Long-Lived Lesbian And Former FBI Agent Rocks Guitar: Susan SurfTone (Part 3)

Having lived this long, I can look back and say, "I really did do that!"


Published:

Robbie McClaran

In parts one and two, long-lived lesbian Susan SurfTone talked about childhood, college, and working for the FBI. Here, she describes some turns her music career took along the way, leading to her starting to sing at age 61.

SurfTone played professionally for considerable time before cutting an album. "In the 1980s I was playing in bands, in clubs, but not recording. We didn't have the indie recording industry that we have now. I did a lot of demo recordings, but nothing that was really released. The actual first release was the SurfTone instrumental album, Without a Word, in 1995."

How did she get her name, Susan SurfTone? "Our band wanted a name that would tell people what we did, because the band started in Rochester, New York, and that's not much of a surf town. Pulp Fiction had just come out and surf music was popular after that, because they used a classic surf tune, 'Misirlou' by Dick Dale. So we became the SurfTones. Then I got signed by Gee-Dee Music in Hamburg, Germany, and they wanted to change the name to capitalize on the fact that I was a woman, so they made it Susan and the SurfTones."

"Then in 2011 I wanted to do more solo work, so I just became Susan SurfTone. People had been calling me that anyway, so it was logical. I now record with Steve Kravac, who plays drums. I do the guitar, the keyboards, and vocals and he plays drums and produces. We do self-contained recording."

To take up singing at this point in her career meant a risk for SurfTone, but one she wanted to take. She opted to sing for the first time on her last CD, The Magician. "I felt it was now or never, just like when I went into playing music in clubs. I decided I could die after trying it or I could die regretting that I'd never tried it. I did it, and people seemed to like it.

I had this song I'd written, 'Little Bit Lied to,' which seems apt in this election year. I'm a Hillary supporter, but I have to admit there are some credibility issues – though in my view they're overblown. And Trump! The thing he does best is lie!

But anyway, with it I chose to record some of Elvis's earliest songs, "Blue Moon of Kentucky" and "Trying to Get to You," from early in his career, when his voice was higher pitched and more untrained. I figured they were the ones I could get the closest to. I cut some singles off the EP and they're doing well.

For my new single, “Up Down And All Around” I’m joined by Mia Moravis, a vocalist doing backups for me. So I'm expanding the vocal range. People seem to like it; no one has thrown anything or told me to shut up!"

Asked if she identifies as lesbian, SurfTone is unambiguous. "Oh, yes!" And on how being queer affects her creative work, she says, "That's a really interesting question. I think being queer allows to me to have a wider perspective. There's somewhat of a different style to my playing that is unusual for male guitarists, but I incorporate an aggressiveness that is more typical of men guitar players. I feel that I have both."

Like some of the rockers who inspired her as a child, SurfTone is still playing and performing music in her sixties. On growing older, she says, "Oh, my knee hurts, my arm hurts, I can't see as well as I used to – the usual. But I feel more confident, because there's a life behind me as well as, I hope, in front of me. Having lived this long, I can look back and say, "I really did do that! I really did!" It's been helpful. And I'm fortunate in that I've been able to learn, to look back on things I've done and learn from them.

One thing in particular is that I've learned to look at things the way other people see them. Everyone looks at things different ways, and I'm a little more open about how other people think and see things. If I'm working on a music project with someone, and we're having a difference, I can be open to how they are seeing it, and what their goals are, and I can look for similarities and commonalities. They just have a different perspective. You know, we have the end goal of putting a tour together, or putting a CD out, and how can that happen? When I was younger it was harder to see that.

Like her early influence Mick Jagger, SurfTone shows no signs of slowing down. "I'm going to release my single, 'Up Down and All Around,' on Bongo Boy Records, a US label. They're doing a compilation, Out of the Garage, volume 3, and I'll do a single release of it with power pop mix on my own label, Acme Brothers Records, as well. I'm planning a couple of tours for next year, around LA area where I hope to do a live recording, and another tour around the Northeast, New York State, and Boston, my old stomping grounds. I may be joined by the Trevor Sewell Band, a blues band from England.

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