SUZY BOGGUSS GETS LUCKY WITH A REFRESHING HOMAGE TO MERLE
The folkie singer-songwriter takes a breath, returns to the well in preparation for her performance at Lone Star Fest
Suzy Bogguss couldn’t resist the allure of Merle. Merle Haggard, that is.
Bogguss, best known for her refreshingly folkie spin on traditional and contemporary country music, found herself with an itch to record a new album, staring at a batch of classic Haggard tunes and caught up in a little bit of songwriter’s block.
“When you’ve been writing for a while you kind of get into a rut,” she says from her home in Nashville. “So it’s taking a breath, going back to the melodies I had in my head while I was growing up.”
Bogguss is referring to Lucky, her 2014 homage to Haggard’s timeless oeuvre. She took a dozen of his standards – “Today I Started Loving You Again,” “The Running Kind,” “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” “Silver Wings,” “Sing Me Back Home” and many others – and refashioned them. In her hands, backed by a studio full of excellent pickers and standout guest vocalists, Bogguss takes Haggard out of the honky-tonks and puts him in the coffeehouse and even the elegant jazz club.
“It’s more like a tribute to his writing because it doesn’t sound like a Merle record,” says Bogguss. “It’s very acoustic; it’s jazzier. It was something really familiar to me. He was the country side of my dad. Mom was into the big band stuff. I was the folkier stuff. Merle was definitely playing on the 8-track in the old car.”
But Bogguss came close to talking herself out of making Lucky, which she funded via a successful Kickstarter campaign and released on her longtime label Loyal Dutchess Records. She hadn’t recorded an album of original material since 2007’s Sweet Danger, and her predecessor to Lucky was 2011’s American Folk Songbook, which features her renditions of 17 genre hallmarks.
“I shouldn’t do another record of other people’s songs,” she remembers thinking. “But I was ready to record and I wanted to make a country record and record the best songs I could find. A female could sing these songs just as well because they are so universal.”
Bogguss will be singing Lucky material plus “a few of the hits, a couple of folk songs, perhaps some fun songs,” she says, during her performance at Lone Star Fest, the bluegrass-centric festival picking its way into the Doubletree Hotel in Richardson, Texas March 13 and 14, 2015. Accompanying Bogguss onstage are upright bassist Charlie Chadwick and steel guitarist Chris Scruggs.
Also on the Lone Star Fest bill are Marty Raybon and Full Circle, The Boxcars, Gold Heart, In Achordance, The Herrins, Tiger Alley and Dueling Hearts. Tickets for Lone Star Fest, which is presented by Dallas’ Bluegrass Heritage Foundation, range from $38.50 to $63.50 for full weekend passes. To purchase tickets, visit lonestarfest.com.
Throughout her 25-year recording career Bogguss has explored the spectrum of American roots music. She’s tackled folk, country, jazz, Western swing, bluegrass, even a bit of the blues. Signed to Capitol Nashville in the late ‘80s, her first two albums, 1989’s Somewhere Between and 1990’s Moment of Truth, presented a promising singer-songwriter in search of her artistic persona.
“I was on the label two years-plus before I ever did an album. They were trying to figure out who Suzy Bogguss was.”
It wasn’t until her critical and commercial breakthrough, 1991’s stellar Aces, that Bogguss transformed herself from melodic newcomer to poignant veteran. It was then Capitol Nashville president and longtime record producer Jimmy Bowen that brought Bogguss “Aces,” the heart-tugging folk stunner penned by Cheryl Wheeler, who had already enjoyed another huge country hit when Dan Seals took her soul-stirring “Addicted” to No. 1 in 1988.
“That is when we bonded,” says Bogguss of her relationship with Bowen. “He gave me the reins and let me make those records. He was very accommodating as far as who I wanted to play on those records.”
Aces, the album, defined Bogguss. It introduced a million fans to her creative breadth, not to mention yielded radio hits in Nanci Griffith’s “Outbound Plane,” Ian Tyson’s “Someday Soon” and the lovely “Letting Go,” co-written by Bogguss’ husband, Doug Crider.
“That record has a lot of the things that I got into more in depth later – those styles of songs, those chords.”
It is those songs and many others such as “Drive South” and “Hey Cinderella” that Bogguss recreates in front of an audience. Reproducing recorded cuts into a live performance setting is paramount for her. She strives to keep the essence of the songs alive, which is why she has purposely simplified the production values of her last two records.
“These songs are easy to break down,” she says. “I want it to be something that I can handle, make the music sound like it is supposed to sound.”
Authenticity in that most intimate setting, when a singer picks up a guitar and steps to the microphone for that powerful connection with a room full of admirers, remains crucial for Bogguss. She played 115 shows in 2014, the most she’s done since 1993.
The increased touring comes at a time when Bogguss admits that she’s missing certain aspects of her salad days, when radio was incessantly playing her songs and she was amassing gold and platinum-selling albums. Those were the days when she was flanked with industry hosannas from the Academy of Country Music, the Country Music Association and the Grammy Awards.
“There are some parts I miss because there were crowds all the time,” she says. “I was seeing my fans more frequently. I was collaborating more with musicians. Now I have to put in an effort to make that happen. But the industry thing was very wearing. I would never put down having a machine behind me and getting the records played. But that isn’t so much my personality.”
Suzy Bogguss would prefer to focus on the creativity, on the freedom to stare at a batch of revered Merle Haggard songs, walk into the recording studio and preserve them for posterity. That’s when she really feels lucky.
By Mario Tarradell