Susie Glaze once performed on Broadway, so maybe her unique approach to songs should be expected.
“For me, the songs are all one-act plays with moralistic stories to tell,” says Glaze, who made her recording debut with the Eight Hand String Band in Southern California in 2000. “I seek the truth in the songs, and I’m a storyteller. I have an ability to empathize with the character or characters in the songs and what they might be experiencing. I make myself the character and feel the emotions for myself.”
Playing the role of young Southern matriarch Mary Jane Wilkes, Glaze performed on Broadway for two years in Roger Miller’s Big River after graduating with a theater degree from the University of Tennessee. Big River, based on Mark Twain’s novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, included bluegrass and country music.
While on Broadway, Glaze researched the American artists who pioneered country, folk, and bluegrass music and discovered the ground-breaking music of the Stanley Brothers, the Carter Family, Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, and Jean Ritchie.
Glaze moved to Los Angeles after her stint on the Great White Way and noticed that the entertainment world there “was so vastly different than the one I had known in New York.” She says she became “uncomfortable” in the new environment.
“I had to ask myself just what it was that I wanted to chase,” Glaze says. “Music was always something I did and felt really good doing. I was confident, though I had never fronted a band before.”
She joined the bluegrass group the Eight Hand String Band and made her mark as a singer at the 1999 Topanga Banjo/Fiddle Contest & Folk Festival, winning the Traditional Singing award.
In 2003, Glaze appeared with Ritchie at the Conner Prairie Living History Museum’s White River Folk Festival in central Indiana, and the following year, Glaze premiered her new concert piece, The Appalachian Songs of Jean Ritchie, at Southern California music festivals.
She and her husband, mandolinist Steve Rankin, became original members of the Hilonesome Band, which formed in 2003 behind the original songwriting of lead guitarist Rob Carlson.
“Rob brought his tunes to Steve and me for development, and we then asked bassist Fred Sanders to join us,” Glaze recalls. “We began by giving bluegrass treatments to most of our material but then began veering away from that sound. We switched out the banjo and asked fiddler Mark Indictor to join us in 2010.”
Glaze and the Hilonesome Band released several other albums before and after Indictor joined. The band released its first CD, Blue Eyed Darlin’, in 2005, and it won the Just Plain Folks 2006 Music Award for Best Roots Album.
In 2005, Glaze and Rankin also presented a musical play, Singin’ the Moon Up: The Voice of Jean Ritchie, at Penn State Centre Stage, the professional arm of the university’s theater school. A live soundtrack was released two years later.
The Hilonesome Band released Green Kentucky Blues in 2008, Live at the Freight & Salvage in 2011, White Swan in 2013, and Not That Kind of Girl in 2015. Green Kentucky Blues was produced by Laurie Lewis, and Not That Kind of Girl was produced by Herb Pedersen.
Like White Swan, Not That Kind of Girl leans away from bluegrass “and very decidedly into Americana with a Celtic influence,” Glaze says. “There are some grassy chops in some songs such as ‘The Mountain,’ but the effect is quite eclectic. Our aim was to continue the work of our songwriter Rob Carlson — bringing his songs to life and recording some favorite covers such as David Olney’s ‘The Millionaire.’”
Not That Kind of Girl, Glaze says, began with a conversation with Herb Pedersen and Chris Hillman about the Linda Ronstadt biography Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir.
“I wanted to cover a Linda song to mark the work of a great singer, and they offered to play on a recording,” Glaze says. “I happily took them up on it and, thus, our first cut was born. Herb acted as producer on that cut, and a question about him producing the rest of the album came up. He heartily agreed, and we were happy that he also wanted to perform on the project, which he did on a few songs. Our music video on YouTube of ‘Prisoner in Disguise’ shows some studio footage of Herb and Chris.”
Glaze says she and Pedersen have common friends in Los Angeles bluegrass circles and have known one another for many years. Pedersen, a California bluegrass and session musician, was in Tom Petty’s Mudcrutch band during its last tour and has played with Ronstadt, John Denver, Jerry Garcia, and other musical greats.
“I’ve sat in during a performance or two of Herb’s, and he was the lead guitarist on our album Green Kentucky Blues,” Glaze says. “I met Chris through Herb and visited with them at the FAR-West regional Folk Alliance conference in Irvine during the fall of 2013.”
In 2015, Glaze joined numerous artists, including Judy Collins, Pete Seeger, Janis Ian, Tim O’Brien, John McCutcheon, and Suzy Bogguss, on a two-CD tribute album, Dear Jean: Artists Celebrate Jean Ritchie. Ritchie, who helped make folk music popular in the mid-20th century, died in June 2015 at age 92.
“On the album, I would call out Judy Collins’ rendition of ‘One I Love’ as one of my favorites, along with Pete Seeger’s spoken-word rendition of Jean’s poem ‘I Celebrate Life,’” Glaze says. “It was one of his last recording projects before he passed away.”
Glaze recalls her original interaction with Ritchie.
“I recorded one of Jean’s traditional songs, her version of the song ‘Poor Pilgrim of Sorrow,’ for a band in the late ’90s and wanted to see if I could get a copy to her. I simply wrote an email to her contact listed on a website in 2000, and Jean was the one who answered my note. We began a great long-distance conversation, pen-pal type, that is still quite sacred to me. I miss her friendship so much. Her music has been a godsend to me, both personally and professionally, and I’m gratified that our audiences are affected by my deep connection to her work. I told Jean when I last visited that I would always be out singing her songs for her, and I always will.”
Glaze, who has a wonderful voice, says her highest compliments as a singer have come from a guitarist who said he can tune his guitar to her voice, and from Ritchie. “Upon hearing me sing one of her songs, she believed it was herself singing,” Glaze recalls.
Glaze says her favorite singers are Ritchie, Dolly Parton, and Emmylou Harris, and she adores Iris Dement.
At the top of Glaze’s list of favorite musicians are Tim O’Brien, John Prine, Gillian Welch, Sam Bush, and Bonnie Raitt.
“These people are brilliant in the power of their writing and performing,” says Glaze. “I consider John Prine one of the finest song crafters in the world, like Dolly Parton, Iris Dement, and Gillian Welch. Lucinda Williams is also, to me, a giant in the world of songwriting.”
Glaze says various live shows by Williams, Harris, and Welch have influenced her most as a musician, and she recalls two shows by Raitt and Prine that she believes were the best concerts she attended.
“Bonnie Raitt at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles in 2015 was over-the-top fantastic, mainly due to her playing blues alone on stage,” Glaze says. “She proved to me that night the giant nature of her gifts in interpretation and technical skill.”
The Prine show was last May at Merlefest, the annual roots festival at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Glaze watched Prine perform from the side of the stage.
“Sitting there, I looked over to the gentleman at my side during ‘Hello In There,’ and everyone was weeping. The man doing the same was the great Peter Rowan.”