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With All Original Songs, Suzy Bogguss Is Back In The ‘Sunshine’

Jeff Fasano

The more perspective I get, the more I realize how magical and ephemeral the early 1990s were. That’s when I began tuning into country radio and watching CMT, finding (to my surprise I recall) music with soul, variety, integrity and a connection to American life and history.

I was already on the folk music train by that point, so I recognized something especially pure and deep in Suzy Bogguss. To open Episode 278 of The String, I tell the story of catching her on TNN in 1992 when she sang her first big hit “Someday Soon” and the cowboy ballad “Night Rider’s Lament” with Jerry Jeff Walker. Suzy Bogguss moved me then and moves me now.

I ask her why she wound up singing a western number like that. “When I was in my camper truck before I moved to Nashville, I had been a big Jerry Jeff Walker fan,” she says. “I learned it off of a cassette tape I got at a truckstop. And the thing was that I had been dabbling with yodeling when I was out west. And I had been playing with a bunch of ranchers that played Saturday nights in this little trading post place. And they were turning me on to new music. And so, I have had that song in my show since 1981.”

Suzy Bogguss and her throwback heart would of course become one of the signature stars of 1990s country music, and she’s never lost her zeal for performing, touring and sharing songs new and old. New albums though have been harder to come by, and late last year, after a quiet period on the recording front, she returned with not just her first album of all-new material since 1999, but the first album on which she’s written or co-written all the songs. Prayin’ For Sunshine, which spent this winter comfortably in the upper reaches of the Americana radio chart, has the artists’ classic tone but a set of observational songs inspired in large part by her steady touring - songs started she says largely “through the windshield.”

“I didn't set out to (write a whole album) until I started writing some songs,” she says. “And then my husband (Doug Crider), who's a songwriter, was like, why don't you challenge yourself? Why don't you just, you know, quit being so picky about what you write, make sure that on all of the songs, you've got a co-write on, at least? And so I did that, and I'm pretty proud of it.”

We focus right away on “Sunday Birmingham,” a serene moment of reflection after a show in Alabama, when the mood and setting and people are all too good to drive home. It’s the flow of a 67-year-old veteran who doesn’t have to prove anything or hustle along. “I travel with a small trio, so there's only four of us in the van, and we can stop wherever we want,” she says. “And we can get a little piece of history here or go to a restaurant. It's kind of like going back in time for me because that's how I came up.”

An artist moving to Nashville in recent years with a yodel in their heart would be directed straightaway to the Americana side of town, but in the late 80s, things were more wide open. Bogguss made the move in 1985 and succeeded in love before career when she met her husband, songwriter/producer Doug Crider. A stint at Dollywood proved more valuable than you might think, honing her way with an audience and her (still traditional) repertoire. A tape she made found its way to Capitol Records President (now late great Hall of Famer) Jim Foglesong. And the man who signed Garth Brooks also came out to see Suzy perform and was charmed by her retro leanings.

It took some time and some leaning into her California country rock side to unlock the door to country radio, which happened when Aces, her third Capitol release, came out in 1991. Its hits “Someday Soon” (Ian Tyson) and “Outbound Plane” (Nanci Griffith and Tom Russell) proved that folk-based country could go platinum and became career-makers.

We cover all this in the hour and play plenty of the new music, reveling in the kind, luminous voice of one of country music’s late bloomers and ageless performers.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of <i>The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org</i>