Telecaster or on her handmade Mexican flamenco guitar. 
There’s polish and a poet’s sense of the profound in the execution, rising from a technical excellence rooted in powerhouse electric blues guitar and — more recently — soulful nylon-string acoustic playing, inclusive of Piedmont finger-picking and other traditional styles. Transparent bell sounds commingle with grit and grease on the 13 albums she has put out since her 1992 debut, Young Girl Blues.
There can be no doubt that Foley deserves her hard-earned status as a musical virtuoso. Developed over decades of devoted practice, self-directed study and incessant performance (she took up the guitar at age 13, forming her first band just three years later), Foley’s playing is pristine and powerful, attracting international attention on top of an abundance of accolades, the most recent being the Blues with a Feeling/Lifetime Achievement at the 2024 Maple Blues Awards, and the 2023 Blues Music Award winner for Best Traditional Blues Female – Koko Taylor Award, her third consecutive win in that category. She’s also the recipient of a Juno Award (Canadian equivalent to a Grammy), multiple Austin Music Awards, Blues Music Awards, and Trophées de Blues de France.
Occupying the upper echelons of her art form, Foley epitomizes what is by now electrifyingly obvious – women rock, and they have for a long time. “I grew up with strong female musical influences like Heart, Linda Ronstadt and Chrissy Hyde. They taught me that talent and skills were more important that looks and fluff. Playing matters.”
The proof can be found once again with her latest recording, One Guitar Woman. The 12-track album pays tribute to pioneering female guitar players whose own mastery of their instruments remains a prevailing inspiration, pushing Foley into new artistic territory. Some of the women guitarists featured on One Guitar Woman were innovators who shaped both their musical genres and their cultures. Their ranks include Maybelle Carter, who invented the Carter scratch style that influenced Nashville legends Chet Atkins, Carter’s son-in-law, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams; Sister Rosetta Tharpe (a.k.a. The Godmother of Rock ’n’ Roll), whose distinctive electric guitar playing (a mix of melodic Delta blues, traditional gospel, New Orleans swing and rattling rock) exerted a huge influence on Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Keith Richards. 
One Guitar Woman also pays acoustic homage to a musical heritage populated by blues and finger picking guitar heroines like Memphis Minnie and Elizabeth Cotten, and other female prodigies such as the French classical guitarist Ida Presti and the multi-talented Andrés Segovia–trained guitarist known as Charo. Once a regular on TV’s Laugh In and the Tonight Show, Charo was the first woman guitarist Foley remembers seeing while growing up in Ottawa as the youngest member of a guitar-playing family: “She left an indelible impression on me, and she is the reason I play Spanish guitar.”
For her new record, Foley learned to play Charo’s fiery signature version of “La Malagueña” on flamenco guitar. She also taught herself Ida Presti’s interpretation of violinist Niccolò Paganini’s virtuosic “Romance in A Minor,” slowing it down to a nuanced instrumental caress. Foley’s ingenuity is further showcased in original compositions like “Maybelle’s Guitar,” where the Carter scratch serves to underscore the towering influence of the Carter family’s music. As well, her deeply felt English-language reinterpretation of Mexican guitarist and singer Lydia Mendoza’s “Mal Hombre” breathes new life into this Tejano classic. 
Set for release on March 29, One Guitar Woman represents a convergence of female power and musical mastery that breaks new ground for others to follow. “It shows a different perspective,” Foley says. “Hopefully it will open the gates for more girls and women to embrace their place in the history of guitar. After all, we’ve been here all along.”