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Suite Sister Mary: With Just One Song, Pamela Moore Creates An Iconic Character

By: Christa Titus

When Queensrÿche paints character stories about women, it often picks up a dark or tragic brush. The titular figure from the band's namesake song, "Queen Of The Ryche," steals souls under the cover of night. "The Lady Wore Black" is the tale of an enchanting woman damned to eternal life, while the homeless "Della Brown" struggles for survival and the fragile "Lady Jane" is possibly mad. Yet the best-known and most beloved among all Queensrÿche damsels in distress is Sister Mary, the prostitute-turned-nun who's repeatedly abused by men until she falls in love with Nikki, the protagonist of Operation: Mindcrime

But the band didn't cut Mary a break either—indeed, she's put through the wringer the most. After she and Nikki finally succumb to their desire and make love, the villainous Dr. X drives her to suicide. She still doesn't find peace, haunting Nikki throughout Operation: Mindcrime II and chastising him for his weaknesses. By the time he dies as well, it's a relief to see them walk through the pearly gates together.

Pamela Moore performed Mary's duet with Nikki on "Suite Sister Mary," the nearly 10-minute song on the first Mindcrime that serves as the album's lynch-pin. When the band approached the Seattle native about the gig, she was acquainted with some of its members through her job at one of the city's record stores. Moore was also working with a popular local band and singing in radio and TV commercials. Her voice was featured in a long-running TV ad for the record shop, and she believes that's how the band determined she had what they needed.

"They called me up [while they were recording] in Montreal and said, 'How would you like to try out? How would you like to sing with Geoff [Tate]?,' Moore says with a laugh as she remembers. "I’m like, 'What?' ”

Moore was flown up to Montreal since the band didn't want to take a chance on the music getting leaked. Over dinner, Tate and guitarist Chris DeGarmo explained that they were doing a concept record.

She says, "This is going over my head, ’cause here I was doing top 40 music, and I was thinking, 'What? Conceptual album? What does that mean?' "

They handed her a cassette tape with "Suite Sister Mary" to listen to that night. She got familiar with it, then went into the studio the next morning "and did the whole shebang," Moore says. "I was nervous about it, ’cause I wasn’t sure what they were gonna have me sing. Luckily it was something that I knew I could probably hit pretty good, I could probably nail pretty well for ’em. It turned out, you know—look what happened," she giggles. "I had no idea it was gonna be this career turning into it. It’s been a blessing that I’ve been really grateful for, that’s for sure."

With one arresting performance about lust and betrayal, addiction and despair, Moore became enshrined in Queensrÿche's legacy. She toured with the band in Europe and for a few U.S. shows during the 1991-1992 Building Empires tour, but that turned out to be just the beginning of their relationship. While she has continued doing commercial and session work and make her own solo albums, her popularity among the band's fan rose when Queensrÿche began playing the full Mindcrime onstage again in 2005 and she reprised her role. Now that her part is expanded in the sequel, thus increasing her stage time, fans consider Moore a de facto sixth band member. Her sweet personality is at odds with Mary's bitter, beaten persona, as Moore showed by gamely chatting with Blistering during her birthday to discuss the song that forever changed her career.

Blistering.com: So, you knew who Queensrÿche was when you were asked to sing on the album?

Pamela Moore
: Yes. Yes I did, of course. I was working at that particular music store too. I was always carrying two jobs but I was working at that store and I would meet Chris, and once in a while Geoff would come in. It was kind of, “Well, who are these guys?” It was right when they were starting to hit in Europe. I talked to Chris a lot—I really miss him, I haven’t talked to him for a while—but I talked to him a lot and we’d exchange music ideas. I’d play ’em some of the stuff I was doing. It was just a little acquaintance friendship, so to speak, so when they actually called me from where they were recording it really shocked me. I didn’t know they were looking for a singer.

Blistering.com: The singing you did for the album, was it different from what you normally were doing at the time?

Moore
: The commercials I was doing were really a strong, kind of rock-type thing, rock feel to it. But yes and no. A lot of the music that I was doing in the band was like top 40 to the rock to the “What Have You Done For Me Lately” songs. There was kind of like a mixture of them. And my solo albums were very different. They were more of a pop kind of, little bit rock, probably a little bit of R&B, so it was a very different genre, you know. To get pushed into that whole thing was pretty incredible.

Blistering.com: When you went up to record in Montreal, what was your impression of the band at the time? Had you met any of the other guys?

Moore
: I actually knew [drummer] Scott [Rockenfield]. He came out a couple times to see the club that I was in . . . but it wasn’t really until I started touring with them that I actually started building a really strong friendship with everybody. But it was just Chris and Geoff at the time with the producer, Mr. [Peter] Collins, and the engineer, Jim Barton . . .

They were very, very, and have always been, very professional. That’s something I really liked about with [them], I like working with those guys. It’s not all about, you know, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. They have families now, but even before, it was always just, just really well-behaved. [laughs] . . . that’s one thing I really like, ’cause I didn’t want to be the typical rock chick that’s in this band that’s partying every night. It really isn’t that way. They handle it very well and very professionally. And not that they don’t have any fun either, but that’s something I really enjoyed. It’s very respectful. It’s quite a pleasurable experience for me. I enjoy every bit of it, and they treat me like family, and that’s really nice too. I’m kinda of like their sis. [laughs]

Blistering.com: When you recorded the song, you only heard it once the night before, before you went in and recorded it?

Moore
: Yes. Yes. They didn’t allow any of their music to be out circulating anywhere and I can understand why, ’cause it was a very different project for them and [they] wanted to keep it under wraps. So it was a little bit frightening to like fly up there and [laughs] not really know these people very well and pick up the cassette tape and listen to it.

You know, I was thinking, “God, I hope this is something I can do,” but the minute I heard it I thought, “Yeah, I can get this done.” So it was a little bit nerve-wracking and they were taking a chance, but I think they kinda had an idea, “Well, we know what her voice sounds like, and we know what this song is.” I didn’t know, so it was a pretty interesting situation to be in [laughs]. Little bit nerve-wracking that I’m in front of the microphone the next day going, “Oh well, here we go.”


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