The Acoustic Storm Interviews

Suzy Bogguss

The Acoustic Storm spoke with Suzy Bogguss April 13, 2017 from her home in Nashville. She was preparing for a concert tour that featured two nights of performances at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.

ACOUSTIC STORM: Why don’t you first start out by talking about the 25th anniversary of the Aces album that you've been celebrating with the release of Aces Redux. What are your memories of how the original album first came together?

BOGGUSS: You know, it was a really weird thing. I had been signed to the record label at Capitol by a different guard. The people that signed me had been relieved of their duties and a new (company president) moved in. Timmy Bowen and me, we recorded a record together, that they basically, didn't even release, The company was dropping like 30 artists the first day that he was in office. So, I was afraid with this album just not really jelling, that he was going to drop me and I didn't feel like he had given me a fair shot. So I simply went in and kind of did the get in your face over the desk kind of thing and said; “hey look, I want to go back in the studio.” He wanted me to do another album. I said that I wanted to go back but didn’t want to do it without his help and I really, I feel like we're not on the same page. So I felt like it kind of changed his attitude about who I was, and later found out that he really had compared me to Kim Carnes, because she had had a similar meeting with him, when she started recording with him in Los Angeles.

So this is the beginning of the Aces album, and the first thing he did was he called Kim and he got me a great song from her. Then he pitched me the song Aces that had been turned in to him by the writer Cheryl Wheeler, just a year before that. So I felt like at that point that he was understanding what I was going for, because before that, he had given Reba a big push and he was trying to fit me into the mold of being a diva singer that would just be about the voice and that's just never really been ideal. I mean, I’m kind of bohemian, I play the guitar and I picked kind of folky songs and once he made that connection, we just got along royally in the studio and he became a great person to work with. So we did that record but then and I was super excited about it, but my management didn't get it, and they just basically said; “there aren’t any singles on here,” and I was like; oh, I have singles and also, my booking agent was thinking that it was just kind of outrageous. So I actually sort of had to clean house, in fact, until Someday Soon was a hit. I didn't even have a manager, so really I locked into a great manager out of Colorado that got it, because he did the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and he kind of got my folky side.

ACOUSTIC STORM: One of the songs that became a hit on that album was Outbound Plane, co-written by Nanci Griffith and Tom Russell. Did you hand-select that one or did someone else suggest it to you?

BOGGUESS: You know, when Nanci recorded that, it was a huge favorite of mine and this is back in the early days of CDs, believe it or not and I would just hit that song over and over and over again. I just found it to energize me. I love a song that sounds positive but really when you get into the lyric, it's negative and I loved that quality about the song that it was just sassy. I really wasn't even thinking about recording it for a year and a half or something, but I got ready to make this new record and I was not afraid to sing what I wanted to sing and so I took it into Bowen and he was a okay with it right off the bat. Then I called Nanci to make sure that she would understand that I was covering her song, because I loved her so much and yeah, that's how I ended up doing that song. I really felt compelled to sing that song.

ACOUSTIC STORM: Did you meet Doug (Crider) through music or did you know him from before…or did you become romantically involved after your music collaboration co-writing and recording Letting Go?

BOGGUSS: Well, Doug worked at R.C.A. studios as a recording engineer under Owen Bradley for 10 years and I sang demos when I was first in town. I played nights at Tony Roma's place for ribs and then I sang demos for ten bucks a song during the day and so, I met him while he was recording there at that studio. Then I started playing volleyball with a group of people and he was in the volleyball group and we started to go and have beers afterwards, and that's how it led to the romantic side of things.

ACOUSTIC STORM: You touched upon your folky side and your style definitely seems to be somewhat of a cross between country and folk. How did you get into folk music as a youngster, and who were some of the other favorite artists growing up?

BOGGUSS: I really was one of those lucky kids, because I had music in school most every day in elementary school. In fact, our principal was a really hard core principal, he was a paddle guy, the whole deal, but when he got into the music room, his spirit shone. So he would sit down at the piano and he would just have the biggest grin on his face and he inspired us all to learn these folk songs that were about growing up in the United States, coming of age. Song about, you know, Erie Canal and the Sweet Betsy from Pike and all these songs that just had such a high spirit that it was just joyful.

My sister is eight years older than me and she started playing the guitar and I’m listening to songs like You've Got a Friend. So she was introducing me to Carole King and James Taylor. My sister was in college and I was still in junior high, and then she got married and left her guitar behind. So, that was where I picked it up, about my first year in high school and all these mimeographed sheets of music that she'd gotten, from friends in college. So I just started playing a lot of songs that sort of smacked of folk music and then picked up a John Denver song book and you know, that was also infused with a little bit of folk.

ACOUSTIC STORM: Back in the mid ‘90s, you were fortunate to have the opportunity to record an album with legendary guitarist Chet Atkins. What was that experience like?

BOGGUSS: Well, Chet and I knew we were going to be friends I think from the first meeting. It was on a television show called Nashville Now, that was my first time on T.V. Basically, he was a guest sitting on the couch next to me when I came out to do my first number. I was very nervous and he calmed me down by wishing me well and he said if you get up there shaking, you're not going to do your best job. He was trying to say, this is your shot, so don't screw it up.

ACOUSTIC STORM: That could have had two results; it could either have given you encouragement or just psyched you out.

BOGGUSS: It totally did the opposite; it calmed me down completely. The real truth of the matter is that I was jiggling my legs up and down, my knees, you know, because I was so nervous. I was sort of tapping my feet on the floor, and of course, that was making the couch shake. He had a flyswatter in his hand that somebody from the audience had given him and he smacked me on the knee with it. More than anything, that's what sobered me up. I was like, I need to get serious here. I went back to Dollywood, where I was working at the time, and within three weeks, I was offered a deal from Capitol and came back to town and made my first single, you know, a little vinyl single 45, and I took it over to his office and we split a Michelob and celebrated, and a big friendship that lasted 15 years sprung out of all that. I was trying to get him to make a record with me for a couple years, before we actually did do that record but you know, he was a record executive for many years and he told me over and over again; you're in the middle of your prime right now, if you make a record with somebody from the past, it's just not going to keep you moving forward with the younger audience, and he said, just don't do it yet. So, for those two years, I just said, well, you know, we could just start something, and then finally about the third year, this is 1994, he called me and said; my cancer is back and he said; I guess we need to make that record. So it was a very bittersweet and wonderful experience. I love him so madly and he just was so funny and he had a great attitude through the whole process, but at the same time, I knew that the reason he wanted to get on with it was that he knew he didn't have a long time, because it was a brain tumor, so he didn't know how long he'd be able to play.

ACOUSTIC STORM: Well, what an opportunity and I'm sure you’re glad that you didn't wait any longer.

BOGGUSS: Yeah, I mean seriously, you know, I sometimes pinch myself when I think about that friendship because, I was so green that I just didn't…I wasn’t thinking about all of his accomplishments and how many artists he launched and just his whole background as a performer himself. He was just my bud, you know, I’d just go over there and hang out with him and we'd play old songs. and I think he liked that about iT, that I was around him enough. We did a lot of concerts together and whenever we would be at a show, other musicians would come up and they would treat him like he was some sort of god. He was very standoffish with that but when somebody just treated him like he was another person, he warmed up to them instantly. I think he just didn't like that feeling of being sort of set up on a pedestal.

ACOUSTIC STORM: That speaks volumes about his character.

BOGGUSS: Yeah and he was really dry, I mean, I could tell you so many funny stories but one of my favorites was when I was making a Christmas record with him, and this was before we did our album together. My guitar player was beside himself because he was going to accompany Chet on this record and so he came into the studio and he says, you know, Mr. Atkins, I'm so honored to meet you or whatever and Chet Atkins just said; I know you are and my guitarist just didn't know what to say back, he just…his mouth was just open.

ACOUSTIC STORM: Where to go from there?

BOGGUSS: Yeah, where to go from there, so funny.

ACOUSTIC STORM: Speaking of collaborations, obviously you’ve alluded to this before, the fact that you've co-written songs with your husband Doug. What's that dynamic like, and are there are advantages or any disadvantages to collaborating creatively with someone you're so close to?

BOGGUSS: Well, that's an ebb and flow thing. When we first used to write together, when we first got married, we always brought in a third writer to sort of referee, to kind of keep things moving, in a good way, because initially I think there were just those little things that husbands and wives do…like we would start out trying to write a song, and pretty soon it would be about him leaving his jeans on the bathroom floor, or something else would come out. He would throw out a line and would just say; okay, I know you don't like the line, but you don't have to have that look on your face..

So initially it was really tough and then we got much better at it, and we got to the place where we really looked at it like let's be as respectful as we would be with another co-writer. Then we were able to sort of put that stuff aside, but now we've been writing together for so long. In fact, we just finished like 90 new songs that we've been writing together. We were trying to put them down on tape, just to have something that we could follow for when we go to make a record of it and oh my God, the power struggle in the recording and the; Oh no, I like this melody better than that melody. We've been married thirty years, so I guess there's a little bit give and take there.

ACOUSTIC STORM: Yeah, for sure. So with songwriting in mind, let’s get specific about some of your own songs which you've had hits with, among them Just Like The Weather and Hey Cinderella, both from the 1993 album, Something Up My Sleeve. How do you approach the songwriting process on your own? Do you have any sort of m.o. in terms of what works best for you to write a song?

BOGGUSS: Yeah. You know for me, it's like I'm more of a melody person and a key idea person, and Doug is a killer lyricist, and I write a lot of times with somebody who can take the idea that I have and help me to make it poetic. Sometimes I will have as much as a verse and a chorus before I sit down to co-write with somebody, but a lot of times, it's a melody that I wake up with or just messing around with when I'm rehearsing or practicing on my guitar. Then there are those times when I actually have an appointment to write with somebody, where I say to myself; I've got six new ideas here, I'm going to open up the conversation and say do any of these strike you as something you would like to also talk about and so that happens a lot of times. But as far as writing on my own, I am such a lazy brat, I hardly ever will finish anything unless I have a deadline or somebody is like goosing me.

