She Just Wants to Rock ‘n’ Roll

Sue Menhart is sassy. She’s sultry. And she’s sympathetic as the subject of a memoir that pulls no punches in detailing the trials and triumphs of a life led working a day job while founding and fronting a rock band.

Full disclaimer: I have shared the solo-acoustic corner of a pub or two in New London County, Conn., with this woman and joined her in the audience at occasional Sinners’ Circles where newcomers and veterans alike performed originals to a packed listening room. I also have seen her prance and project on stage with the Sue Menhart Band, ripping through some bluesy number with the energy and fury of her idol, Pat Benatar.

So too, have countless others, and when she belts out the tune, “Where’d You Come From,” her soulful presence rocks the room. But she is a singer/songwriter at heart, persisting in an unforgiving industry where streaming songs pay a fraction of a cent and competition is fierce.

They Made Me Play a Polka reads like a hybrid of stand-up comedy and a playful whodunnit: laugh-out-loud funny but fast-paced and driven by a mix of well-known and unnamed characters populating a world where Grammys are as elusive as (and not unlike) the lottery, and you keep waiting for an answer to the question: Why isn’t Menhart a star? A page-turner, the book invites you to uncover layer after layer of reasons for this stark reality — some her own doing and some the fault of a maniacal music industry that takes no prisoners.

Living through everything from Lyme disease to motherhood to husband/drummer Kevin’s life-threatening illnesses, Menhart has bigger wars to wage, mainly with her illusions about the viability of “making it” in the music world.

Maybe she should have stayed in California as a young wannabe instead of coming back East. Maybe she should have made an even more concerted effort than she did at self-promotion on Apple Music. Maybe she should have never accepted that gig at a local vineyard that didn’t exactly go as planned.

There is very little whining in this memoir, or regret. There is no glossing over struggles with alcohol or real human emotions of frustration, aggravation and the lust for lasting fame.

What there is is self-deprecating humor; a bold, scrappy commitment to her role as leader of a southeastern Connecticut band with rock ‘n’ roll roots; candid heart-to-hearts for those of us with dreams of fame or, at least, airplay on Sirius radio; and, in the middle of the book, a searing and well-researched assessment of exactly what it takes to produce and promote original band or solo material. The pitfalls, the behind-the-scenes manipulation and the sheer hard work.

She reaches several conclusions at the end, but — spoiler alert — one rings truest: “I like singing,” she writes. “And nobody’s gonna stop me.”

That conviction may have landed her her latest gig. Look for Menhart at the Maugle Sierra Vineyards in Ledyard, Conn., from 3-6 p.m. on Oct. 7. Then pick up this memoir and follow her on the Sue Menhart Band website. Why? Because she knows her why. She’s still at it, and thriving.



2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. I invite you to check out this report. And thanks for keeping up with this songwriting blog!

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,700 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

When the Audience Sings

Music teacher Sherry Stidfole likes to hear voices singing in unison.

A lover of folk songs, Sherry, who lives in New London and teaches in Waterford, Conn., says she’s a great believer in the mandate, “It ain’t over until the audience sings.”

Plan to accommodate her when she performs with myself and Mike Ball at Captain’s Pizza, 8 Bank St., from 5-7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 3.

Sherry has practiced this precept by writing original songs for her Waterford, Conn., students, and in many other ways.

Also a lover of the guitar, she bought her first model in a Kingston, N.Y., pawn shop in the early sixties. She taught herself how to play using the book by Jerry Silverman, “Beginning the Folk Guitar.” Next, she memorized “Greensleeves,” and “graduated,” as she puts it, to “The Joan Baez Songbook.”

In 2006 she, Mike Bailey and Steve Fagin formed The Shoreline Acoustic  Music Society, which recently held its 6th Annual festival during Sailfest. It’s there that songwriters (myself among them) have the opportunity to jam and float original tunes by amateurs and seasoned performers alike.

At SAMS, singers and musicians are the audience. And that holds true in other performances Sherry leads as well.

