Suzy Bogguss arrived in Nashville at just the right moment.
“It was really good timing,” she acknowledged in a recent conversation, “particularly for some of my contemporaries. We all came to town just when the doors were opening and they would afford us the time to get to know what it’s like to make records, especially ones that they were gonna try to market commercially. We had so much more developmental time. That was a real stroke of luck.”
Bogguss, who had called to talk about her concert Friday night at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, landed in Music City in 1985. It was the early days of an era in which intelligent music was welcome on country radio.
“When I moved to town,” she said, “they were just starting with things like The O’Kanes and Ricky Skaggs, and there was a kind of traditionalist movement going. Acoustic instruments were being accepted on the radio at that time. It was cool. We were mixing a lot of our influences in folk and singer-songwriter material together, and it was working commercially and keeping the integrity that we hoped to keep.”
She had a nice run on the country charts, with four hit singles off her 1991 album, Aces, including Ian Tyson’s classic “Someday Soon” and Nancy Griffith’s “Outbound Plane.” She captured a CMA Horizon Award in the process. Her string continued with “Drive South,” “Just Like the Weather,” “Hey Cinderella,” and the Simpatico CD with Chet Atkins before she took some time off to start a family. When she returned, the country music winds had shifted toward a more generic, pop-flavored sound.
Since leaving the land of big-time radio airplay and major label promotion, Bogguss has explored a wide range of musical styles. She describes her latest album, Sweet Danger, as a “tribute to the singer-songwriter era.” Her 2003 release, Swing, did just that, kicking off with Nat King Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right” before cruising through a setlist of jazz, pop and swing tunes.
She comes by her broad musical palette honestly.
“My dad,” she explained, “his car was full of 8-tracks of Buck Owens and George Jones and anything Hee-Haw. But my mom was big band, so I have a lot of swing in the record collection. Then I have three siblings that are older than me, and they were all listening to Carole King, Beatles. The fact that my sister left me her guitar when she went away to college was a sort of serendipitous thing. I started picking it up when I was about 13 or 14. And I played drums in the band.”
She began performing while attending Illinois State University.
“Moving through college,” she said, “I started getting more serious about it. I was an art major, a metal smith, so I was working towards becoming a commercial jeweler. But when it got close to graduating, and I had started taking gigs in Chicago and kinda blowing off my classes, my professor asked me point blank, ‘Are you gonna be a singer or a jeweler?’ And I said, ‘It looks like I’m gonna be a singer.’
“I didn’t even go to my graduation. My mom and dad came down and moved me to Davenport, Iowa on the day of my graduation. I got a gig singing in this gay bar. And you know what? They liked the music a lot. I was playing a lot of Emmylou Harris and Guy Clark, folks like that.”
Her big break came several years later.
“I was playing at Tony Roma’s,” she said, “a rib joint in Nashville. I got an opportunity to go down to what was called Silver Dollar City, a theme park, to play for three days. While I was there, Dolly Parton was there. And she bought the park!
“That was in August. In the fall I got this phone call from the manager who said they were doing auditions for the park that was going to be called Dollywood. I was just beginning to get my foot in the door at some of the studios singing demos and I had a gig three nights a week that was paying my rent. So I didn’t know if I wanted to leave Nashville, but I did the audition and they gave me the top female slot. I basically did four sets a day solo and a big jamboree show at the end of the day. And part of the deal was that I got to open some shows for Dolly in front of 10,000 people.
“I made this cassette to sell in the park, and that’s what got me my [record] deal. Some of the Capitol executives came over, and they saw my train station show first. Then they saw the jamboree show with a band.
“When I got my offer to sign with them, I had a meeting with Dolly and she was so insightful. She gave me her little bit of advice, which was ‘just stay away from drinking and drugs because it will tap you out of all your dreams; it will take everything away and you won’t be able to be who you are.’ That was her advice, and so far I’ve been able to take it, for the most part.”
Heeding that advice has served Suzy Bogguss well. She is one of the most highly regarded singers in Nashville. Her show Friday will include the country hits, but it will also reflect her eclectic musical tastes.
“It’s like a trip around the world,” she said. “After having made so many records over the years, I want to do a little bit of everything; so I go from a Merle Haggard song to a Duke Ellington song. I get to play all that stuff that was playing in our house when I was growing up. It’s fun—I just try to be my mom and Doris Day mixed together.”
Friday, April 11 – 8:00 pm
Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts
copyright © 2008 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.