Suzy Bogguss’ gypsy spirit is at the center of everything she does. From her style of clothing to her music, that vagabond nature is there in her lyrics, her stories, her own travels—it’s part of her heart, her soul, the air she breathes.
That ever-present spirit has taken her all over the country, often from one coffee house to the next, and to the top of the charts, but one thing that never changes is Bogguss herself. That same sense of humor about the ups and downs and that same sense of self has never let her forget who she is.
During the creative explosion that was country music in the 1990s, she sold 4 million records with hits like “Outbound Plane,” “Someday Soon,” “Letting Go,” and “Drive South.” She earned awards along the way, including a Grammy, Country Music Association, Academy of Country Music, and American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers awards.
Bogguss is also known for spreading her wings in other musical directions. She’s recorded a duets album with legendary guitarist Chet Atkins. With the vocal ability to sing pretty much anything she wants, in 2003, Bogguss made a modern swing album with Ray Benson of Asleep At The Wheel. An album of original music in 2007, landed her at No. 4 on the jazz charts. Her folk music roots show through in her frequent appearances on public radio’s A Prairie Home Companion, in the Grammy she earned for her work on Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster, and in her critically acclaimed album and book project from 2011, American Folk Songbook.
In 2014, she released Lucky, a collection of songs written by Merle Haggard and interpreted through Bogguss’ crystal vocals from the female perspective.
Her latest album, Aces Redux, is a re-recording of her platinum-selling album Aces which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016. Self-produced by Bogguss, she has just a smattering of instrumentals while keeping the focus on the vocals.
We talked with Suzy Boguss about her music, her career and the show she brings back to the Riverside. Here’s her take…
You released Aces Redux last year. What makes this album different from your other projects?
Bogguss: Well, it’s a different kind of take on doing a new album, that’s one thing for sure. It’s was really an odd kind one of those spontaneous things where I was going, “What am I doing next?” Recently I’ve just been doing whatever I want. I went to Austin and made a swing album with Ray Benson and Asleep At the Wheel, then I went out to New York and I did an album with a guy friend that’s worked with Miles Davis and does jazz with all these great musicians. Then I went on tour with Garrison Keiller and I did a folk album because he inspired me to do that. Then I did a Merle Haggard tribute and that was just something that popped into my head sitting at the kitchen table. Everything has kind of come from my gut—whatever I wanted to do. Then I was driving home one day and it occurred to me that my Aces album, which was the one that kind of put me on the map was turning 25. I was like, “we gotta do something, we gotta celebrate it somehow.” Where would I be if that album hadn’t come out?
The vocals are certainly front and center and the stripped down instrumentals where you can really hear the guitar and the fiddle is a nice touch.
Bogguss: The guys I travel with are all great players so you know wherever something is getting played, it needs to be there. They’re really good at listening to each other. So you kind of get the feeling nobody’s competing in this record. Everybody’s just sort of groovin’ together and it’s easy going. We’ve come up with really great ways to pull the songs off so people still have that same feeling—you know how it is with songs, you connect to them. I don’t want to change it up so much that everyone doesn’t recognize it…”that’s a reggae, that was a love song before.” I want to make sure they hear those recognizable signature guitar licks and things like that, so that’s what we decided to do. We wanted to make it a little more like if someone wanted to take the album home as a souvenir for the evening, ’cause that’s one of the only ways people buy CDs any more.
You have the ability to sing anything you want. Is there a genre you’re dying to try?
Bogguss: Well, odd that you should ask, because I’ve been writing a new record and I’ve got nine new songs and they’re very bluesy. My new thing is I’m going in the bluesy direction this time. It’s really fun. The way I came about this—there’s certain songs that I have in my show that are just so fun to sing. One of them is “Eat At Joe’s,” which I’ve been doing since I recorded it in 1993, and it’s something of a group sing. People have a lot of fun with it. It’s kind of sassy. Then I do “Wayfaring Stranger,” in a real bluesy kind of way so I just kind of got started thinking, “I want more songs like this,” that show my voice in this way—’cause you gotta keep changing things up. I find when I get to those songs in the show they work really well, and people always respond. Of course, they obviously know “Wayfaring Stranger,” because it’s been cut billions of times.
It’s good that you’re writing more…
Bogguss: I guess it was time for me to do more of—I guess everybody calls them studio albums now—but I call them originals. There’s so much change going on right now. Just trying to run an album out there in the same old way that we used to, it’s almost like “how many times am I going to hit my head against this wall.”
Record companies have kind of outsourced themselves out of jobs in that respect.
Bogguss: It just doesn’t work like that any more either. I mean, I feel really fortunate that I came on the scene when I did. I got the big machine behind me to get my name out there so I can work and continue to grow as a musician. I have wonderful songs that got on the radio to fall back on. It’s so hard now. There are so few spots for people to get the kind of real large numbers of plays we used to.