Back in the mid-1980s, Sherry got a bunch of Waterford public school teachers to play “A-Soulin’ ” with her fifth and sixth-grade Southwest School chorus. Now expanded to exclude out-of-towners, the group is known as “The Crew” and can be seen after SAMS festivals and various hootenany performances.

Sherry’s exuberance and love of music are sure to get your blood pumping, your feet stomping — and your voice crackling.

So come on down and, as Sherry advises, “join in!”


The Oct. 1 Sinners Circle 14 was a perfect storm of soulful, music-making sinners and a circle of ardent, attentive listeners.

With some finger-picking ballads at the ready, I was thrilled to be able to hear a pin drop as I played and then to get that warm rolling soft thunder of appreciative applause. My words had been heard.

Marco Frucht knocked some funny, rocking tunes out of the park, Vince Tuckwood put his fine touch on some powerful narratives and Jake Carpenter delivered his special sound and some of his dad Jim’s work deftly and articulately, with that modest, direct look at the audience.

Bean & Leaf is a wonderfully comfortable, homey place to play. And how often can you perform out and really be heard?

I feel privileged to have been included in the circle.

Making Room for Music

I am not a pro. But I am pro-music.

Tonight’s toss-up: choosing between an open mike at Side Pocket Cafe in Groton, led by J.C. Hatfield…

Or mowing the lawn.

I am choosing music.

The lawn, true, is long in the tooth and needing care. But it will be there tomorrow. And the next day.

For indie artists like me who do something other than music full time and for whom songwriting is an avocation, getting out to perform is so important, so restorative, even when the audiences are small.

And mixing with like-minded musicians keeps me happy and motivated. Plus, J.C., a dynamic guitarist with a soulful voice and a country flair invited me.

I am saying yes to as many invitations as I can, in the audience or on stage.

Because when I get up in the morning, it’s the knowledge songwriting has become my reason for being that gets me through the day.

What It Feels Like Up There

Attentive faces. Shoulders slouched back. Maybe a rocking body or tapping foot.

Shrouded in darkness, light illuminates cheeks and eyes.

And it’s just like the way I practiced, singing to the pictures of families and friends on the mantel, only now, as I sing, there is the stillness of attention, followed by sustained applause that feels — who am I kidding, it’s the only interpretation I can believe — genuine.

No, it wasn’t perfect at the 5th Annual Shoreline Acoustic Music Festival Friday night.

In fact, my Ovation crapped out and when even a new battery didn’t help, I found myself banging the guitar accidentally into the microphone placed in front of the sound hole. I made a face, and a friend in the audience saw it, too, and smiled back.

But fellow songwriter Mike Bailey said something sweet after: “Your voice was spot on. You seemed relaxed.”

Maybe it’s these daily walks, the daily draughts from the Book of Awakening written by cancer survivor Mark Nepo, I don’t know. I like it up there. I like looking at people as I sing, watching them fidget and gyrate or, more often, watching them sit in that slouched, relaxed posture of attentiveness.

I like singing to you, people.

And I like being heard.

It’s the ultimate dose of self-indulgence, informed by the sincere belief that I have something to say.

I came home and turned on PBS to find a folksy concert in progress, and a singer playing to a packed audience.

As an Indie artist with competing interests and obligations, I haven’t been able to get out much, though I’ve played packed hoots and a CD release party populated by dear friends. The packed houses of strangers, well, that’s not so easy to come by.

And still I do it. Because of the way I feel up there.

Final: Launching a songwriting blog for real


Say it in song,

Say it loud, proud and strong.

Blog through the kinks,

Blog with tags, tweets, and Facebook links.

“Baby, you were born this way.”


This blog, this course, this class, these posts, have fallen into my lap as an unexpected journey, one I have looked forward to since the day I decided to switch off an academic topic and write in my own voice.

You, #506iv, have been my captive audience as I honed in on efforts to make this more than “just another songwriting blog.”

I appreciate your attention, respect your critiques, and have enjoyed your blogs.

As for this blog, it’s not there yet.

In fact, that reality is one I was not sure I could live up to. Putting it out there. Being “more than.”

What’s changed is, I want to find out if I can.


