BluesWax Sittin' In With Alexis P. Suter
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Alexis P. Suter comes from a strong musical background, as her mom was a music teacher as well as an accomplished singer who worked with such notables as Harry Belafonte, Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and The Hall Johnson Choir. Often her mom would take Suter to sing in recitals and Gospel plays and it wasn't long before Suter realized that it was music and sharing it with others that fed her soul.
By Bob Putignano
In the early 1990s Suter became a staple of the underground garage music scene and the first African-American woman signed to Sony-Epic (Japan). Her legendary Club Shelter anthem "Slam Me Baby," distinguished her as a genuine underground star with penetrating vocals. For Sony she brought forth an EP titled Drums of Freedom, including the hit "We Need Each Other."
Miss Suter solos with New York's acclaimed Illumination and Total Praise Gospel choirs. Her debut CD with Hipbone Records is being widely received by the music community and Triple A Radio nationwide.
The Alexis P. Suter Band regularly performs live at the Levon Helm Midnight Ramble Sessions in Woodstock, New York (more info at www.LevonHelm.com). These Ramble performances are not to be missed for many obvious reasons, as well as the fact that Suter's larger-than-life voice radiates Helm's barn with impeccable drama and force. The Alexis P. Suter Band has just released a new double-disc CD/DVD recorded live at Levon Helm Studios from The Midnight Ramble Sessions, which is available at www.LevonHelm.com and at the Midnight Rambles in Woodstock, New York.
I recently captured the Alexis P. Suter band for a WFDU radio broadcast recorded at Mexicali Blues in Teaneck, New Jersey, and afterwards had some time to sit and chat about the many good things happening to this extremely talented band.
Bob Putignano for BluesWax: You guys just finished that nice two-night run at the Beacon Theater opening up for Levon Helm. I hear there were quite a lot of stars that dropped in to play.
Alexis P. Suter: Oh, yeah it was, but we aren't that star-struck, as we see a lot of these people dropping in at Levon's Ramble in Woodstock, New York.
BW: You have a lot of nice gigs coming up this summer.
AS: We do. June 28th at Central Park Centerstage, the Pocono Blues Festival, The Briggs Farms Fest, and all of the Rambles in Woodstock, too, plus the Virginia Blues and Jazz Fest in July and the Syracuse Blues Fest with Buddy Guy and Tommy Castro.
"Thank God for Levon Helm!"
BW: You are pretty new to the Blues world, so could you please give us a little history about yourself.
AS: I started in church with my mom from age three on and I've been at it ever since. Church played a very big role in my musical development, with a lot of hooping and hollering, then I did some house music, which is where I met our background singer Vicki Bell and our drummer Ray Grappone, so we've been together for a real long time now, except we are now doing the Blues, a Soul Blues, and we are like family.
BW: The vocals, both yours and the background singers, add so much to your sound.
AS: That means a lot to us, a lot of people don't know it, but a lot of the music you hear us do comes from our background vocalist Vicki Bell, she really pours it out and we just try to mimic what she is trying to relate. You know if you Google Vicki Bell she has at least thirty pages about her music. She is phenomenal!
BW: And you are not just a Blues band.
AS: I am glad you said that, as we are a band of many things, we really do not want to be pigeonholed to just one genre. We want the world to know that if we had to do Country music, we are going to do it to death! We feel very confident that we can flip a song at any time and make it work and that is the pleasure of working with this band and whoever happens to be our keyboard player for any given night.
BW: Speaking of the keyboards, today you did not have a keyboard player and I really did not miss it, all due respect to Bruce Katz, whom I love, but the vibe felt good with just guitar, bass, and drums, and of course the two background vocals and you.
AS: I have an awesome band! We have a band within a band within a band; we always rally together and help each other out. So we've really learned how to stick together. I thank God for my band as I could not ask for any better of a band.
BW: How long has the Alexis P. Suter Band been together?
AS: A little over two years now and thank God for Levon Helm, who really is our shepherd, who has taught us all about the music industry and constantly continues to give us pointers. We all have nothing but praise and thanks for Levon. You have to know this man; he's just an angel! I've never met anyone with his type of spirit; his soul is unbelievable, he never changes, which ain't easy to do in this business or in life.
BW: Is the band going into the studio for a new CD?
AS: We have a lot of great ideas and we want to start on a new recording, but there are no definitive plans just yet. I know Vicki has a lot of new songs ready so it will come about soon.
BW: Any other thoughts that you would like to add?
AS: I just would like to thank all of the people who have supported us from all over - New York, New Jersey - and especially our Brooklyn fans; our support crew is overwhelming. People have seen me crying with tears of joy, because of the love I feel from so many people. I never thought we would get that kind of support as there are so many good bands out there and I don't think of us as different, as we are a band that is just giving our souls to our audiences. It feels so beautiful when they give their emotions back to us, I want to thank all of our fans, and to you, Bob, everyone who supports us and what we do, as if it weren't for our fans where would be? There would be no us without them.
BW: I definitely feel the emotion coming off the stage and from the crowd, especially at Levon's barn in Woodstock.
AS: It's crazy and I love it. Levon taught me well, and Vicki, too, because she's always saying things like, we are not getting any younger so we have to do it now! It's all part of our pep talk and it's a great thing how we all pull together, both in the band and with the support from our fans, as that is how our musical puzzle is solved. And now we can do what we have to do.
BW: And conquer!
AS: And conquer is right! We don't want to destroy, we just want to peacefully conquer. Oh, and we might be opening up for Bo Diddley at B.B. Kings in New York City in July, as it's gone well for us to open for B.B. and Etta James there, we were very well received.
Bob Putignano is a contributing editor at BluesWax. You can hear his radio show at www.SoundsofBlue.com. Bob may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Putignano is a contributing editor at BluesWax. You may contact Bob at: email@example.com or via his web site at: www.SoundsofBlue.com
Bob Putignano www.SoundsofBlue.com
Radio Host WFDU's "Sounds of Blue"
President of the NY Blues and Jazz Society