Suzy Bogguss Talks Merle Haggard, Roy Rogers & Reimagining “Aces”

Suzy Bogguss Talks Merle Haggard, Roy Rogers & Reimagining "Aces"

With hits like, “Letting Go,” “Outbound Plane,” “Drive South” and “Aces,” Suzy Bogguss has won numerous awards including the Top New Female Vocalist {1989} from the Academy of Country Music and a GRAMMY in 2005 for Traditional Folk Album. She has had 8 Top 5 Singles on the Country Charts and I will always love her version of “Take It To The Limit” on the album Common Thread: Songs of the Eagles, one of my favorite albums of all time and the CMA Album of the Year in 1994. My personal favorite song of hers is “Just Like The Weather,” and I am really looking forward to seeing her live this Thursday night at the Grey Eagle in Asheville, NC, where she will be performing her hits as well as some Christmas favorites. I recently got to interview her and, I must say, she was just so friendly and bubbly that speaking with her was much like talking to an old friend.

Suzy Bogguss Talks Merle Haggard, Roy Rogers & Reimagining "Aces"

Suzy Bogguss On Touring Again

EPR: I imagine that your planner is quite full for December, right?

Suzy Bogguss: Yeah, it is. It’s full for months. And that’s a good thing, I mean I am not complaining. I am absolutely flabbergasted that I can be this busy at this point in my life. It’s great. I am certainly not complaining.

EPR: It’s awesome to find something that you really love and be busy at that instead of being stuck doing something that you don’t like.

Suzy Bogguss: So true. I do feel so fortunate. I took it really easy as far as traveling and touring and stuff like that when my kid was growing up and then I started getting back into it when he was about 15 or so and he is 22 now. I have been hard at it now for about 7 years and it’s kind of building it back up because so many people thought I had retired. That’s the hard part. You’re coming back and you haven’t played in a long, long time. And trying to get people to remember who you are and what songs you sang and that kind of thing. It’s not that easy. It’s really kind of a building process. I’m grateful for socials and the internet as, honestly, that’s been such a good friend to me.

Back in the day we used to have to write 200 post cards and, you know, that was hard work. Now I could go somewhere and have them printed off but the whole idea was to be personal. So, I would write them out in longhand and mail them to all of the areas that I was trying to build a following in and now, you can do just one click and you’re still being personal.

EPR: And sending postcards is such a dying art anyway. I can’t imagine the writer’s cramp that you had after all of that.

Suzy Bogguss: I’ll tell you what, it wasn’t easy. But I was a much younger woman at that time. I didn’t get like a bad shoulder from it. We did a Kickstarter a couple of years ago and I promised that I would write out all these lyrics. I had 60 sets of lyrics to write and, of course, I wanted to write them nice. I was at the chiropractor like 3 times after I did the 60 lyrics. I was like “My shoulder, my neck!”

EPR: Aside from getting people to remember you and your songs and things like that, has the actual schedule change with going back on tour been a weird adjustment for you?

Suzy Bogguss: The hardest thing now is that our son is in college and so there is nobody here to take care of the dogs and stuff so we have to have house sitters. That’s a whole new thing that we haven’t had to have for many years, to have people in our life. We kind of decided to go back to family life and stuff and now we have a crew of caretakers who look after our house while we’re gone. It’s funny. It’s like, I got rid of the kid, but I still have all these other people.

I keep looking at little campers and thinking, “Come on, Doug, let’s just be wild and impetuous and just sell everything and live on the road. It will be awesome.” And he’s like, “You know, I could go for like a really nice van and really nice hotel rooms.” He’s not really on that page with me, like let’s go be bohemian Earth people like I used to be.

Suzy Bogguss Talks Merle Haggard, Roy Rogers & Reimagining "Aces"

Suzy Bogguss On Touring The National Parks

EPR: Well maybe you could like meet in the middle and get like a really nice RV or something.

