Amy Schugar is easy to spot on Cedar Street. She has that Los Angeles rock mystique, a rare sight here in Globe. Her mane of hair reaches well-below her shoulders, long and full. Her red, studded boots scream rock n’ roll, as do her vest and button-down shirt.
I walk up to her and introduce myself. She is animated from the start. “Usually musicians are late or drunk,” she says as we walk to her car, heading out for an interview.
She was neither.
As a rock n’ roll singer and guitarist, Schugar has spent her share of time around the rock music scene. She has played AVALON in Hollywood, and around the Sunset Strip. In 2003, she released a collaborative album with the German rock musician Michael Schenker of UFO, who has been called “a legendary figure in the history of metal guitar.” She has hung around the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, the “godfather of heavy metal.”
Schenker and Schugar’s album “Under Construction” was originally released in 2003, and rereleased in Japan in 2009 with the bonus track “Even Though.”
Soon enough, Schugar is showing me cuts of an upcoming music video on her phone. Despite a bad connection, the track is high-quality. Schugar’s soulful voice pours over a warm, bluesy guitar riff.
Despite her status in the music world, Schugar keeps a somewhat low profile. She prefers it that way, which is why she spends portions of her time in Globe, in addition to Phoenix (her hometown), and Los Angeles.
“I love the desert, and I love LA,” she says.
One glance toward the backseat makes it apparent that Schugar is a self-sufficient musician. Her PA system, guitar, and equipment make for backseat passengers.
“This is also my work car,” she says nonchalantly as she drives us toward Dream Manor Inn.
This work car takes her from Arizona to California regularly. She enjoys the long drives.
Once you get her talking about her music gear, she will talk right over your head. Schugar is endorsed by brands like D’Addario Strings, Robert Keeley Electronics, and Daisy Rock Guitars, to name a few.
She is also her own roadie, manager, and one-woman-band. There was a time when she played in a three-piece rock band. Nowadays, she prefers to play solo. She books her own gigs several times a month at venues like the Mesa Country Club and Dream Manor Inn.
She credits Schenker for his advice years ago.
“Michael told me to make sure you always end up playing acoustic, and learn how to do stuff solo, because you really want to be self-sufficient in this world,” she remembers. “That’s some of the best advice that someone could give anybody, because it’s not always possible for a band to be out playing; they could be booked.”
Schugar is also a bit of an anomaly in the world of rock n’ roll.
“One reason the band stuff doesn’t really work for me is the alcohol and drugs,” she explains. “Unfortunately I am pulled, because I am anti-alcohol and anti-drugs, so I don’t really fit into the rock thing. But I like the rock thing; but so many of these guys are late to rehearsal and hung over.”
So far, she has done well managing and booking her own gigs.
“I don’t have to give anybody a cut,” she says. “I go and play two or three hours. Yes I have to play covers, but I also started slipping in some original stuff.”
Music is in her blood, apparently. Her godmother is Amalia Mendoza, the famous Mexican ranchero singer and actress. A self-taught guitarist herself, Schugar has been playing music since she picked up her sister’s guitar at 14, a ’78 Fender acoustic.
“I took some lessons for a little bit,” Schugar recalls. “The guy I was taking lessons from was this really older, elderly guy that wasn’t really up on new music, and I just felt I needed more. So I put on a KISS record somebody gave me. I heard that loud guitar, and that was all it took.”
She dropped her lessons, and started learning music by ear. She can’t remember the first song she learned how to play, but she suspects it might have been “Wish You Were Here,” by Pink Floyd.
She went into her first nightclub at 16 with her cousin, and saw David Boerst playing guitar.
“It was phenomenal. It was so amazing,” she says. “I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”
From then on, she was inspired by musicians like Randy Rhoads, Michael Schenker, Eric Johnson, and Jennifer Batten (who collaborated several times with Michael Jackson).
“I just kept playing and playing. Because of the timeframe, at that point, there were not a ton of female guitarists.”
Eventually she got a studio. But things really took off when she met Schenker, she says. She was playing Johnson’s ’57 Strat, with a maple neck, backstage, and the two got to talking.
“When he heard I had music recorded, he wanted to go back to the house and take a listen. We went back, and I had had this stuff recorded. He said, ‘Wow, this is great, let’s do an album,’” she remembers. “It happened so fast. It went from there.”
Nowadays, she is working on two music videos for her songs “500 Miles” and “Even Though” with her LA-based friend Layna McAllister.
[The music video for “500 Miles” is now on YouTube. You can watch it here.]
“I am excited about the music videos coming out. I don’t have anything out on YouTube; that’s really purposely done,” she says. “If I’m playing a gig in a bar, I really don’t like people filming… I want to put my best product on YouTube.”
She is also working on new songs, hoping that the music videos will lead to another album. She hopes to put something out in the near future, but she is honest about the logistics for a mastered album.
“I’m really picky about how it’s done,” she says. “I don’t want to just record something in someone’s backyard, and have it go out and sound like that. The budget for an album is astronomical, for a real, real good one.
In the meantime, she continues to write her songs and play gigs.
If there is one piece of advice she can give to aspiring female musicians, it is this:
“Stay sober, learn music theory, and try to keep your head on straight.”
Jenn Walker began writing for Globe Miami Times in 2012 and has been a contributor ever since. Her work has also appeared in Submerge Magazine, Sacramento Press, Sacramento News & Review and California Health Report. She currently teaches Honors English at High Desert Middle School and mentors Globe School District’s robotics team.