Suzy Bogguss at Daniels Hall in Denver, Colorado (10/10/09)
About the time Taylor Swift was born, Suzy Bogguss was riding high in Nashville.
She was country music’s “It Hit Girl” before the arrival of Pretty (and Poppy) Young Things such as Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Sara Evans impacted the scene and forever changed (some purists say ruined) Nashville’s renowned sound.
Born and raised in Aledo, Illinois, Bogguss graduated from Illinois State University in 1980 and made the move to Nashville in 1985. Discovered by talent scouts at Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s theme park in the Smoky Mountains, she went on to make nine records in 10 years for Capitol, was named the Academy of Country Music‘s Top New Female Vocalist in 1989 and won the Country Music Association‘s Horizon Award in 1992.
She recorded with legends such as Chet Atkins (seem them performing on Live With Regis and Kathie Lee), teamed up with songwriting sisters Matraca Berg and Gretchen Peters and performed for Bill and Hillary Clinton at the White House.
But somewhere along the way, she says (half-kiddingly?) country music kicked her out and her songs vanished from Nashville radio.
No wonder, then, why this posting accompanying the above YouTube video of Bogguss appearing on The Texas Connection with Jerry Jeff Walker might speak for many fans who have lost touch with Bogguss:
Suzy is a Great Talent! I haven’t heard anything from her
in several years. — Does anyone know if she’s still recording?
Let’s hope so. A voice as sweet as Suzy’s, with the versatility to handle many genres, should not be silenced. But Bogguss, who still lives in Nashville, may be as far removed from that scene musically as the Switzerland-bunkered Twain is geographically.
Planning to make a record of folk songs next, Bogguss hasn’t released an album since 2007’s jazzy Sweet Danger, but continues to earn her keep on the road. A series of Christmas concerts is scheduled for December 20-23 at The Loveless Barn in Nashville.
A recent run through Colorado brought her to Denver on October 10, where she performed at Daniels Hall, one of the Swallow Hill Music Association’s cozy venues. In past years, she also performed Christmas shows at the Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs.
Swallow Hill is known for raising the level of consciousness about folk, blues, bluegrass, Americana and other forms of roots music. And while the audiences tend to skew toward reserved (read mature), the packed house of 250 was certainly receptive to the charms and wiles of the often self-deprecating (and sometimes bawdy) Bogguss. Whether it was the silver-haired man near the front wearing a kilt or the heavy-set gent in the back in basic overalls, they all made it seem like they knew Suzy. And oh what a gal she was.
At times, the whoop-it-up enthusiasm even startled Bogguss, who, at the age of 52, is still as cute as a button, from the youthful bangs dangling in her expressive eyes to the darling dimple in her chin.
Playing an acoustic guitar throughout most of the two-hour-plus set that included a 20-minute intermission, Bogguss was accompanied by accomplished Nashville musicians Pat Bergeson (guitar, mandolin, harmonica), who was part of Madeleine Peyroux’s touring band this summer, and Charlie Chadwick (upright bass).
Many of her past hits (that she either wrote, handpicked or covered) were performed in beautiful voice and workmanlike instrumental backing, although Bogguss did need occasional help from Bergeson with the electronic tuning device on her guitar. In fact, Bogguss made the most of her imperfections – forgetting the words to one of the songs she wrote and experiencing a minor wardrobe malfunction involving the wide belt she described as a “disguise (for) the place where east meets west” – by turning them into precious comedy bits.
With crystal-clear vocals, a relaxed Bogguss skillfully traversed much musical territory, smoothly jumping from tunes written by Chicago’s Peter Cetera (“If You Leave Me Now” ), Duke Ellington (“Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me”) and John Hiatt (“Drive South,” a hard-driving number that followed the revered folk traditionalism of “Oh Shenandoah”). Near the end of the set, she also paid tribute to the late Patsy Montana, marveling at how the Country Music Hall of Famer passed away (at age 87) “with dates on the books,” and hoped to match that career longevity. Her yodeling conclusion to “I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart” proved Bogguss has the stamina and power to go in almost any direction, a human version of an all-terrain vehicle.
While the music alone was more than enough to satisfy the Swallow Hill crowd, it was Bogguss’ engaging act between songs that was nearly as entertaining.
A one-woman stand-up act would be worth the price of admission. Bogguss, who said she still loves “story” songs, has a story for almost every song. Yet, she doesn’t necessarily need a song – or an excuse – to reveal some juicy details about herself, as evidenced here:
Acknowledging the wild applause before opening with the Nancy Griffith/Tom Russell-penned “Outbound Plane”:
“I love to come to places that clap a long time. … I know this probably is not a treat for you but it was really fun for me to like have a cold nose today. It rained like a million inches in Nashville the last six weeks or so and we’re so tired of rain. And it was 88 yesterday and 190 percent humidity and I’m just so happy to be here.”
After Cheryl Wheeler’s “Aces” (sample lyric: “You can’t deal me the aces and think I wouldn’t play”):
“I think I got more questions about that song than any song I’ve ever sung in my life. Just people asking me (in a redneck-heavy accent), ‘What do it mean?’ I just think it’s one of those songs that you sort of apply to your own situation. You know, if you have a gambling problem … ” (crowd laughter)
Before “Just Like The Weather,” a top-five single she co-wrote in 1993 with her husband, Doug Crider, whom she married in 1986:
“I’m just trying to think what we’re gonna play tonight. I’ve just decided I would just feel you out. That’s different than feeling you up. … I wrote this with my husband on our way to a wedding one time. I wrote it on a napkin at TGIF. We were talking about the couple that was getting married and talking about being married. And all of a sudden realized that the three couples that we always hung out with were all divorced. You know, the (Bob & Carol &) Ted & Alice and all that stuff.”
