Artfully blending the lines between gospel and blues music for a dozen years or so has been vocalist and songwriter Alexis P. Suter. Suter began singing in her church choir in Brooklyn as a four-year-old, herself the daughter of a singer, Carrie Suter, who sang backing vocals with the likes of Harry Belafonte and Mahalia Jackson over the years. Suter's mother went to Juilliard to take vocal classes and taught school in Brooklyn, while her father worked for the post office in Manhattan. Suter recalled in interviews listening to Ruth Brown on the radio as far back as she can remember, and she cites the late classic R&B singer as a primary influence.
In 2005, Suter and her band were lucky enough to attract the attention of the legendary drummer for the Band, Levon Helm. Helm quickly took the band under his wing, offering the group numerous showcase slots at his Midnight Ramble Saturday night concerts at his studio in Woodstock, NY. Suter and her band recorded two albums for Hipbone Records, a Brooklyn-based record label. Shuga Fix was released in February 2005, and Just Another Fool was released in June 2008. In between these two finely engineered and mastered studio pressings, drummer Helm, true to his word, put his money where his mouth was and released Live at the Midnight Ramble on his own label, Levon Helm Records.
Shuga Fix is an amalgamation of styles that encompasses the classic blues of songs like "Teacher Man" and an inventive spry cover of "Rollin' and Tumblin," as well as elements or gospel, rap, and house music grooves. Similarly, the band's 2008 release, Just Another Fool, takes modern blues in new directions, pushing the form just a bit beyond its normal boundaries. But at the root of their sound is Suter's powerful, commanding, and deep soulful voice, rooted in gospel music.
Suter and her band have been blazing trails to clubs and festivals, mostly around the Northeast, stretching their collective musical wings beyond the borders of Brooklyn and Manhattan, taking their music to festivals as far away as Canada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maine. Her band includes backup singer Vicki Bell and drummer Ray Grappone, the principal owners and sound engineers at Hipbone Records, as well as guitarist Jimmy Bennett and bassist Peter Bennett. A newer addition to the band is keyboardist Bruce Katz, who joins them periodically at New York City shows and on the road.
With Helm and others in his organization looking after the Alexis P. Suter Band, great things are in the offing for the group, which continues to perform at festivals, theaters, and clubs around the Northeast and East Coast until a suitable national tour or European tour presents itself. The band has already made a tour of Italy and has plans to do more European touring, where audiences seem to be more receptive to blues. Those who follow blues music closely only have to hear Suter once to know she and her band are destined for bigger and better things, as her rich voice combines the best elements of blues, soul, and gospel music.
"I think singing has been a type of therapy for me," she said in an interview, "because I've been through so much in my life and the one thing I could always turn to was music. It's like religion, I guess, because in music as well, I could always find something that seemed to be custom-made for my situation in life." ~ Richard Skelly