Suzy Bogguss: Yeah, he just doesn’t like to drive them. I’ve taken him on many a trip. We took a month long trip with our son and one of his buddies and went to a bunch of National Parks. We took off and I had the time of my life, but Doug was having to drive the 21 foot RV on these canyon roads and stuff. And he’s like, “I’m not having fun!”

EPR: I imagine that was quite an adventure. I love the National Parks, too. I have one of those stamp books where you can get the stamps at all of the parks.

Suzy Bogguss: Oh yeah! I haven’t done that but I should have because I have been to a lot of them now. Maybe I should start now. I just put that into my collection of things I must do.

EPR: Yeah, and it’s free, too, and it’s kind of like looking for treasure because some of these stamps are kind of hard to find.

Suzy Bogguss: Oh that’s a really cool thing to collect. Back when I was first getting started, I had a camper for about 5 years before I moved to Nashville. And I would stay at the state parks where they didn’t even have hookups and stuff like that. I would stay at the state parks because it was basically free, like $6 a night or something. And I had this big, 5 gallon bag that I would put on the hood of my truck that would heat up in the sun. I would hang it in a tree and put on my swimsuit and that was my shower and I would air dry my hair. I had a really nice little camper. It was tiny but it was a poptop and it had everything [I needed] in it. Many times I did my makeup in those stainless steel mirrors that they have in some of the state parks because they don’t want to put glass in there. You’re looking in the mirror thinking, “I think that looks pretty good, yeah.”

EPR: And you could always use your rearview mirror in the vehicle, too. [I have done that many, many times]

Suzy Bogguss: Well, I actually had a mirror in my little RV, too. It was fancy, man. It had a toilet and a couple of closets and for years I carried my PA {aka sound equipment] inside and I had this German Shepherd that traveled with me, too. So, it was pretty crowded in there sometimes. But then I bought a little trailer and that was absolutely heaven to have all the PA and everything in the back because then I could just unload that if I was staying someplace out west, I could leave that at the campground and just chain it up and then go about my merry way.

Suzy Bogguss On Reimaging Aces

EPR: So, what made you decide to redo or reimagine the album “Aces?” What actually got that going?

Suzy Bogguss: The thing that really started it was that I had been traveling with a trio for the last 4 or 5 years instead of drums and a band and that whole thing. So, we were doing these shows in areas where I am trying to reestablish myself. I was doing my hits from the 90s and so, after the shows, I had something to sell them but it was coming from many years ago and it dawned on me that since it was 25 years old, I could do something to sort of commemorate that. And it made sense to make it a more stripped down version of the album, more like what the show is they would see that night.

These days people download most of the music that they buy. Mostly they get your studio album from iTunes or from your website or wherever they download it. So, a lot of times people want a souvenir, they want you to sign it for them. So, I just found that having something that was a little more representative of what they had just seen seemed better than giving them something that was produced with strings and tons of reverb from the 90s and all that that didn’t really sound like what they had just experienced.

EPR: So, of the reimagined tracks, which one is your personal favorite? Or do you even have a favorite?

Suzy Bogguss: I think on the redo, probably “Aces.” One of the reasons for that is that a couple of the songs in particular, “Aces” and “Letting Go,” really have changed for me as I have evolved and grown up more. When I sing “Letting Go,” it’s a song about a daughter and a mother and I sang it from the daughter’s standpoint because I had never had a kid. I didn’t know what it was like to have a kid or to be a mom. So, the song is about me and my mom and I sang it like the girl who was going off into the world, flying away, you know? And this time I sang it from the standpoint of the mother who has let go because my son is grown now. So it was kind of a deepening of that meaning in that song for me and the same with, “Aces,” as far as the arrangement has evolved and just the fact that I have lived more life now. That particular circumstance that happens in that song has happened to me more times and I feel like I sing it from a more knowledgeable point.

EPR: It’s really cool that you got to sing “Letting Go” and it came full circle for you and you got to experience it from both ends. That’s interesting. A lot of artists probably don’t have that experience with many songs.

