Little Sue – Like the lion in The Wizard of Oz
It’s one of those stories you wouldn’t believe unless it happened to you. It was one of the last days of the year and Susannah Weaver was closing up at the coffee shop she was working in at the time. She’d been discussing with a co-worker resolutions for the coming year; she decided for herself to resolve to have the courage to front a band and perform her songs. In through the door came a mysterious woman who exchanged pleasantries with Weaver and gave her a gift. That woman’s name turned out to be Courage.
Susannah Jane Weaver came to Portland about five years ago from Michigan along with the rest of her band, the Crackpots. Originally from West Virginia, Weaver resigned herself to a supporting role in the Crackpots, providing harmony vocals, playing tambourine and occasionally strumming a guitar. Although she wanted to contribute more, she was afraid of the reaction she’d receive to her material. “The Crackpots wouldn’t do anything unless it was solid,” explained Weaver. It wasn’t until the lead singer of the band decided to move away that Weaver convinced the rest of the band members to try backing her up and playing under the name Little Sue.
At the end of 1995, Little Sue lined up a weekly happy-hour gig on Thursday nights at a cozy neighborhood bar, the LaurelThirst Tavern. The weekly gig forced the band to try out musical ideas, whether they had rehearsed them or not, without the fear of playing in front of a paying audience. It also introduced Weaver to several of Portland’s finest roots-oriented musicians, many of whom accompany Little Sue on Chimneys & Fishes, due out on Cravedog Records this spring.
Shortly before the recording of the CD, Little Sue’s original guitarist decided to leave the band, forcing the band to call on the talents of fellow LaurelThirst regulars to fill in. The core band of Weaver on guitar and vocals, Bill Rudolph on bass and John Lambert on drums has been augmented by layers of mandolin, violin, banjo, lap steel guitar, accordion and piano. The end result belies the meager budget they were afforded, partly thanks to Weaver’s production instincts. Although she was not surprised by her fellow musicians’ performances, she was pleased they were able to tap into the same feelings she had about the songs. From the lush ballads “Bonnet” and “Willow Tree” to spirited hoedowns such as “Whiskey Hat” and “Weber”, the playing is uniformly tasteful.
Onstage the band is somewhat ragged but always inspired. Although she’s gained a lot of confidence in her singing voice, Weaver admits she’s still more comfortable performing the songs of others, including Gram Parsons, Freakwater, Talking Heads, and a version of the Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On” that never fails to bring the house down.