Suzy Bogguss Remains True To Herself, Fans
Suzy Bogguss has been making music for over 30 years now, and, she says, much of it has been on her own terms.
Suzy Bogguss had her first major chart success 25 years ago with the album Aces and the song of the same name. The song's appearance on the record was the result of an intense discussion she had with producer Jimmy Bowen.
“He had a particular way that he liked to make records, and I had a particular way that I like to make records,” she says. “I tried really hard to bend to him as much as I could. But then I found that, even doing that, I wasn’t getting the support from the label that I needed at that time. I had to have the slam your fist down on the desk kind of talk with him. I didn’t feel like I was getting the material I was searching for, and I didn’t feel like he was willing to accept some parts of who I am, namely the whole folk side of my repertoire.”
Among the things Bowen advised her against? “He’d told me, ‘Please never yodel again. It’s going to ruin your career,'" Bogguss says. "I said, ‘Yeah, but you don’t know the way that I connect with my fans. There’s a certain thing when you’re making a hit maker, but there’s another thing when you’re making a career that’s going to survive and have a loyal connection with the audience.’ I felt like I knew what I was doing. I felt like I knew who my audience was. I felt like with the song ‘Aces’ he was making the concession that, ‘OK. Maybe she does know what she’s talking about.'”
The song became a Top 10 hit for Bogguss and led to over 1 million sales for the album. Still, that didn't stop members of the record industry attempting to mold Bogguss' style. In the mid-1990s, she says there was pressure for her to sing in a voice that was more in tune with style heard in the biggest hits of the day. That, she says, didn't take.
“There was some pressure on me to grit it up a little bit more,” she says. “What I found out was that it was really hard on me, touring, for one thing. I was having trouble keeping my voice healthy. I also felt like people weren’t reacting to it the way they reacted to me when I laid back and kind of let it flow. I decided to step back from trying to keep up with what was going on on the radio, which was really big, range-y kind of ballads and songs that were kind of screamin’. I don’t mean that in a negative way. I mean that it was hard for me to do that stuff because that’s not what my voice wants to do naturally.”
Bogguss has recorded music in a wide range of styles, including jazz, Western Swing and songs that lean heavily on the folk tradition.
“I would have hated it if I had to make the same record over and over again. It’s been great to try some different things,” she says.
One of those different things was joining up with A Prairie Home Companion and becoming a member of the touring ensemble.
“I was a huge Garrison Keillor fan way before he even went national,” she recalls. “In fact, I had friends who lived in Minneapolis and every week they would send me a cassette tape of the show. We would have friends over on Tuesday nights, and we would listen to the whole entire show. We’d make dinner and have a potluck and pick and try to learn the songs that were on the show that week. For many years, before I ever got to meet him, I was a huge fan.”
And many of those fans embrace that one thing that some wanted her to let go of long ago: the yodeling. So how does she do it?
“I used to explain it to people in the audience and sometimes I’d ask them to sing with me,” she says. “Think of yourself riding your bicycle through the backyard but all of a sudden you realize that the clothesline is up. When you hit the clothesline? That’s where the yodel happens. You have to practice that.”
Suzy Bogguss performs at the Bartlett Arboretum in Belle Plaine this Sunday, June 12. Her latest release, Lucky, is out now.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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