Photo by Angela Talley
If musical success was measured by the number of other artists that respect and want to work with you, then Suzi Ragsdale has made it in spades. Having a long list of her songs covered by others and singing behind many on stage and record, she’s long proven her value. It’s been a while though since she’s recorded on her own, and on October 9, she will release a six-track EP “Ghost Town” marking her first recording in 10 years. Experience the sound and beauty of her video for the first single “Wildflowers.”
Suzi is the daughter of Country Music Hall of Fame legend Ray Stevens who is still going strong with his regular CabaRay show in Nashville. (Tentatively set to reopen later this month.) Along with her long-time collaborator, Sam Frank, Dad helping with the production of the new EP.
My thanks go out to Suzi for her interestingly in-depth 11 Answers below. I wish her the best on the new record and look forward to seeing her sing it when times get better. Oh yeah, and if yoga is your thing, Suzi has been teaching classes for decades!
Where are you from originally, when did you move to Nashville and why?
Believe it or not, I’m one of the relatively few musicians who were born in Nashville. As the question suggests, most musicians and artists migrate to Nashville for the creative and supportive community of players and writers here. There’s more work to be had and more collaborators and studios and publishers and on and on. We’re the Broadway or Hollywood of Music, along with Austin, New York and L.A. So many great musical cities in the world, but Nashville has proven to be very special and uniquely desirable. My father is one of the musicians who came to Nashville, intentionally, from Clarkdale and Atlanta, Georgia, in 1962. I was born in ’64 and grew up in recording studios and music halls, instruments and players everywhere, all the time. I never really considered any other profession, except for my part-time job of leading fitness and yoga classes for the past 35 years or so. That doesn’t really feel like a job though J.
What are the first and the last records you bought, and where did you buy them? Were they CD, vinyl or digital?
First record would certainly have been vinyl, though I did have 8 tracks and cassettes in my childhood. Earliest memories of listening are all of playing my parents’ records, mostly The Beatles, Elton John, James Taylor, Randy Newman, Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson … I could go on. But the first I ever purchased myself in a record store was probably either Carole King, Linda Ronstadt, Karla Bonoff or maybe earlier even, Melanie’s “Brand New Key.”
The last records I bought were CDs. I recently launched my new website, suziragsdale.com, with the help of Designing the Row’s Katherine Forbes. In researching other sites, she had built, I revisited my friend Mary Gauthier’s music and bought her bundle of ten CDs. Beautiful writer and voice in this world.
First and last live concerts that you’ve seen?
Hmmm. The first live concert was surely my dad’s (Ray Stevens), before I could get out on my own. Unless my parents took us to someone else’s show. My earliest memory of that was when Dad was doing a segment on the Jerry Lewis Telethon and he and my mom brought me and my sister, Timi, to the live TV show. At the time, maybe 1970, there was a sitcom on TV called Family Affair and one of its child stars was Johnnie Whittaker. Jody was his character’s name and Buffy was his little red-headed sister. Anyhow, I digress, so, Johnnie Whittaker was THERE! At the telethon. And Timi and I got to meet him and have our pictures taken with him and sing “It’s A Small World After All” with him! Cool for a six-year-old.
Then in 1979, I went with friends to the Municipal Auditorium to see Yes in the round with opening act, Pat Travers. Boom Boom (Out go the Lights)!
Last live concert was taking my friend and producer, Sam Frank, to the CabaRay to see my father’s show. This was early March of this year, before the Coronavirus shut all large gatherings down until future notice. Just before that on Valentine’s Day, Sam and I took in the Wood Brothers concert at the Ryman Auditorium.
Whose star should be added to the Music City Walk of Fame?
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit!!!!!
Where do you go in Nashville for coffee and pizza?
Not a big coffee drinker, I usually just have one cup at home. I’ve always liked Bongo Java on Belmont Blvd. though. Since moving out to Kingston Springs, I’ve discovered Skyking Pizza. Wood-fired and handmade to order, it’s easily the best pizza I’ve ever had, and were I still in Nashville, I’d happily make the 30-minute drive for one of their artisan creations. Before I knew of Skyking, I’d go to Mafiaoza’s on 12th Avenue if I had a pizza craving.
What’s your favorite record to ever come out of Nashville?
Well now, that’s nearly impossible to answer! Maybe Darrell Scott’s Aloha from Nashville? Maybe my dad’s Turn Your Radio On or Misty? Maybe Jason Isbell’s Southeastern or something from Guy Clark or Kristofferson. I could list a thousand and not be able to say “That’s it! That’s my fave!” It’s like asking what’s your favorite color or food. I like everything that’s good. And that’s potentially subjective.
Where’s the best place to eat late night after a show?
Back in the day, as they say, the Sunset Grill in Hillsboro Village had a great late-night menu. Before that even, when I’d leave Bogey’s after a Pat McLaughlin show, we’d meet at B. Palola’s on Hayes Street for baked gouda en croute. And there’s the Hermitage Diner on 1st Avenue North for steak and eggs at 2 am. These days, maybe The Diner on 3rd & Demonbreun. They were a 24-hour place with six floors of dining options: sushi, hot chicken, you name it. Currently, everyone has to shut down at 10 pm in a seemingly arbitrary effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 (Like I can’t catch it at 9:55?). I’d rather be safe than sorry, so my favorite place would be home! I love to cook and I’m always ravenous after a show.
The Bluebird calls and asks you to host an “In the Round.” Pick three local songwriters to join you.
Hmmm … so many to choose from! Maybe Rodney Crowell, Gabe Dixon and John Hiatt? Don Schlitz, Pat McLaughlin and Beth Neilson Chapman? Marcus Hummon, Mary Gauthier and Darrell Scott!
What are your favorite music venues to play in town?
Up until this June I’d have said Douglas Corner. That was my home base for playing since about 1991. Unfortunately, the venue on 8th Avenue S. and Douglas has closed, but I’m looking forward to the online resurrection that I’m told is in the works! I’ve always loved playing at the Bluebird too. Sang harmony with Frank Sheen there the year it opened, 1982, I think, when Amy Kurland owned and operated. 3rd and Lindsley is fantastic as well. It always was, even before the big remodel.
Name a musician who you’d like to see move here.
Paul Simon? Randy Newman? I know! My producer, Sam Frank! Nashville would eat him up.
Finally, what’s in your musical future?
I’m all for having goals and making plans but I’ve learned that I can’t predict the future and that the best laid plans, etc. My biggest challenge is being present, so I don’t miss the moment and all it has to offer. That being said, I might make a vision board with pics and things that represent those goals being achieved. The vision board would include making a record or two with my father, sooner than later, organizing live-feed house concerts with my favorite players, touring and playing songwriter festivals and concerts around the world and writing and recording new music whenever possible. More immediately, as we’re all staying home a bit more, I plan to go through all the little piles and scraps of paper with lyric ideas scribbled on them and see what jumps out at me, begging to be written. Playing more piano and accordion and finally spending time with the lovely parlor guitar I bought last year. If I’m blessed with a long life, I hope to be making music, listening and learning and sharing, right up ‘til the end.