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Suzy Bogguss Explains Folk Project and Her Dollywood ‘Cinderella Story’

Suzy Bogguss
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

Suzy Bogguss was one of the prominent female singers on country radio in the ’90s, winning the CMA’s Horizon Award in 1992. With one of the most angelic and pure voices in any genre of music, she’s maintained a large and loyal following thanks to songs like ‘Someday Soon,’ ‘Letting Go’ and the perennial radio favorite, ‘Two Step ‘Round The Christmas Tree.’ Suzy recently talked with Taste of Country to explain her new folk project, the stories behind her hits ‘Hey Cinderella’ and ‘Aces,’ and the luck of her breakthrough gig working at Dollywood.

Tell us the story of why you’ve gone folk.
Well, here’s what happened. I started touring with Garrison Keillor, the fellow from a Prairie Home Companion. The more shows I did with him, the more I fell in love with the audience that would come to his shows. They’re very well-trained to sing along and have a great time, so there would be thousands of people out there singing along and I thought, “Boy, I’d like a little bit of that” because I have a few songs in my set that I like to get people singing along with me. So I just thought, “Here’s the way to do it. I’m going to dig back in my old fifth grade songbook and figure out what kind of songs do I sing that people are going to like to sing along with me.”

So these really are songs that you had sung in the fifth grade?
Yeah, that’s exactly where I started. I used really just my memory in the beginning to just figure out what songs did I used to sing, what ones were my favorite ones. I kind of remembered this old book I had, it got passed out as soon as we got into music class.  That’s what I started with, my memories of ‘Oh Sweet Betsy of Pike,’ ‘Shenandoah’ and just all these old songs that I loved singing when I was a kid. That pretty much gave me all the songs I needed; I ended up cutting 17 for the project. After that, it got me all inspired to do a songbook because I had such a hard time finding that songbook that I thought, “Gosh, maybe there just aren’t that many songbooks of all of these songs put together with the stories so people know what the song is about.”

One of your biggest hits was ‘Hey, Cinderella’ from 1993.  Tell us a little bit about this one.
That was actually the first time Matraca Berg and I ever got together to write a song. We had bumped into each other numerous times. We were both kind of coming out of the chute at the same time and we thought we’ll see what happens if we get together, and we sat in her office and kept talking and talking. We sat talking about her mother and my mother-in-law and the time they both got married. They both got married in the late ’50s and [with] the whole mentality that everything was going to be perfect, and that brought up the image of Cinderella. We took a little break and went out to the coffee machine. We were throwing around so many nasty lines like, “Come on, Cinderell,a tell us the truth. Probably you’ve got thunder thighs now!” We were just kind of playing and having fun. Gary Harrison was standing out there in the office and we told him about the song we were writing. We asked him to help us tone in down, and keep us from taking this over the top with the lyrics. So he came in the room and we finished up the song in about a half an hour.

We read somewhere that you got your start or did a lot of early work at Dollywood. Is that true, and if so, what did you do at Dollywood?
Well, I moved to Nashville and I started singing at Tony Roma’s, and I heard about this festival they had down in Pigeon Forge. So I went down to the festival and got three days of work there. While I was there, Dolly Parton was at the park, and she had been purchasing Silver Dollar City and was going to make it into this new park. Well, my timing could not have been better because her people saw me and they contacted me later and asked me to be their female headliner for the next year. So, I went back to Nashville for a few more months and sang demos, knowing I had a job for the next spring. I just fell right into it. It was pretty much miraculous. I lived over there for six months and got my record deal while I was playing at Dollywood. Capital Records folks came over to hear me there, and three weeks later I signed a deal with them. It just kind of came all together at the same time. Speaking of Cinderella, it was pretty much a Cinderella story.

Yeah, it sure it is. What a great way to get started. It’s the way artists dream of it happening.
And Dolly is such a gracious person to work for because she really encouraged me to make my own set list and sing songs I’ve written and songs that were well known that I wanted to sing that were what she thought I could communicate to people — to create a style, create a show of my own. She wanted you to have your own style and enjoy the music you were singing.

Suzy, can you tell us the story behind your hit ‘Aces’ from 1992?
Well, there’s a good story behind this one. This one is a Cheryl Wheeler song and Cheryl had recorded it and even put out a video on the same record label, Capital, the year before I recorded it. I think she kind of decided she liked her other lifestyle — being more in charge of her touring and writing. The machine can kind of chew you up sometimes, so the song had not really done much on the charts. Jimmy Bowen, who was head of the label at the time, and I were really at odds, not understanding each other. He did not like the folky side of me, and he kept trying to get me to think of myself more of a diva singer, more like the way Reba sang and things like that. And finally, I said, “I can’t do that. You signed me with my guitar. This is what I do.” I had a big ol’ lay your fist down on the desk fight with him and he said, “OK, if you’re going to be a folky, let’s see what happens. Why don’t you record the song? Let’s just do a demo.” And I cut ‘Aces’ even though it just had been out the year before, and it ended up being the title for my first platinum record. He finally got it. He finally got who I was. I really liked the songs that were more singer-songwriter.

Watch the Suzy Bogguss ‘Hey Cinderella’ Video

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