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.



Sue Menhart on Love: ‘Let It In’

Singer, songwriter, musician, or band leader … whatever you call her, Sue Menhart knows a little something about music. And she knows even more about love.

“Love Ain’t Hard” is her latest compilation, a bluesy mix of songs that touch on love lost, love re-discovered, love that lasts – and love that just plain explodes! Based in Stonington, Menhart says the title’s meaning is pretty simple: “Just have to get that chip off your shoulder and let it in.  Life’s short.”

Leap, for instance, into the power of the music itself, strongest and most poignant in “Can’t Feel the Rain.”

Listen to this: 

“Highway’s one more mile,” she says. “What am I doing this for?  I can’t feel the rain no more.”

A traveling troubadour? a lover of dreams, still chasing them, but numb from the weariness of the journey?

Her gritty take on loving that journey, backed by piano, guitar, and drums, is a lament. “Where did my fire go?” she wonders as sax takes over instrumentally, underscoring the gut-wrenching message. And as she belts out, “I can’t feel it!”  you can feel it — the passion, the frustration, the endurance, and yes, the love.

So is the CD’s title also tongue-in-cheek? A sort of sarcastic disclaimer for someone who knows more than she’s letting on?

Well, if you’re thinking this song represents the CD’s main groove, you’d be wrong. As moving and insightful as “Can’t Feel the Rain” is, it’s the tribute to the Brian Wilson song, “Party on the Beach,” that has more of the vibe Menhart is after: “Just good old fashioned fun.”

Judge for yourself:

“When you see Brian Wilson … trying to have some fun … have a party on the beach!” she demands. And who couldn’t resist that invitation?

As a whole, “Love Ain’t Hard” is a solid, cantankerous, rocking good time, with a kind of earthy realism mixed in on the moodier numbers.

Here’s one more taste of Sue’s wisdom, couched in wonder in this beautiful ballad, “Moving On”:

“Wherever you roam, you’re never alone,” she promises. Despite life’s lonely, alienating tricks.

Whether the song’s tone is heavy or light, Menhart’s lyrics are so straightforward, yet heartfelt, analysis seems disingenuous.

As for the voice, it’s got depth, rasp, conviction, and resolve. A resolve, in fact, patterned after the sax that lifts, accompanies, underscores and capitulates on most of the tracks. Credit saxophonists Don Packer and and Tommy Mahfoo with getting it right.

Besides Menhart’s contributions on electric guitar, band members include husband Kevin Clark on drums,  Dave Foret on bass,
Don Bergeron on lead electric guitars and Dan Spano on the keyboard.

Persistence, plus patience, produced “Love Ain’t Hard.” Dennis Walley, who runs Stone Wall Studios in North Stonington, CT,  recorded, mixed and mastered all the songs.

“Half the songs were recorded three years ago and the other half earlier this year,” Menhart recalled. “We released ‘Can’t Feel the Rain’ from that first batch in 2015 and it won a New London Whalie Award for Best Roots Rock Performance.  We took a break in between due to band members’ illnesses and I think somebody quit and came back, lol.  Dennis was able to meld it all together.”

And meld it, he did – with the kind of fabulous finesse reserved for true artists.

To order this CD, visit Sue’s website.

And to catch her live, riffing on artists like Bonnie Raitt and the Tedeschi Trucks Band, check out Menhart-Bergeron Acoustic Madness on Dec. 27 at the Steak Loft in Mystic. And request an original. “Love Ain’t Hard” is just the tip of the iceberg in this woman’s repertoire.







New London Redux: A Photo Collage

Music is best when it’s shared.

Sailfest is the place where we hold our Shoreline Acoustic Music Festival each July.


Made it back to the city on July 12-13 and enjoyed two of my favorite acts at SAMS:

Golden Ratio played,


followed by Maggie’s Guitar.

Maggies Guitar

Later on, I discovered Josie Davis at one of the piers and ran into singer/songwriter Sue Menhart.


At night, I was treated to a jam session in Pwop Studios with Carl Franklin, John Fries, Mike Rogoff and other talented drummers, keyboardists and guitarists.


I got to try out a tune of my own or two with a little help from Carl on bass and Jay on keyboards after the jam session. Also saw good friends, made new ones and got a stellar view of the fireworks over the Thames, barges in full view shooting sparks of color at a gorgeous July moon. Will Getschell took this shot.

Pat & Carl

Another round on Sunday of wonderful musicians followed, with a 20-minute set in which bassist Joe Cavanagh and violinist Dana Takaki joined me. Photo by Anne Maxwell.

Shoreline Acoustic Festival 2014

Filled with gratitude to be able to circulate and play with musicians of such caliber and heart.

Live Music: Why You Should Bother

So you write a song in the privacy of your home and head.

You record it, and like any published material, it is out there, but you have no idea who’s hearing it.

Or … you can take it on the road, pack up your speakers and mics and show the world what you’ve got.

Sue Menhart and The Rivergods are two New London area acts that do this to perfection. Look at Sue’s sked for coming weeks: a delightful mix of acoustic solos and band gigs.

I don’t have a band, yet. But I am developing contacts with other musicians who may back up my original music and covers. Mike Ball has been phenomenal and will continue to work with me through next year but he is moving to Oklahoma. So I have my eyes and ears on a couple of other talented performers. And a newly minted, stellar sound system to accommodate us.

On Facebook my music colleagues are constantly promoting live events and complaining quite often about what it takes to get people off the living room couch at night and out to somebody else’s gig.

There are no easy answers, but if you asked Sue Menhart, she’d probably say it takes work: putting yourself out there regularly, rain or shine.

The benefits are many. Someone sways to your music, stomps a foot, or simply looks away, listening intently to words and notes you have put together with intent. An intent she or he is latching onto. The audience gets it. They get you.

This happened recently at a Captain’s gig where I played love songs to a small crowd that included a young lesbian couple freshly graduated from Columbia University. But it can be any message, whether your song is a meditation, a ballad or a rant.

Take it on the road, you won’t be sorry!

An Invite To Sing

Sue Menhart played acoustic covers and originals, including two brand new tunes, at the Riverwalk bar and restaurant in Mystic two weekends ago.

She has a dynamite gravely voice, part Joplin, part Etheridge, but her own raw, rocking style.

She also did something incredibly generous: she invited me to play a couple tunes.

Any of you who know me know my grad school courses keep me from getting out much these days but I hope I did her proud.

I don’t know all of these cool people in the New London music scene personally yet, but my advice to would-be performers of any age is, accept invitations graciously and have fun! Music is meant to be shared.