The way people get music these days is so different too…
Bogguss: It’s true, but because I started out just doing the troubadour thing, running around the country in my camper truck and doing the one person to the next person thing, you learn you just have to keep out there. I’ve seen it happening for me. I feel really lucky because I had a little platform to start on once I started back to touring more after my son went to college. I can see the reconnect with old fans because I’m getting all over the country. There’s that great feeling of reconnecting but also people’s kids come. They say, “I grew up listening to your music.” It’s really cool and they’ve got this fresh, youthful kind of invigoration and my guitar player’s real young so it just kind of charges us up and gets us excited, too. The other thing being, folks who came to see me before in these large venues have not had the chance to see us in a more intimate situation. I also get to stay around and talk to everybody after the show. That’s something different for a lot of the folks that had seen me back in the ’90s when I was just kind of shuttled from here to there because we couldn’t stay and talk to everybody when there’s 10,000 people there.
You recorded your Merle Haggard tribute only about a year before he passed in April last time you were here.
Bogguss: It’s a great feeling knowing I got to talk to him about it and then he loved it. But oddly after he passed away, I heard that there was a time Kix (Brooks) was doing some kind of a radio program and he called Merle at home. He was talking to him about stuff going on and they were talking about a tribute album that had come out and it was all guys doing Merle songs. Merle just started going off, saying, “you know, my favorite tribute album that anybody’s done is Suzy Bogguss.” I have a copy of that show, and if I’m ever feeling insecure I just pop that little sucker on and get a little pat on the back from my buddy. It makes me feel like a million dollars. I’m so happy that he knew the reason I was doing the album—that was important to me. I didn’t want him to think I was just trying to ride on how fabulous his songs are. I wanted to pay homage to him for writing songs for singers like myself, who love a melody, and feel like they can be engaged in the story matter and pull it off every night—and touch people every single night. Every time I open up one of those songs, people are just like, “Wow! That’s a great song.” It feels cool. I was very sad that he passed like he did, but it was so cool though that he stayed out on the road as long as he possibly could. He was the coolest. He did what he wanted to do all the way to the end.
Fighting the industry to get your music released…
Bogguss: One of the things I always found great about Nashville and the people working within the record labels and A&R, so many people came here to be artists themselves and because of that, they understood a lot. The big trouble usually came from someone with an accountant background or didn’t have that creative streak. Sometimes you just had to fight. I had to fight like a banshee to get “Someday Soon” released, and “Drive South.” I literally had three different people on the line—one was in Denver, one was in Hawaii and one was in Nashville—and I was in England and I’m talking to them, “You guys have to release that song, you’re just chickening out.” They finally did and it was good, but sometimes you just had to say, “I know what the folks want to hear and I know what they want to hear from me. I don’t care if it’s on your radio format or what. I know what they want to hear from me.”
The show this time?
Bogguss: We’ve added a few new things and we’re just going to bring those in a little bit at a time, ’cause obviously people mostly want to hear the songs that they know of mine. We’ll lean heavily on the hits. The guys that were here last year are the same band, cause I love them and we’ve been together for quite a while now. We’ve tightened up a lot this year. I think after making the Aces Redux record we all kind of shifted in gear a little bit with the hits, so there’s a little bit more energy, I think, in those songs now for us. It really is the same old bad jokes.
Your thoughts on Laughlin?
Bogguss: One thing I think is great is that I know what to expect now from playing in Laughlin. I’d never done one of those residency kind of situations before where you sit in one place for a whole week, and I found it to be unbelievably relaxing. We went rock-climbing in Grapevine, and did all these day trips on the little boats up and down the river, so every day was like a little mini vacation. Then we’d get into that beautiful theater. That theater is absolutely perfect. It makes me think of the Rat Pack or something. It’s small enough where you can see everybody, there’s not a bad seat in the house, you can hear people when they’re talking to you, and this year I think we’ll be more prepared to do more of the requests that people yell out Now I know, it’s really, really, kind of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of thing.
It’s such a casual atmosphere. People are coming in between activities. They come in for the show and everybody’s dressed how they want to be. Maybe they were eating in a fancy restaurant and they come in all dressed up or maybe they’re coming in from outside and they’re dressed in jeans and T-shirts. It’s just a great vibe because it’s sort of relaxed.
Bogguss: Could you direct people to my website, suzyboggus.com? There’s so much stuff on there if they’re interested in seeing what I’m doing these days, t hey can check that out. There are YouTube videos so they can look to see what the live show is like, which is helpful.
Riverside Resort, Don’s Celebrity Theatre
Tuesday-Sunday, March 14-19. 8 p.m. (See Showtimes for tickets)