Sue Medley has toured with Bob Dylan and John Mellencamp, performed at the Juno Awards and on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and received a slew of music awards along the way.
Now the singer/songwriter has started a new chapter in her life by returning to her Comox roots.
“I was really young when I made up my mind to be a singer/entertainer,” says Medley. “I was determined to do it. But when I got out in the real world, I learned it was a lot tougher than I thought.
“I feel so fortunate to have experienced what I did — both musically and personally. But there was definitely a bit of the good, the bad and the ugly.”
Born in Nanaimo, Medley lived in Dawson Creek and Fernie for her first few years. But it was the Comox Valley that became — and still is — home.
After graduating from Vanier Secondary, Medley took her ambitions to Vancouver. She hooked up with a country rockabilly band and started writing her own songs which led to some West Coast Music Awards.
“That’s when it all started to happen,” recalls Medley. “After I got an award, a guy from Polygram Records gave me his card and I ended up signing with them.”
Medley was the first artist Polygram had recruited in years. At that time most of their library was classical music.
“They were taking a big risk with me,” says Medley. “I couldn’t believe it was happening. I still had it in my head that I was a small-town girl and all of a sudden I had a record label.”
Medley admits it was overwhelming. Almost overnight the 25-year-old was staring in videos, on television shows and featured in magazines and newspapers across Canada. People came up to her on the street asking for autographs.
“I have to hand it to Polygram,” says Medley. “I had a slight country edge to my music backed by a roots rock base. It didn’t really fit with the radio sound of the late 1980s. Polygram took a chance on me and it really paid off.”
But it was stressful. Medley knew she had to be at her very best for every show, as they were all reviewed in mainstream media.
“It involved an incredible amount of work and stamina,” she explains. “I’d be on the touring bus all night, check into a hotel around 7 a.m. then do phone interviews before showering and cleaning up to do meet-and-greets at record stores and radio shows. Then we’d head to the venue for a sound check and get ready to perform. After the concert, it was right back on the bus again.
“That happened over and over again 24 hours a day. There was a lot of extreme pressure and some intense moments.”
“But it was also a lot of fun,” she adds. “I appreciate it more now than I did at the time. It’s hard to think clearly when you’re not getting enough sleep or eating the right kind of food.”
Aside from a beer after a gig, Medley and her band were too busy to get seriously into drugs and alcohol. “We were a hard-working band machine,” she says. “We were always touring, rehearsing or recording. There wasn’t time to get into trouble.”
Medley toured with Bob Dylan for a while.
“It was amazing,” she says. “He’s a living legend and just being on the same bill with him propelled my record to gold status.”
“It was interesting; we’d be at the venue and one of Dylan’s people would say, ‘Mr. Dylan has entered the building, you have to stay in your dressing rooms now.’ His drivers and sound crews warmed up to us over time but he was always referred to as ‘Mr. Dylan.’ ”
“He asked to meet me once,” she adds. “I had just got off stage and was all sweaty and pumped with adrenaline. I said, ‘Hi Bob,’ and he said he liked my jacket. At that time I had all my clothes handmade in Vancouver.”
“Another time he came into my dressing room on my birthday. The whole band was there and I was cutting a cake. He tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a box of chocolate cigars.”
But then things changed at Polygram and Medley moved to Nashville, then Indiana and Illinois. “Everything tapered off,” she says. “I wasn’t performing or making records. I lost my focus and faith in myself. Then I went to Bosnia to entertain the troops and that changed everything. When I got back to the States I took my dog, guitar and suitcase and moved to L.A.”
Medley tried to get back into her former life but soon decided she’d lost her momentum. “I started teaching voice and guitar and that started me on a long journey of working with kids. I got to use everything I’d learned over the years and encourage them – I really love it.”
Ten years later she felt like it was time to come home. “I had no sense of community in L.A.” she says. “Family’s what’s important to me. I’m so happy to be home.”
Medley’s still teaching music, sings with Time Well Wasted and is collaborating on an album with John Mang that will be released this fall.
“I feel like I’ve come full circle,” she says. “My voice is the best it’s ever been and I’m really excited about writing and being creative. All the songs come from my life experience, the good, the bad, the life changing. It’s a good stretch of my musical boundaries.”
“I was so lucky to get to perform in places like London, Hong Kong and Egypt and meet people like Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder,” she adds. “Sometimes I think I’ll write my memoirs just to get it all down.”
In the meantime, Medley will perform at the Mex Pub with Time Well Wasted on June 23, at Nautical Days and, of course, the fall launch for her new CD.