Growing up in Aledo, Illinois, Suzy Bogguss loved music. She joined the church choir, played the piano and drums, and bought her first 12-string with the money she earned from babysitting. Now, more than a dozen albums later, and awards ranging from the Academy of Country Music's Top New Female Vocalist of 1989 to a Horizon Award given by the Country Music Association, Suzy has won acclaim in both country and contemporary music circles. Her new CD is Sweet Danger (Loyal Dutchess Records).
The Del McCoury Band
When Del McCoury was growing up in York County, Pennsylvania, he learned music from his mother, Hazel, a church organist who also played guitar, piano and harmonica. And he never missed a chance to tune in to the Grand Ole Opry. But when his older brother bought a 78-rpm record of Flatt and Scruggs, that sealed the deal. Del started playing bluegrass and, a half-century later, has never looked back. In 1963, Bill Monroe asked McCoury to join his band, The Blue Grass Boys. Del played guitar and sang lead vocals with Monroe and traveled with him for a year before quitting the band and getting married. After a brief stint in California with the Golden State Boys, McCoury ended up back in Pennsylvania, working at a sawmill and playing music on weekends. As his boys got older, they began playing with their dad in his band, the Dixie Pals. Ronnie joined the band in 1981 and Rob followed in 1988. The Del McCoury Band formed in the early 1990s. The group has won numerous honors from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA), including being named Entertainer of the Year eight times (nine, if you include Del's solo win). This year, after six nominations since 1983, the Del McCoury Band won a Grammy Award for their 2005 album The Company We Keep (McCoury Music). The Promised Land, an all-gospel album, came out earlier this year. The band: Del McCoury, guitar; Ronnie McCoury, mandolin; Rob McCoury, banjo; Jason Carter, fiddle; Alan Bartram, bass.
Becky Schlegel took piano lessons all through her childhood. She sang in choir and, while still in junior high, she joined her mother's professional country band, The Country Benders. Then a college friend gave Becky Schlegel three Reno and Smiley albums, and the die was cast: She became addicted to bluegrass music. She left South Dakota, her home state, and moved to Minnesota. That was a dozen years ago, and since then, Becky has become a big favorite in the Upper Midwest's bluegrass, country and acoustic rock scenes. Becky formed the band True Blue in 1997. The following year, they released their debut CD, This Lonesome Song, which was nominated for 1998 Bluegrass Recording of the Year by the Minnesota Music Academy. The group then won Minnesota's Bluegrass Band of the Year award for 2000. Becky's second CD, Red Leaf, came out in 2001. That year, Becky was awarded Bluegrass/Old-Time Artist of the Year at the Minnesota Music Awards. She repeated the honor in 2002, 2003 and 2004. Last year, she was selected to perform at the International Bluegrass Music Association's Songwriters' Showcase. Becky's most recent CD is Drifter Like Me, released in 2005. It was included on the top-10 lists of a number of Twin Cities reviewers. Look for a new Schlegel recording early next year. Brian Fesler is Becky's accompanist.
Mindy Smith grew up in Smithtown, Long Island. Her dad was a minister, Her mom was an accomplished singer who led the church choir — and who always encouraged Mindy to follow her interest in music. While she was in college in Cincinnati, Mindy wrote songs and sang in a band. Finally, she decided to make a go of it in Nashville. She arrived with $300 in her pocket and a whole lot of determination. A few years later, she won first prize in the Tin Pan South songwriting contest of 2000. That led to a staff position at the publishing company Big Yellow Dog Music, which allowed her to earn a living writing songs for other people. Mindy's career really took off after she sang the song "Jolene" for a Dolly Parton tribute album in 2003. The next year, she released her debut album, One Moment More. And she followed that with a CD called Long Island Shores. Mindy is also a gifted painter. She is a bold colorist who does expressive, figurative works. Her latest recording is titled Stupid Love. It was released last month on the Vanguard label.
Jearlyn Steele first sang with her siblings (as The Steele Children) in churches, concert halls and on radio and TV. After she left Indiana and moved to Minnesota, one by one the rest of the Steele kids followed. They started singing together again as The Steeles. Now music is the family business. Jearlyn is the entertainment reporter for Twin Cities Public Television's public-affairs program, Almanac, and she hosts Steele Talkin', a Sunday-night radio show that originates on WCCO in Minneapolis and is heard in some 30 states nationwide. Steele Praising Hymn is her most recent CD.
Andra Suchy spent her childhood on a farm near Mandan, North Dakota, the daughter of two talented singers. By the time she was in grade school, she was traveling around, doing concerts and festivals with her family. These days, she sings with several groups in the Twin Cities area — including the all-girl trio The Dollys. She also works as a back-up singer and as a jingle singer on commercials for White Castle, Target, and more. Andra's solo CD is called Patchwork Story.
In the dozen or so years that Tonic Sol-fa has been together, this Minnesota-based a cappella quartet has earned a national reputation and built a fan base coast to coast. Tenor Greg Bannwarth, bass Jared Dove, lead singer Shaun Johnson, and baritone Mark McGowan now do about 150 concerts a year across the country, but the group began in the mid-1990s at St. John's University, in Collegeville, Minnesota, where McGowan and Johnson were going to school. Soon Bannwarth and Dove signed on. Tonic Sol-fa has now released a half-dozen CDs. Their brand-new recording, Christmas, is a companion to the DVD of their public television holiday special.
Garrison Keillor was born in Anoka, graduated from the University of Minnesota ('66), and lives in St. Paul. He is the author of numerous books, including Pilgrims: A Wobegon Romance, and Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny (Viking), and the editor of several anthologies of poetry, including Good Poems: American Places (Viking).
The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band
The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band is led by A Prairie Home Companion music director Richard Dworsky. Keyboard player, composer and improviser in any style, he also writes all the script themes and underscores. His latest CD is So Near and Dear to Me.
Chet Atkins called Pat Donohue (guitar) one of the greatest fingerpickers in the world today. And he writes songs too — recorded by Suzy Bogguss, Kenny Rogers, and others. Nobody's Fault and Vicksburg Blues (a collaboration with Butch Thompson) are the most recent of Pat's albums.
Gary Raynor (bass) has performed with the Count Basie band and Sammy Davis Jr., with whom he toured for several years. He was first call for dozens of touring Broadway shows, including the first presentation of The Lion King. Gary teaches at the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul.
Richard Kriehn is principal second violin for the Washington/Idaho Symphony. But it's not all classical all the time; he is equally at home playing bluegrass fiddle and mandolin. He was a member of the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble and the bluegrass group 1946.
One minute he's mild-mannered Tim Russell; the next he's George Bush or Julia Child or Barack Obama. We've yet to stump this man of many voices. In other roles, Tim played the part of Al, the stage manager, in the Robert Altman film A Prairie Home Companion and a detective in the Coen brothers' A Serious Man.
On APHC, Sue Scott plays everything from ditzy teenagers to Guy Noir stunners to leathery crones who've smoked one pack of Camel straights too many. The Tucson, Arizona, native is well known for her extensive commercial and voice-over work on radio and television, as well as movie and stage roles.
Is that water dripping? Footsteps coming this way? Car tires spinning on an icy driveway? Nope — it's sound effects wizard Tom Keith. With vocal gymnastics and a variety of props, Tom has worked his magic on A Prairie Home Companion since the mid-1970s.
Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).