Suzy Bogguss: Well, you know, I have other songs like that, too. I have a song called, “Hey, Cinderella,” and it’s not on this record but it’s a song that I wrote with a friend of mine but we wrote it about our moms. And now all of the stuff that we wrote into the song, about how our moms were aging and things were happening and this kind of stuff…so many of those things are happening to me in my personal life. So now when I sing that song, I’m like “Oh man, I like self prophecized this thing. I saw ahead what was coming with my life.

EPR: About how many shows are you doing per year now?

Suzy Bogguss: About 85 which is about 120 days on the road. In 2014, when they released the “Lucky” album which was all Merle Haggard songs, we were gone over half the year, just trying to let people know that I am still around, doing stuff. And now that I am back into it and I have been teaming up with old friends, one of my favorite things is to collaborate. Every time you meet somebody that you click with, you kind of learn something new.

I’m out right now, back and forth with Terri Clark and Pam Tillis and we are doing this girls’ thing where it’s just the three of us onstage and we are the musicians. We are everything and that’s just been really rewarding because I’ve always been a fan of both of their music. And I get to sing it now. You don’t always get to do that because you can’t really cover somebody from the same time period as you. You can’t cover their songs. It’s kind of awkward. So these nights I get to sing them.

So when I come to Asheville, the guy who is going to open the show for us, Aaron Burdett, I met him last summer when he was in Colorado. He was playing at the same festival that we were playing and I just was killed. His songs are just so real. It made me think of like John Hyatt or Merle Haggard even. You know, just the honesty of a working guy who actually knows what he’s talking about and he’s not making up some stuff and pretending like he’s a country boy. You know, he’s really speaking about stuff that he knows about. And sometimes I find, in modern country, that people are writing about things that they have never experienced. I mean, I hear people singing about their truck on a backroad and I go, “Oh my God, you’re a fratboy! Stop it! You never did that!” There’s nothing wrong with people writing a song about a subject that they didn’t actually experience. You know, that is just fiction. There’s nothing wrong with that. But when you try to pass yourself off as that person and you’re not just a character in the song, that’s a whole different ball of twine, or whatever you’re supposed to say there.

Suzy Bogguss On Merle Haggard

EPR: Talking about the working man ethic and that whole type of lifestyle, is that why you picked Merle Haggard to do a record of or was there anyone else you considered? Or was it just Merle Haggard and that was it?

Suzy Bogguss: You know, I didn’t set out to do a Merle record. I just set out to put some country songs together because I have a side of me that loves the more stripped down, real [music]. It’s all about this particular incident or this particular emotion or whatever. And so I sat down to figure out what Merle song I was going to do and I just started playing through a bunch of them, thinking, “Which one of these really clicks with me?” And every time I would go, “Well that one feels great,” and “I like the way I sound on it.” And then I just kept doing it over and over and finally my husband just said, “Well, why don’t you just do all Merle stuff?” and I was like “Because Merle is still out there. Merle’s doing Merle.” So he was like, “Call him and ask him if it’s ok.”

So I called him up and as I went through the steps of making it happen, I realized that I had a chance to sort of illuminate the fact that his songs are so universal that they are not gender based. They are human based. And sometimes that is what happens. You start into something and you go, “I think I am going to do this. I am going to just jump in,” and then all of a sudden you realize that you know why you are doing this and why it’s ok. And he was great! I’ve known him for many years. My first single that actually got on the charts was a song of his so I had known him since 1989. It just made me feel good that he was so encouraging and he was all, “I always felt like we were kind of alike, you like a lot of styles of music and you put all that stuff together and…” I was like, oh my god! I’m like, “Do you know who you are?”

EPR: Yeah, that’s one heck of a compliment coming from Merle Haggard! He just had a unique way of telling a story that most anybody could relate to. You know?

Suzy Bogguss: It’s so true. And he stripped it down into a lyric that, even if it sounds kind of country, it doesn’t sound like a fake. It’s not the way you talk. Sometimes a song will be like that and you will think, “I’m having to be somebody else to sing these songs,” and I never felt like that with Merle songs except in maybe, “Sing Me Back Home.” I’ve never been to prison so I kind of had to play a part there.

