Between rock and a hard place — a classic chick crosses over

By Dr. Rob Tomaro
Arts Correspondent and Music Director of the Rock River Philharmonic

Susan Aquila began her career right out of Juilliard; violin recitals at the White House for Clinton and both presidents Bush; stints with big orchestras around the country. Life was set, but then she got bitten by the rockin’ pneumonia and the boogie woogie flu, and things changed.

Now, she tears through her sets singing like Pat Benatar and roaring like Hendrix on her custom-made purple Viper six-string electric violin, and she’s coming to the 815, playing her hit single, “Intervention,” from her album, Broken Angel. You might want to make it.

See, there’s a bunch of classical players who have succumbed to the siren song of rock, but most of them can’t seem to get their hands dirty in the funk of the blues. You can’t teach how that feels, and you can’t teach how to make a crowd feel it, too. Susan, though, revels in it and leaves Juilliard in the dust. When she digs in on that purple thing, the roof flies off the place. Listen to “Intervention,” an ode to love, broken promises and sweet revenge. It comes at you like a jackhammer, and at the top of the solo, she slides out of a blistering lick into Grieg’s “In The Hall of the Mountain King.” It’s gone before you know it, but it lingers in the air, a tongue-in-cheek nod to where she’s been on her way to where she’s going.

Her initiation into rock began at the top. One day a few years back, she got a call from her agent informing her that she had been hired to play a private party in the Hamptons with a rock band, some little outfit called Led Zeppelin. The limo would pick her up in front of the Park Lane Hotel in Manhattan in a month’s time.

So, the door opens, and there they are: Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham, filling in for his dad on drums. In an effort to break the ice, she extends her hand to the only one she recognizes (because of his curly blond locks) and says: “Good evening, Mr. Plant, I will be your violinist tonight,” and they all fell about.

The guy who converted the Humvee to civilian production was throwing a little soirée and hired Zep for $1.5 million. Of course, they ended with “Stairway to Heaven.” But, when they get to the iconic guitar solo, Page impishly turns to Susan and says: “Take it!” Far from freaking out, though, she just looked at him and smiled. She had spent the past month listening to their albums and memorizing the solos, and she ripped it, note perfect. The next day, Jimmy called James Hetfield. That summer, she went on tour with Metallica. Funny business, this rock and roll.

Catch The Susan Aquila Band at 9:30 p.m., Saturday, June 14, at The Poison Ivy Pub, 5765 Elevator Road, Roscoe, Ill. Call the pub at (815) 623-1480 for more details.

Broken Angel is available on iTunes, CD Baby, Digistation and other digital outlets.

Rob Tomaro is music director for life of the Rock River Philharmonic.

From the June 4-10, 2014, issue

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