Unless your name is Carrie, Miranda or Kacey, country music has little use for women these days. But it wasn’t always that way, said Suzy Bogguss, who fondly remembers the Nashville of the 1990s, when original talents like Pam Tillis, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea and Deana Carter not only were played on the radio but nurtured and valued by the industry.
It’s a stark contrast from the male-dominated, youth-driven Nashville of today, she said.
“But I feel like a little shift is about to happen,” said Bogguss, 58, in a telephone interview to promote her Nov. 13 concert at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace.
“There’s so much talk about how women are getting slighted as far as air time and letting more new artists have that kind of support they need to get off the ground. But I feel with Miranda Lambert and some of these sassier gals out there now, even Carrie Underwood, they’ve stood up for that and said, ‘What’s the deal. Why can’t you let my sisters in?’
“I’m waiting for a wave of strong, unique women again.”
Bogguss and her peers came up in a city that encouraged collaboration and friendship among artists, she said. One such opportunity for bonding was the Nashville Network, a cable channel that promoted country music and artists.
“We could get our personalities across,” Bogguss said of the network, which folded in 2000. “We were on all the time, every three or four weeks. I still do the Opry frequently and still get that camaraderie. A lot of young artists crave that.”
Bogguss’ greatest commercial successes came in the ’90s, with hits like “Outbound Plane,” “Drive South” and “Hey Cinderella.” But by the end of the decade, her chart streak had cooled and she was dropped from Capitol Records.
Since then, she has released several independent recordings with her husband, songwriter Doug Crider, and eventually dusted off a strategy she used in her scrappy pre-label days: Ask the fans for help.
“When I made my first album, in Peoria, Illinois, I did a preorder thing. I went to some of my loyal, loyal people and asked for loans and as I sold (the records), I paid them back. The whole process made so much sense to me that I did a Kickstarter.”
She raised $75,000 on the crowdfunding website for her 2014 album “Lucky,” a collection of beautifully reimagined Merle Haggard covers.
“There have been so many songs I would have loved to have sung through the years because I loved the artist or song, but there’s a lot of things I determined had already been done — the perfect version. In Merle’s case, that’s true. What I was trying to do is listen past his amazing voice and icon-ness, and just listen to the songcraft and how another person can interpret it and turn it into their own little story and their own way.”
Bogguss said she connects most emotionally with Haggard’s melancholy “If We Make It Through December,” the anti-Christmas carol for the working poor.
“My dad worked at International Harvester, and it was skimpy times,” Boguss said of her Illinois upbringing. “That song was the only one where I had to change any gender stuff.”
Bakersfield audiences can expect to hear the Haggard material — “it’s pretty hard not to get into Merle’s music” — as well as Bogguss’ mainstream country hits and the folk and swing she’s gravitated to throughout her life.
“We pull out all the signature licks,” she said. “We didn’t turn anything into a reggae song or anything. We try really hard to have the kind of energy I had in those more rockin’ tunes, and then the folk album and Merle. We do a lot of requests, things I haven’t played in years. If I think I’ll butcher it, I try to talk my way out of it. I’m up for spontaneity.”
The Nov. 13 appearance at the Palace marks Bogguss’ second visit in a year.
“We had not played in Bakersfield for so long. I didn’t know what to expect. We sold out and it was fantastic, which made me feel so good. I had Red Simpson sit in with us and Chris Scruggs sat in, so I had all this country music lineage with me. We had a blast that night because it’s like a honky-tonk and there’s not very many places like that left.”