ACOUSTIC STORM: So, you've got two concerts, at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, April 19th and 20th and I understand you've performed at the MIM before. So let’s digress for a moment just to talk about the museum itself.

BOGGUSS: Oh, it’s fantastic! I always tell people about this one whenever I’m sending stuff out on socials or whatever, to explain to them. It's like you can't imagine how inspiring it is to go through that place and see just the art, the craft of some of these instruments and the significance of how old some of them are, and all the different countries and to see music categorized in cultures, it's amazing.

ACOUSTIC STORM: They do a terrific job at the Musical Instrument Museum, and it’s incredible what has been accumulated at the museum, as well as the way it's presented. Then of course, there’s the MIM Music Theater where you're going to be performing. It’s a very intimate, and acoustically just about perfect facility.


ACOUSTIC STORM: After performing a live event or even after a concert tour, does that help inspire you and motivate you to write some more music,…what's your take on that?

BOGGUSS: Well, I do love talking to (audience members) after the shows because, they do inspire me and sometimes there are stories about the way that a certain song has changed them or has gotten them through something. When I sing the folk songs and people tell me stories about their Harley, their mother or grandmother or whatever, you know, those things do like resonate with me and they kind of kick around in my head, so I really enjoy that. I've honed it down to just a trio now, which allows me so much freedom vocally, to take it where I want to take it, and I'm not having to get up over the drum set. I have two musicians with me that are phenomenal. I mean, they are just both virtuosos on their instruments, that if we start leaning in a certain direction and we just want to add verse and a chorus or whatever, it’s a very kind of fluid kind of show. That's why these beautiful theaters like the MIM are great for us, because the audience is so much a part of what we're doing. They're able to talk to me and I can hear them, and it's not like I'm having to hear 10,000 seats back. I can hear if they request a song and if we still can muddle through it, we will. There's a certain kind of spontaneity to the flow of the show that way.

ACOUSTIC STORM: So do you actually enjoy those more intimate shows than you would a larger venue?

BOGGUSS: You know, I have to say, yeah. There's a rush to have and lots and lots of people there and people enjoying music all together, but I think that in the smaller theaters, it's easier for me to sort of feel how the communication is shifting. I honestly think I feel people's emotions, and the way that they're responding to what I'm laying out there with a song or a story. I feel how the room is, you know, what's the next thing I should do and that's why my why my band says that a set list is just a suggestion, because I just rarely have a set list.

ACOUSTIC STORM: That's great that you're interacting even intuitively with the audience, and that it helps propel your performance to the next level.

BOGGUSS: I don't know how, you know, I'm not trying to be super cosmic or anything, it's just an intuitive feeling, and even if it is, you know, just on my side and I'm crazy, it still makes the show better.

ACOUSTIC STORM: Nah, I don't think you're crazy. So at this point, you’ve hit the milestone of 25 years of the album that really more or less put you on the map. What do you think your career aspirations would be at this point going forward, and is there anything that you that you still have on your bucket list?

BOGGUSS: You know, I tend to be more of an impulsive person and this is what I'm supposed to do. I knew that I needed to write some new songs and that's why I have. The last couple of years I’ve really been putting a lot of time into that. So I've got quite a good collection of new material, and now I'm waiting to figure out what I'm supposed to do with it, because the world has changed so much and I don't know if just a new album or songs is the way to put it out there for folks or if I need to come up with a newer idea. People are not thinking within the lines of making a new CD or that kind of thing, because all of that is changing so rapidly. The last few albums I made, they have just been such spontaneous decisions that this is what I need to do right now and I haven't regretted any of it, like the last four or five records I've made. So, I'm just kind of hanging out with these new songs and trying to put some into the show and get some response from the audience and see which ones make them respond.

ACOUSTIC STORM: It sounds like a good idea, to get first hand reaction from your target audience, and it seems like it would be a practical way to test the waters with some new material.

BOGGUSS: Yeah, I think when you play something new and you get a really good response, you know that you're probably on to something, or else you’ve ripped off somebody else's song, because they already kind of feel like they know it.

ACOUSTIC STORM: As long as nobody takes you to court, I think you're okay.

BOGGUSS: Yes, exactly but you know, I do feel like the first time somebody hears a song, it doesn't, you know, often just hit them, so I feel like if you get a really good response on the first time people hear a song, that it probably does speak well.

ACOUSTIC STORM: Yeah, that's true. Then again, there are songs that kind of grow on you.

BOGGUSS: True, very true. Yeah well, I can't tell you how many albums I've listened to and just said; hey, really can’t get anything on there and then I'll go back and listen again and again and then pretty soon, I'm just like totally addicted to those five songs.