Remembering her introduction to Nashville accents and “cuisine”:
“When you travel around a lot, you tend to sort of ‘chamleon’ into different characters. … For a while, when I first moved to Nashville, I was so confused because I had been performing a lot in Canada before I moved down there. When I first got there, I had just been to this little hotel. You know, I looked like The Beverly Hillbillies. I had my camper truck, the dog and a cat and a rocking chair up on the top. No Granny. She fell off somewhere. I was staying at this hotel, $18.99 a night, called the Hallmark. … So I go into the restaurant and it’s a meat and three. You take one of the meats, like baked ham and some mystery meat thing and then you go over and pick out your vegetables, which consist of green beans, with more meat; you can have okra, or you can have greens, with more meat, and you can have cottage cheese, which is a very important vegetable; and so are fried apples, which are way up there on the vegetable chart. And macaroni and cheese is also a vegetable, yeah. You’re like, ‘OK I’d like to tell myself that forever.’ I had three macaronis and cheese and that’s like a lot of good, yellow vegetables. But I can remember saying things like, ‘Y’all come back now, eh.’ Where’d that come from?”
One false start into “Hammer and Nail,” which she co-wrote in 1999 with Gary Scruggs, Earl Scruggs’ son and bass player:
“It’s so pretty, I forgot the words.”
Then after another pause …:
“These are the simplest lyrics that I could ever make up in my whole life; and they are going away from my brain right now; but I know them now. (Spurts of laughter followed by awkward silence …) Thank you for that tiny bit of space.”
Before singing the “The Bus Ride” off Sweet Danger, discussing how her surprising collaboration and jazz connection came about:
“The reason I called (the album) Sweet Danger was, it sort of happened by me opening my mouth. It was one of those things where I have a very … I don’t like complacency. So I try to make things happen sometimes and just see what it’s like to live with the consequences. And it’s very exciting. I was actually playing in New York City at B.B. King’s and an old friend of mine (producer/keyboardist Jason Miles) that I had met for a project way, way back in like ’95, was there at the show and he’s a great jazz guy and had played with Miles Davis and produced Luther Vandross and Chaka Khan and we went to dinner afterwards. And it’s really funny because me (now sounding like a cross between Sarah Palin and Fargo’s Marge Gunderson) being as Midwestern as I am, I am so anal, amazingly Midwestern and he is so Manhattan and it was sort of like Woody Allen meets Doris Day. So we’re having dinner and he says, ‘OK, so you’ve made this swing album (Swing, with Asleep At the Wheel’s Ray Benson, in 2003). And he goes, ‘What are you gonna do next?’ And I looked at him and said, ‘I don’t know, what are you doing?’ … And it was just sort of a joke. But it led to making this album together.”
Selecting Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now” for the album, which she transforms with a cooler, but unforgettably touching, tone:
“The reason I did this was my son (Ben) plays trumpet in the school band – Yay! – and the teacher was playing some (turning sarcastic) real contemporary stuff for them like Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears (major guffaws), playing them some of that modern music, you know. So he’s sitting in the back seat on the way home from school and I hear him singing this song; he’s very shy about his vocals; he’s getting braver but he doesn’t like to sing in front of anybody, let alone me. You know … I am … her. … It really caught me off guard because at first I didn’t recognize the song. I thought, ‘What is that? It’s such a beautiful melody. It’s such a plea.’ And then I realized it was a Chicago song that everybody in the world knows. It was on the radio when I was 4 or something.”
After wrapping up the hootenanny singalong of “Eat at Joes,” which featured solos by Chadwick on bass and Bergeson on harmonica and guitar, Bogguss recalls an inauspicious start to her career:
“I worked at Dollywood; I did the first season; I was there as sort of the token chick singer at the train station. It was kind of a dangerous job, actually, ’cause it was a real coal locomotive and all these things that would come out of the top of the … what .. that smokestack thing? I would be standing in my little gazebo up there in my cute little pastel dresses and pastel boots to match (drawing oohs from the crowd). Yeah, my costumes were included in my gig there. These big flakes of black soot would come down and get all over me. And if I brushed them, they would make a big mark. So I decided I would just start inhaling most of them so they wouldn’t get on my clothes.”
Recalling her introduction to the West before heading into “Night Rider’s Lament,” the Michael E. Burton song from her first album that featured a boisterous bit of yodeling:
“I grew up on a very flat area by the Mississippi River and I was fortunate enough to take a train across the country when I was 12; it got me rambling; I took my first trip out west right after I graduated from college to make my living out on the Boulder Mall (moans); it wasn’t a bad living, I’m telling ya. Every time I saw something more beautiful, I would just keep driving a little further north and I ended up at some point in a little town outside Laramie called Centennial, Wyoming. … The first time that I worked there I worked at a place called the Trading Post. And my whole deal was I will do three sets for you, put up our own P.A. and everything else if you give me that leather vest that’s in the window. … I stayed in this little cabin where I had to make my own fires in the little pot-bellied stove and live off hash browns that came out of the box ’cause that’s all I knew how to cook on a pot-bellied stove. But I went back there a lot of times. There’s only 50 people in Centennial … 49 men. So you could imagine it would be pretty easy to become popular there. I was based out of there for about five years while I was traveling up through Yellowstone and beautiful places in Wyoming. … I must have gone back there 49 times.”
• Suzy Bogguss’ Sweet Danger EPK: