In the early ‘90s, Suzy Bogguss was all over the mainstream country charts with “Aces,” her hit album that yielded three Top 10 singles. This past summer, the country singer celebrated that album’s 25th anniversary by rerecording all the songs for her new release “Aces Redux.”
“It was a very spontaneous thing,” she says about the project. “One day I was driving in my car thinking about those songs. All of a sudden, the years added up and I realized the album had come out in 1991.”
She returned to the studio to redo the album in a fresh context and released it last August on her own label, Loyal Dutchess Records. To complete the nostalgia circle, Bogguss even wore the same outfit for the new CD cover that she donned on the cover of the original release.
“I pulled the old clothes out of my closet to wear for the shoot,” she says with a laugh. “Isn’t that a riot? We took the photos in my son’s bedroom because the background wall is brown like the original. I’m wearing the same jacket but not the same jeans. The jacket is a Ralph Lauren. It was one of the first things I got to buy that was real leather that I didn’t get at the consignment store.”
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“Aces Redux” features the sparkling country-pop numbers that first made Bogguss a mainstream country star. There’s the jangly breakup anthem “Outbound Plane” and the wistful “Letting Go.” She’s a bright and bittersweet force on Ian Tyson’s “Someday Soon,” a hit for folk-pop queen Judy Collins.
The album is the latest chapter in a career filled with distinctive projects. Through the years, there’s also been a well-received jazz album, a swing release with Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel, a collection of Merle Haggard covers, a tour with Garrison Keillor and a book and album project called “American Folk Songbook.”
“You have to figure out how to adapt and set yourself apart,” she says about her career today. “You have to figure out how to do your work and still feel authentic and not sell your soul.”
Bogguss is calling from her home in Franklin, Tenn., where she lives with her husband, the musician and songwriter Doug Crider. Their son Ben is a college student in Indiana.
Bogguss has been on tour all month, and today is a rare day off. She’s trying to pack in all her chores before heading back out on the road. There are painters working in her house and she’s on her way to a costume fitting.
“I’m going to do some spring work on my yard,” she says. “I can get a little grass seed in and also cuddle with my dogs and do some laundry.”
The singer-songwriter was born and raised in Aledo in western Illinois. “It was like Beaver Cleaver’s town,” she says about her upbringing. “We’d take off on our bikes and come home when it got dark. We’d raid people’s apple trees and drink out of hoses. It was a wonderful way to grow up.”
Encouraged by her vocalist mother, she started singing in church. In high school she participated in choir and band. She started college at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington and then transferred to Illinois State University in Normal, where she graduated in 1980 with an art degree.
After school she hit the road as a troubadour, traveling the country in a camper truck for five years. She played clubs, taverns and coffeehouses.
“I worked any kind of place,” she recalls of her years paying dues as a performer. “Some places were just restaurants. The ski resorts were great. They would put me up so I didn’t have to pay for a hotel. They were good places to hone my skills.”
She moved to Nashville in 1985 and landed a three-day singing gig at the theme park Silver Dollar City Tennessee. It was auspicious timing. During her stint there, country star Dolly Parton came by and bought the park, with plans to rename it Dollywood. Parton caught Bogguss’ act and offered her a singing job. Bogguss happily accepted.
Fate soon intervened. During her first season singing at the now re-christened Dollywood, Bogguss was offered a major-label recording contract. She went to the apartment that Dolly kept on the grounds to break the news to her boss that she was leaving.
“Dolly had on a negligee, like something Zsa Zsa Gabor would wear. I was trying to talk to her but I couldn’t take my eyes off that negligee,” Bogguss recalls with a laugh. “When I told her about the record deal, Dolly said, ‘Move on, girl!’ She’s just like a big sister. She’s a real person who cares about people. That’s why she can write all those great songs. “
The late-1980s to mid-1990s featured a strong and unique roster of female artists breaking through on the country charts. Bogguss was part of an exceptional crew that included Lorrie Morgan, Pam Tillis, Carlene Carter, Kathy Mattea and Mary Chapin Carpenter.
“I still get to call those people friends and hang out with them off the road,” she says about her esteemed peer group. “It’s an awesome thing. Even though there was record label competition, all of us championed each other. We had different influences and backgrounds. I think that’s why we got along so well. We were tough gals who all said, ‘I’m going to make it in a man’s world.’”
Bogguss made other powerful friends in the industry, chief among them the legendary Nashville producer and guitarist Chet Atkins. The two recorded the duets album “Simpatico” in 1994.
“I would drop by Chet’s office after 5 p.m. when I finished a songwriting session in town,” she recalls of their friendship. “He would pop open a Michelob, put it in two glasses and we’d just start pickin’ and playin’ songs. The cool thing about Chet was that he was always looking forward. He wasn’t one to sit around and talk about what he had done in the past. He was 70 when we made our record together and he was also making another album. He had already been diagnosed with cancer, but he just kept working as long as he possibly could.”
She treasures her memories of Atkins, who died in 2001.
“I think about playing music with Chet sometimes,” she says. “I hope there is still that shared love of music and picking going on behind the scenes in country music. There’s so much about music that is spiritual and soulful. I’m still doing it and I’ll go down swinging.”