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Suzy Bogguss

Suzy Bogguss is best known for a steady string of country hits, but she’s never been limited to a single style.

On "Swing" (Compadre), the singer demonstrates her flair for classic jazz and Western swing numbers. Here, Duke Ellington meets Bob Wills. The result is a CD that radiates with charm. One reviewer recently called it the "most elegant pop-jazz record of the year."

Bogguss, whose hits include "Aces," "Outbound Plane" and "Drive South," isn’t new to some of the jazz material found on her new CD. Throughout her career, she has incorporated songs like "Someone to Watch Over Me," and "Eat at Joe’s" into her set. The music also goes back to the days when she was growing up and her mother would play Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra records around the house.

Produced by Bogguss and Asleep At The Wheel front man Ray Benson, "Swing" was record at Benson’s studio in Austin, Texas, giving the CD a fresh, loose sound. In addition to Nat King Cole’s "Straighten Up And Fly Right," Ellington’s "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me," and "Comes Love," a song associated with Billie Holiday, the CD features five new songs by writer April Barrows, whose work captures the timeless, sophisticated feel that Bogguss was seeking. recently spoke to Bogguss about the new CD, the reaction she received when performing the material at the Grand Ole Opry and what’s coming up next for her. Where did you get the idea to do "Swing"?

Suzy Bogguss: "The truth is I had a dream. I’ve known Ray Benson for almost 20 years. I used to open for him in Montana when I was out working solo with just my guitar. I moved to Nashville, and Ray came up here, and we ended up on the same record label for a little while. I also did a tribute to Bob Wills with him so we’ve been friends for a long time.

I had this dream one night that I was riding around in a bus with Ray. There was nothing in the bus. There was a big revelation the next morning that it meant an empty slate for the album, and Ray’s supposed to produce. He’s going to be driving. I called him the next day. He was way into the idea.

I think somewhere in the back of my mind I’ve always wanted to make a whole swing album. On my most of my albums, I’ve had a touch of it here and there."

JazzReview: When you began planning the CD, did you set any particular goals?

Suzy Bogguss: "Yes. I was hoping to get a real combo kind of sound. I wanted it to be a small production, something that sounded like what you would hear live in a club with a real loose feel. That’s why I went to Austin. As much as I love the amazing players in Nashville, and once in a while you can get that unrehearsed kind of feeling, it can be difficult here. There’s the history of my recordings in the past. And, there’s a feeling that the clock is always running.

Going to Austin and making the record with Ray’s band, those guys aren’t in that world. It’s a different vibe."

JazzReview: It’s a tough album to categorize. Is it country or jazz? How would you describe it?

Suzy Bogguss: "That’s a good question. I made a Christmas album a couple of years ago and just put it out on my Web site. It kind of smacked of this flavor. All of the reviews said it was Western swing even when it was Christmas standards. As soon as I put a dobro or a fiddle in with the rest of the swing ensemble, it was Western swing. So, I guess it’s Western swing. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what you would call Stephane Grappelli. It’s a difficult thing, but it’s exactly what I wanted. It sounds like I heard it in my mind. As far as a title for it, that’s difficult. That’s one of my little crosses to bear. Even my country music was falling in the cracks."

JazzReview: At a CD store, "Swing" is filed under your name in the country section. Is a jazz audience starting to find it?

Suzy Bogguss: "They are a little bit. People like you guys are sorting of opening that door for me. I’m very appreciative of it. I’ve always seen myself as sort of this funky, eclectic artist.

Country has been a wonderful outlet for me. It’s a great vehicle. But this has been a great thing for me too; because in a way it’s being accepted into this genre and having people acknowledge that this is not your standard commercial-type country music. I think it’s going to take my whole life to sort of get people to know what my perspective is. It’s like Willie Nelson. You’re an artist and you have different styles inside of you."

JazzReview: Do you have a favorite track on the CD?

Suzy Bogguss: "I guess one of my favorites is ‘Sweetheart (Waitress In A Donut Shop).’ It was one of those natural things. There are no overdubs. There’s no nothing. It just came about. It was a moment in time. Those kinds of things are extra special. You listen to it and the whole thing is just there right at the get-go."

JazzReview: Although there are several standards on the CD, you didn’t want the entire album to be standards. Why?

