I hope this doesn't sound too weird to you," says local country artist Dustin Bogue, "but if I ever do make it, I want to make a movie about my life and all that I've been through. I know this is just the beginning, but my road has been amazing."
With or without a companion screenplay, Bogue's route to possible stardom reads like the work of some Music City PR hack. Raised in the small town of Sac City, Iowa, Bogue nearly died at seventeen from a hereditary liver disorder that years before had taken the life of his brother. In the clutches of that illness, Bogue came under the sponsorship of the Make-A-Wish Foundation; the group fulfilled his dream of meeting country star George Strait face-to-face. The encounter fueled Bogue's own ambition of having a career as a musician -- something he has pursued with a healthy vigor since recovering from his illness and moving to Denver five years ago.
Today Bogue is one of the more likely candidates to "make it" out of the Front Range country ranks. For starters, he recently landed the sought-after slot of house band at the Stampede in Aurora. He also just released his debut CD, Bound and Born, which has earned praising ink in the press as well as secured airplay in a few markets around the region. This summer he appeared at a Make-A-Wish event in Kansas, this time as one of the featured performers. Better still, Bogue has just completed a small-town-boy-makes-good homecoming in Sac City, where he performed a pair of sold-out shows at his old high school. Bogue's musical tribute to his home state, "Iowa" (from his new release), has become something of a regional hit in heartland country.
The Stampede, 2430 South Havana Road
9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday nights
"People were coming from a hundred miles away to be there," Bogue says of the show. "When we got to the last chorus of 'Iowa' I just backed off the microphone and let the crowd sing the last chorus. It was pure magic. I cried on stage, it was so emotional," he adds, "and I don't think I was the only one crying in the room, either."
Bogue's fans in Colorado are also singing his tunes and praises, thanks in large measure to his tendency to mix both familiar and original music. While most players in the local country circuit are content to earn their pay doing the material of others, Bogue is carving his path with his own compositions. Bound is a solid collection of contemporary tunes (recorded and mixed by Denver's John Macy), a new-country platter based in tradition but with plenty of rock-and-roll touches. It features Chuck Berry-style anthems ("Redneckin'"), sad laments ("Bound and Born to Lose"), boot-scootin' raveups ( "Iowa" ) and sentimental, radio-ready numbers such as "Like I Miss You." Like any respectable country disc, it's got the obligatory ballad ("Long Enough") and a couple of social commentaries ("Saturdays," "Downtown"). And there's a dark little fightin' song, "Down on His Knees," that would make Hank Williams Jr. proud.
The disc's themes -- drinkin' beer, cruising in pickups, lost love, football, lousy dads, country-music heroes and more -- and its early-Garth feel make it a far cry better than most of what's on country radio today. Yet its heartfelt tone might rule it out for alt-country snoots who wouldn't be caught dead in denim at the joints where Bogue performs. "You and I might look at a honkytonk with a little different perspective," he says politely. "I walk into a honkytonk that I've never been in before and it's one of the most exciting points of my month."
When Bogue hits the boards at the Stampede, he certainly looks at home. And it's clear he understands that success in a nightclub market often means giving the crowd what they want: covers and more covers. At a recent Stampede show (Bogue plays there Thursday through Saturday nearly every weekend), he and his mates served up a set of familiar tunes that kept the crowd in motion on the club's massive, roller-rink-like dance floor. Bogue and his pals began their set with Hank Williams's "Jambalaya," a version as tight as the jeans on some of the well-toned couples doing laps on the dance floor. Bogue sang the song in a manly voice with plenty of dips and bends, a nice compliment to the skilled playing of his pals.
As the band rumbled through Elvis Presley's "Little Sister," a buxom woman in a tank top bucked back and forth on a mechanical bull to one side of the stage; her free hand rocked above her head in a pose that mimicked the professional bull riders beaming in on the club's giant TV screens. A few songs later, the band kicked through a Chuck Berry tune -- and another rider was dumped from the mechanical steer. As the man gathered his wits in the pit's foam-rubber pillows, the robotic bull gently spun on its axis, its rear end stopping inches from the man's face. On this night, like many others, Bogue's soloists (guitarist Mitch Jervis and clad-in-overalls harmonica player Sparky Brooks) delivered professional hotshot efforts of their own. Before the set's end, the band glided through a country version of "Margaritaville," to the delight of a woman in painted-on red-and-white denim jeans, the Lonestar of Texas stretched across her backside.
"The Stampede is a dance bar, and people want to hear the songs that they know," Bogue says of his song selections. "So I have to play the songs they want to hear. But they're totally for us playing originals, and when we open for national acts we do pretty much all originals. The people who see us regularly, they sit in front and sing the songs with us," he says. "It sure makes me feel good."
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Bogue counts Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, George Jones and George Strait among his idols and influences. He also cites Nashville's reigning king as an influence, albeit one who has fallen out of his favor. "I loved Garth's stuff when he first came out," Bogue says. "But he's gotten too commercial, and he can't relate to the common person anymore. The common man is gone out of him because he's Mega-Garth." That common-man connection is important for Bogue. "We played in Vail," Bogue says of his recent stint at Michael Martin Murphy's Westfest, "and the people said nice things about us and danced to it, but I don't think they got into it. They were kind of upscale, and I didn't feel like I moved anybody. But the next night we played in Oak Creek to hillbillies and rednecks. Nice people, you know. And by the third song we grabbed a hold of them and they loved us. We moved some people there, and that's what we're in it for."
Bogue's turn in July as a Make-A-Wish performer also moved a few spirits, while serving as a chance for him to return a favor to an outfit that had a significant impact on his life. A double-bill with major-leaguer Nashville act Kevin Sharp (also a MAW beneficiary), the event raised $12,000 for the organization's Kansas chapter. It ended with the two men signing autographs for hundreds of ill and disabled children in the audience -- the sort of event country stars use to great public-relations advantage while raising the ire of cynics. "I see country stars in Country Weekly doing things at the Children's Hospital or something," he acknowledges, "and you do wonder if they're there for the kids or because they want to be in the magazine. But this wasn't about press for us, and we didn't get any money for doing it. It's about raising $12,000, enough to pay for almost three kids to get wishes granted to them. If that's not reason to make someone do that, I don't know what would be."
Over the next few months Bogue will be holding court at the Stampede and opening for a series of upcoming national acts set to appear there. He'll also be working on building his audience and more new material, which he hopes will help him land a major deal when some label comes a-calling. Even if he knows the climate in Nashville has changed for the worse for guys like him.
"It's got to be the formula 'This is how we make songs; it's got to fit the format.' But my goal is to stay rootsy, and I'm not afraid to be country. Cheating and drinking songs, those are what I grew up on, and that's what I like. And I like my songs to have emotion, to be really happy or really sad." At the same time, he notes, "there's so many guys out there now that are country, and they've proven that it isn't going to sell right now. But I'm not worried about that," he adds, "I've got a little rebel in me. I mean, I'm a God-fearing, God-loving Christian, and I live pretty well. But I don't want to be known as a softie. I like redneckin', you know."