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Suzy goes from Aledo to stardom

Suzy Bogguss
ALEDO -- She's been gone since 1975, but Aledo still seems like home to country music star Suzy Bogguss.

The popular singer, known for her clear voice and folksy influence, still thinks of herself as a ``Midwestern girl,'' crediting Aledo for her strong work ethic and independence. The 41-year-old has skyrocketed from local celebrity to award-winning country music star, releasing 12 albums since leaving town.

Sometimes friends in Nashville, where she's lived for about 13 years, poke fun at her Northern upbringing. But chart-topping Ms. Bogguss is proud of growing up in the Mercer County seat, population 3,900.

``One of the things I've always loved about the way I grew up is the safe feeling of a community like that where everyone is watching out for each other,'' Ms. Bogguss said of Aledo, where her mother Barb still lives.

Ms. Bogguss, known just as Suzy to hometown folks, got her start in music when she was 5, singing in the Angel Choir of the College Avenue Presbyterian Church in Aledo. She later starred in several musicals at Aledo High School, where she was homecoming queen and graduated in 1975.

College drew her away from town, graduating from Illinois State University in 1980 with a bachelor's degree in metalsmithery. Her education influenced her to design a line of jewelry, available for sale at her concerts. Despite this background, Ms. Bogguss already had decided on a show business career before finishing school.

She moved to the Quad-Cities, where she got a job singing at the Fort Armstrong Hotel six nights a week. She didn't know any musicians in the area, so she decided to move to Peoria. Then came the nomadic part of her life, when she booked herself from Boston to California as a singer wherever, whenever.

During this time, she succeeded in producing her first record titled ``Suzy,'' released in 1981 by the Old Shack Recording Co. Her next one, called ``Suzy Bogguss,'' was released in 1986. She's come a long way since these early recordings no longer available commercially, featuring songs called ``I'm a Hog for You'' and ``Hillbilly Lullabies.''

The rising star's big move to Nashville in 1984 helped make important connections she needed in the business. After releasing a popular album in 1989 called ``Somewhere Between,'' she was named the Academy of Country Music's Top New Female Vocalist. She then earned a Grammy nomination in 1991.

Her 1991 album, ``Aces,'' earned a platinum award for selling 1 million copies and produced four top-10 hits. In 1992, she enjoyed another platinum album ``Voice in the Wind,'' the Country Music Association's Horizon Award for new talent and the nomination for TNN/Music City News Top Female Vocalist.

Some say a performer hasn't ``arrived'' until they produce a greatest hits album. If that's true, then Suzy is there. She released her collection of most successful songs in 1994.

She's now working on a new album, which should be on the market by the end of May. Ms. Bogguss is co-producing the album for the first time with her husband Doug Crider, with guest appearances by friends Trisha Yearwood, Kathy Mattea, Alison Krauss, Patty Loveless and a surprise singer.

``It's a pretty typical Suzy record,'' Ms. Bogguss said. ``You can feel a lot of folk influence, a lot of acoustic guitar. It's got some fiddle and things. My last album was upbeat and kind of edgy. This one's a little more in the pocket, a listening-type of record.''

Looking back, her Aledo upbringing probably gave her the guts to give musical talent a shot at fame. Growing up in a home with two brothers, a sister and parents Barb and the late Charles ``Bud'' Bogguss, she inherited her gutsy side.

She wishes her nearly 3-year-old son, Ben, could grow up that way, too. For now, their rural Nashville home and at least two-times-a-year visits to Aledo will have to do, Ms. Bogguss said.

``My mom's a very strong person -- very independent, very strong,'' she said. ``Both of our parents were real influential on our personalities. Dad was an easy-going kind of guy. Mom, she wanted us to try things. She wasn't forceful, she would just present a lot of ideas to us. She had us eating unusual things. She wanted us to see what was out there.''

The small-town atmosphere of Aledo didn't stifle her a bit, although she didn't consciously set out to become famous, she said.

``I never thought about that when I lived there,'' Ms. Bogguss said. ``It never crossed my mind that Elton John had to grow up in some small town somewhere. Some of the people I look up to, like Linda Ronstadt, she had to come from a town somewhere.''

``Still, that was so much fate,'' she said, describing her path to success. ``Well, maybe not fate, but chance opportunity. You take the opportunity you happen to recognize when it comes by.''

According to Ms. Bogguss, she marvels at her fame. She often can't believe she's close buddies with big-time country music stars such as Chet Atkins -- people she once would have thought of as ``untouchable.''

``Sometimes it just blows my mind the people I consider friends of mine,'' she said. ``Sometimes I'm sitting across the dinner table from Vince Gill, and I can't believe it. It's a very strange thing. But you know, everybody here is just a person and I think that's one of the coolest things about Nashville.''

Ms. Bogguss visits Aledo whenever she can, sometimes because she has a show nearby or for holidays. The last time she was home was Thanksgiving, but she hasn't performed in town since June 1991.

``I have a lot of friends there,'' she said, mentioning that a lot of high school chums still live in the area. ``It gets a little overwhelming to see everybody each time I come. We usually go out to eat at one of the famous night spots of Aledo, so whoever I see I just kind of see.''

No matter where success and fame takes her, Ms. Bogguss still yearns for the town many people don't fully appreciate. She misses the place where you can get culture and opportunities ``you go and find,'' she said.

``It's still home to me,'' Ms. Bogguss said quietly, her hometown pride traveling over the long-distance line. ``I've been in Nashville for 12 or 13 years now, but Aledo will always remain home.''

-- By Kay Yadon (February 9, 1998)

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