Long-anointed the Queen of Boogie Woogie, Sue Palmer got her first taste of fame while touring the world with blues-diva Candye Kane, even if she didn’t connect the dots with her own rising celebrity.
“I met lots of wonderful, famous people,” she says, “especially through playing exclusively with Candye in the ’90s, but I’m not much of a celebrity stalker.” Palmer also served as musical director for The Toughest Girl Alive, Kane’s autobiographical play that opened in 2010 at the Moxie in San Diego before moving on to NYC. The duo still frequently performs together, most recently at the March 24 Croce’s benefit concert to raise money for expenses related to Kane’s upcoming cancer surgery.
Palmer’s local cred was initially attained while fronting Tobacco Road, which won seven San Diego Music Awards from 1986 through 1994. She went on to play with a roster of national female headliners, including Marcia Ball, Jeannie Cheatham, and Caroline Dahl.
Now a local legend with the trophy shelf to prove it, Palmer’s Sophisticated Ladies (featuring her seven-piece Motel Swing Orchestra) took home Best Self-Produced Album at the 2008 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, and her After Hours full-length won Best Blues Album at the 2010 San Diego Music Awards.
The Sue Palmer Quintet performs downtown at Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar on Wednesday, April 11, and Sue Palmer & Her Motel Swing Orchestra hit Tio Leo’s in Bay Park on Friday, April 13.
WHO’S IN YOUR MUSIC PLAYER?
1) “Stephanie Porter is a fantastic jazz vocalist, and I always enjoy her awesome accompanists.”
2) “Jo Miller & Her Burly Roughnecks. Jo used to be in a band called Ranch Romance and, when I first saw her, they opened for k.d. lang. This band is even better.”
3) “Ray Skjelbred is a wonderful, soulful traditional jazz piano player. Sometimes he’s in jazz festivals that my band is in, and I get to hear him play lots of cool, haunting stuff from the ’20s.”
4) “Retta Christie & the Smart Fellas are a Western swing band — although, when I first heard her, she was playing cocktail snare and singing, delightfully, with Ray Skjelbred and a clarinet player.”
5) “T-Bone Walker is always great. I even heard cuts of his at the Rock and Roll Museum by the Space Needle in Seattle.”
WHAT SONG BEST DESCRIBES YOUR LIFE?
“‘The Boogie and the Blues,’ by Camille Howard. She was a piano player and singer from the ’40s and ’50s who played with Roy Milton & His Solid Senders and under her own name. This song is a wonderful boogie-woogie tune that I’ve also recorded. The lyrics talk about ‘Going on a cross-country cruise, playing the boogie and the blues.’ This has pretty much been my life for the past 50 years or so.”
MOST EMBARRASSING CD YOU OWN?
“Jimmy Vargas & the Black Dahlias. I got this one in the Netherlands, and it’s really creepy and sexist, but it wonderfully portrays the mindset of the Black Dahlia fiends so into the death [of actress Elizabeth Short]. I find myself fascinated and repulsed with that whole subject.”
BEST DANCE FLOOR IN TOWN?
“Lacey J’s Roadhouse in Santee. It’s probably the oldest, too!”
FAVORITE FREE HANGOUT?
“The beach is the best, but second is probably Balboa Park, especially the Rose Garden, Florida Canyon, and Palm Canyon.”
MOST MEMORABLE CONCERT?
“In 1969 I saw Charles Lloyd and Keith Jarrett, plus bass and drum, at the Santa Monica Auditorium. They played and played and the audience kept wanting more encores, until Keith Jarrett was so exhausted that he just flopped on the keys. Amazing!”
“I sprained my ankle while trying to learn how to slide into second base. At the age of 30. That’s what made it the worst.”
THINGS YOU NEVER RUN OUT OF?
“Coffee and chardonnay wine.”
1) “I’d like to have a radio show sometime.”
2) “I want to travel to Cuba, the African desert, and Buenos Aires.”
WHERE DO YOU TAKE OUT-OF-TOWN GUESTS?
“The café on the O.B. pier, to eat mango pancakes while watching the surfers.”
THREE THINGS WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU?
1) “I went to Point Loma High School.”
2) “I have keratoconus, which affects the eyes.”
3) “I’m a bird watcher.” ■