Since starting this blog, I have discovered that fellow songwriters who live where I live are blogging where we all live — in the blogosphere.

I had assumed, ignorantly, that these songwriters and I just shared the same concentric circles cutting through the atmosphere of this seaside city, the same stages at open mics and songwriting circles, the same mental landscape that is the home of any good songwriter, a place in the head, a hole in the heart where you find your truth, fingerpick your way through chord progressions, free-associate random lyrics and then sing about it.

But no. We share the quest to become known, and to know ourselves.

Two of my favorite local singer/songwriters beat me to the punch and are blogging under their own names and power.


I will be consulting with Bob about how to change the name of this blog and my twitter account to my real name, which I would love to share with any of you who still might like to follow this blog.

I will be owning this space.


As this blog evolved in its infancy, I did not risk adding songs. But now I have, and it is, along with other people’s YouTube videos and perhaps music sent from peers that I can share, part of the essence of any good songwriting blog.

I was a closet guitarist for too many years. The fact that I allowed CDBaby to put my second CD on free sites so I could get more exposure is part of the change in my outlook. You’ve got to put it all out there.

Sunmonroe’s tweet, that she enjoyed hearing me sing, meant the world to me. Had I not put it out there, she would not have heard me, and I would not have heard her response.


Still, there’s doubt. There is always that. But doubt is the foundation of an artist’s soul. You can’t revise and grow and improvise and create without doubt.

So I wonder, still: What do I know, what can I offer that other singer/songwriters aren’t doing already, better than I?

Well, I can offer my voice, my songs, my experiences, my passion, my support, my ideas, my connections.

I can offer consistency and reliability, the commitment to maintaining a blog.

I had a blog for my web programming class under my own name. I couldn’t keep it going. I couldn’t find my voice.

Now I have.

Blogging is like peeling away the skin of an onion. Scratching at the surface and finding new layers underneath. Blogging is discovery. It is improv. It is connection. It is a way of reaching beyond yourself, attracting attention while paying attention.

I feel we as a class and I personally have been given an important gift.


Regrets? Not really.

I do wish I had conveyed some passion in the audio that accompanied my Prezi presentation.

But I’ve learned how to keep up with a regular blog, how to share audio, how to focus while letting my more poetic side express itself.

I’ve learned to make sentences leaner. Paragraphs more sparse. Let declarative sentences do some of the heavy lifting.

I’ve learned how to use tweets to draw attention to key posts, and how to check out new followers who flatter me with their attention as well as ignore or if necessary block the followers who disrupt civil tweeting discourse.

I’ve learned that the blogging universe is full of real and would-be stars sharing the spotlight, and that I do not need to compete so much as be a contender. Be out and engaged.

Cherish the gift.

Give back.

A Musician’s Mastery of Facebook

John Mayer is plugged in, and his social media campaign is a means to staying that way.

As one of my favorite songwriters and guitarists, Mayer has got it together. His avid use of Facebook in particular, and other tools like Twitter and Tumblr, to keep fans abreast of his concerts and activities, creates a steady stream of contact.

The Facebook page also enables getting mobile status updates. He is so 21st century.

What I like about Mayer’s mode of self-promotion is that he is all about the consumer. He promotes downloads of his compilation Battle Studies for $1.99 on Amazon and $7.99 on iTunes — affordable deals for most of us.

His is not an issue-driven campaign but a marketing technique and it is one all professional and serious amateur singer/songwriter/performers would do well to emulate where they can. It is not a series of flash-in-the-pan messages but a constant font of information and deals for his fans.

What it doesn’t provide is a true personal connection, but he is too famous for that anyway. In his own way, he uses Facebook more than Facebook uses him.

Unlike Mayer’s fan base, my small audience is happy to connect with me personally on Facebook, where I regularly announce open mics and more prominent performances. I also successfully pulled in a few CD purchases by promoting the CD on Facebook, along with YouTube and friends’ videos of my recent outings.

I aspire to more web self-promotion, through my own blog and/or website, my YouTube uploads and tweets. I cannot begin to compare my late-in-life stirrings to his career, but where I can I follow his path in cyberworld, I think I’ll be better for it.