EPR: That’s a good thing that you haven’t been to prison. [we both laugh]

Suzy Bogguss: I mean, there’s still time.

EPR: Yeah, the day’s not over yet.

Suzy Bogguss: Right. Right. [we both laugh again]

EPR: So, is it true that you have a degree in metalsmithing? I am not sure that I have ever met anyone with a degree in that before. What made you decide to choose that as something to study?

Suzy Bogguss: Well, I actually have a degree in Art and the concentration is in Silver and Goldsmithing. I think that sometimes people think that I am into blacksmithing or or shoeing horses or something.

Suzy Bogguss Talks Merle Haggard, Roy Rogers & Reimagining "Aces"

Suzy Bogguss On Roy Rogers & Dale Evans

EPR: I also read that, as a child, you knew Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Is that true?

Suzy Bogguss: Yeah, I know. That seems weird, doesn’t it?

EPR: That’s really cool!

Suzy Bogguss: Yeah, it’s super cool. My grandparents moved from Illinois to California. My aunt and uncle had moved before that and they bought a house on the same block as Roy and Dale and my grandparents moved out there and bought a house on the other corner of this giant, desert block. Because my grandmother worked with Dale at the church and they were good buddies in like the Women’s League or Auxiliary or whatever it was, when I came out on the train to visit them when I was in 6th grade, I got to go over and hang out with them. I was there for 10 days and so I kind of got to go back and forth and they were just so nice. And they had a daughter that was a couple years older than me and there was no one else for me to play with around there.

I had TV dinners at their house and it was pretty cool. I’m not kidding, they were down to earth and their house was nothing special. I mean, seriously, we ate TV dinners and they didn’t keep their horses right there at the house or anything like that. They had stables that were farther away so this was just a little ranch house and they were just as nice as they could be. And it was such a surreal thing to be a kid that had seen Roy Rogers on TV and to see him sitting in his rocking chair talking to you, you know? At one point he took off his boot and showed me his foot because he had broken it while riding his motorcycle and his foot was completely black. I was like, “Oh my God! I just saw Roy Rogers’ black foot!” It was bruised so badly. I mean, talk about surreal. You know?

EPR: You’ve had a lot of very cool experiences it sounds like.

Suzy Bogguss: I have! I’m really a happy person. I’m really a lucky person. I’ve just been really fortunate with all the wonderful people that I have met over the years and gleaned tidbits that have sent me in different directions that were inspiring.

EPR: So, is there anyone that you really wish that you could work with now that you have not already gotten to?

Suzy Bogguss: Oh wow. Right now I have 9 new songs that I am trying to figure out what I want to do with. I really want to do something with somebody from the South. The songs, for some reason, have got a real kind of Southern sensibility, a little blues to them. So, I have just been looking at that like with some of my heroes. I love Jason Isbell, I love Derek Trucks. I keep thinking maybe one of these guys would be available to help me produce this next album. I just don’t know what their schedules are like. Mine’s a little bit kookie, too. They travel as much as I do. Tedeschi and Jason – and I’m a big fan of Sonny Landreth, but we all are on the road all the time. I don’t know if anybody is going to have time to do this with me but I am really looking at trying to get one of those Southern men that would put some of that good, syrupy sound on it for me. Being a Midwesterner, I have an awful lot of Peter, Paul and Mary stuck in there.

Catch Suzy Bogguss locally this Thursday night in Asheville at the Grey Eagle. You can check out the rest of her tour schedule here.

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About Dawn McAlexander

Dawn has been a music lover her entire life. She went to college in Boone, NC, an area that is rich in music and culture. She also worked as a radio deejay for 8 years and grew up in Southeastern, Va, a melting pot of different musical styles and traditions. She has been to more concerts than she can count in every genre you can imagine. She resides in North Carolina with her furbabies and her massive collection of Disney memorabilia.

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