Suzy Bogguss: "After I found April Barrows, I felt I had found a soul mate. Her stuff is exactly what I was looking for. It’s new. It’s fresh. It’s clever and sophisticated. I felt like, ‘Wow, what an opportunity.’ Now, we’re writing songs together. I feel like I’m starting out on a whole new adventure."

JazzReview: You also wrote a song on the CD with Doug Crider and Paul Kramer. Tell us about "It’s Always New To Me."

Suzy Bogguss: "That was the last song for the record because something was really intimidating to me even though my first single on country radio was ‘I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire." Oddly enough, it’s not like this is anything real different for me to sing. That’s how I got my record deal was with that song. I’ve been playing swing chords for a long time. For some reason, the concept of writing with swing chords was intimidating. I asked Paul to come over and help me musically. A lot of the time I would ask him to play a chord and say, ‘No, that’s not it. That’s not it.’ Finally, he would hit a chord, and I would say, ‘That’s what I’m looking for." His experience and ability are just awesome.

At that point, I had gotten through most of the recording. I think I had three spots left to record. I thought, ‘I’ll just try my hand at writing.’ I knew what I was missing. I wanted something big bandy. That was my upbringing. My mother was really into big band. It was played in the house all the time. I thought if we could bring something like that in it would round everything out."

JazzReview: There are several standards on the CD. How did you approach the Nat King Cole song and the other numbers?

Suzy Bogguss: "The Nat King Cole song, ‘Straighten Up And Fly Right,’ was something I grew up with in the house. That was one of the records my mom had. There really weren’t that many albums in our house, but she had really good taste. She had the quintessential of everyone who came from that pop tradition. It was sort of jazz and sort of pop at the same time. That song has been in my head since I was 8 or 9 years old. I had never performed it before, but I knew what I wanted to do with it. It was the first song we recorded, and it set the tone for the rest of the album. It let Ray know what I was looking for. I can remember calling Ray after I had sent him a couple of the songs. He said, "Well, Suzy, this is jazz." I think he was thinking I was going to do sort of a Bob Wills-style thing. I said, ‘Well, is that a problem?’ He said, ‘No. I just wanted to make sure you knew that this is different from what I do.’"

JazzReview: Didn’t you recently perform "Straighten Up And Fly Right" at the Grand Ole Opry?

Suzy Bogguss: "I did. I even got some flak for it. I was trying to explain that ‘Straighten Up And Fly Right’ was actually on the country charts for five weeks around 1956. I was explaining that to the audience, but I still got some e-mails that said, ‘I can’t believe you played that on the Opry.’

I was thinking about when Roy Acuff used to say, ‘There’s no way we’re going to have drums at the Opry.’ Now, they’ve got jazz."

JazzReview: It seems like musical boundaries are blurring more these days.

Suzy Bogguss: "Definitely. One of the things that I think is such a constant in country music is that the song is so much a story. I believe it is supposed to be based around a story. ‘Straighten Up And Fly Right’ is a funny story."

JazzReview: Is ‘Swing’ setting the tone for what you will do in the future?

Suzy Bogguss: "I’m definitely not ready to move into something else. I’m having so much fun. My touring band is awesome. They’re amazing players, who love playing this style of music. They’re very versatile. The shows have been great. And, since I’ve started to write with April Barrows, I’m feeling more confident since I got one swing song under my belt. I’ll keep exploring this for a while."

JazzReview: "When you growing up, your family had Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald records. What other music was played around the house?

Suzy Bogguss: "We had Dean Martin, Doris Day. We had a lot of the big band women singers. We had Gogi Grant and Jo Stafford and Kay Starr. Then we had Ray Charles, Herb Alpert. Now, my mom’s a big country fan."

JazzReview: What was the first album that you bought?

Suzy Bogguss: "It was Elton John’s ‘Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player." After that I started buying Led Zeppelin. But, I eventually got into folk singers like James Taylor and Carole King. The singer-songwriter was always my favorite."

JazzReview: What’s coming up next for you?

Suzy Bogguss: "I have a Christmas album coming out. I made it and had it out on my Web site last year, but they’re putting it in stores this year. It’s coming out as if it’s a new album. It’s been about three years since I’ve had a record out. All of a sudden, I’ve got two out in four months. We’re going to do a little Christmas tour and hit the East Coast.

I also have some appointments with April to buckle down and write a little bit."

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Suzy Bogguss
  • Interview Date: 9/1/2003
  • Subtitle: From Country to Swing
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