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What's Up Magazine

Suzy Bogguss

Jan 06, 2011 11:43PM ● By Anonymous

She’s quite busy these days with several intriguing projects, among them her holiday tour, which visits Alexandria’s Birchmere on December 14th, followed by Easton’s Avalon Theatre on December 17th.

What’s Up?: Your mother taught you music, right?

Suzy Bogguss: Yeah, she had me take piano lessons and got the basics; how to read notes on the staffs. But then my mom taught me how to sight-read, so she was the one who really took the time with me, when I was probably five. It really helped me in school, especially when I sang in the choir.

WU: When did you start to have an interest in performing?

SB: When I was young, I’d get a little solo in the choir and then in, probably junior high, I’d get a solo spot in the Christmas program and that sort of whetted my appetite for being in the limelight. I’m a ham by nature anyway. I’m the youngest child and felt I had to keep everyone’s
attention at all times.

WU: And who were you listening to at the time? Did you go to any concerts?

SB: I grew up in a really small town, so not many artists were passing through. But I did get to the big cities on occasion. There was one concert I really remember: Michael Martin Murphey.

WU: Eventually you go to Illinois State and start to get into the coffeehouse scene.

SB: In college there was a listening room, well actually a bar. A really great place because there were so many of us honing our licks at the time, and we’d hang around with each other, learn songs, and it just felt like a whole bunch of different teachers. Some were further along than I was, so I’d pick up different styles and was becoming very eclectic. My mom was with me the day I bought my camper truck and she thought it was as cool as I did. And when I started traveling all the time, I had a German Shepherd with me, and I always felt safe. But I think I probably worried
my folks to death. I was all over the place: New York, the west, Rockies. It was a different time; we didn’t have cell phones, so I would write them postcards.

WU: When Capitol Nashville came along and wanted to sign you [in 1987] were you apprehensive or did you feel like that was going to be your
claim to fame?

SB: I was really nervous. I was working at Dollywood at the time, doing four solo shows with just my guitar during the day and in the evenings, one long show with a band. That was really good honing for me as well. So when I got the call from Capitol, I set up a meeting with Dolly Parton and said, “Hey, tell me about these people. Should I get a lawyer, what do I do?” And she was just so great and knew the guy that wanted to sign me, assuring me he was a great guy. And so I just really bloomed with that company [Capitol].

WU: They took good care of you.

SB: Yeah. Twelve years I was with Capitol. There’s such magic when you’re rising and everybody is working together as a big team. But years later when you’re just leftover, just on the roster, and the team feels like they have to take care of you while they’re excited about new artists, it takes some of the beauty out of making the music. And you begin to wonder how you’re going to access your fans. Today though, it’s so easy to reach my fans. I can just write a blog and click boing!

WU: When you parted ways with the label, did you feel the creative process of writing music coming back stronger?

SB: In a way, it was a little scary. There’s a blank piece of paper staring at you and not having the insider guidance of what’s popular today, what are radio stations looking for, all of that. I just had this blank piece of paper and it was like, “Do what you want.” But one thing led to another, and I was sort of trusting the universe to guide me for a while [laughing].

WU: So what’s next in the universe?

SB: Well the summer before last, I went on tour with Garrison Keillor. We were all over the place—21 shows in 25 days. It was insane; five or ten thousand people every single night. And my favorite thing each night were these singalongs, in which he’d get the audience to sing together—anything from the Beatles to old folk songs. I would almost tear up every night because it was just so beautiful. And it got me thinking about how lucky I was to have grown up in a little town where I had really great music teachers who cared about stretching our horizons, teaching us the American classics. So now I have a new record coming out in April that’s all old folk songs; 17 of the American folk songs and I’m writing a book to go along with it. I’m trying to find twists to all these songs, because so many of them have funny, quirky asides. And, of course, the music to these songs will be written out as well.

WU: Have you ever attempted to write a song thinking, “I’m going to write a radio hit right now”?

SB: I have tried to do that. Back in the day I would really try to do that, but it is such a changing format. You just don’t know what’s going to be the next thing that really clicks with people. Ultimately, for me, I find that if I just try to tell a really good story, I end up with a really good song.

WU: You mentioned your collaboration with Garrison most recently. Who have been some of your favorite artist collaborations over the years?

SB: Chet Atkins has to be my ultimate hero. He’s been such a good buddy of mine. We really got a charge out of each other. And I’ve actually
been touring in the United Kingdom with Gretchen Peters and Matraca Berg on a project we call Wine, Women & Song. We have a real special sound together.

WU: Will you be playing some of these folk songs on your upcoming tour?

SB: We’ll do several of the songs. We’ll also be playing a lot of holiday music because it is December. There’s a few sing-alongs, also some pretty songs; it’s about the spirit of everybody just being happy and peaceful. It’s the end of the year; let’s blow it out!

Editor’s Note: Suzy’s The American Folk Song Book project will be available for purchase this coming April at Cracker Barrel restaurants/stores
as part of the chain’s “American Heritage” section, which continues through July. “I really want to get this music to kids and families; to teach them these songs,” Suzy says.