Wednesday, May 13, 2009

saltwater music: del suggs

Saltwater music specialist Del Suggs will be one of the artists taking part in a new series we have on tap here at Music Road. Starting in late June, we'll be running a regular series on teaching and learning music, with ideas from Del Suggs and other artists you met here along the music road, plus a few new guests as well. If you teach music, study it, think you would like to, or know someone who is a muscian, you'll find much of interest to look forward to. We'll be talking about both the creative and the technical side of things. Stay tuned here at Music Road for details.

And just what is saltwater music, anyway? Read on.

A Del Suggs set might include James Taylor's song Fire & Rain, Procol Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale, or the traditional folk song Shenandoah, but most of the songs you’d hear him do are his own, a Jimmy Buffet meets James Taylor meets Gamble Rogers sort of blend that Suggs calls saltwater music. "I've been influenced by all that great music of the sixties and seventies. People ahd much more diverse tastes then. I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, and right away I knew that's what I wanted to do," he says. He’s has taken those early influences on to build a career as a singer, songwriter, and lately, as a motivational speaker too.

Suggs grew up in Panama City on Florida's panhandle coast. Florida, the Gulf coast, and the Caribbean, all feature in his songs, which have titles like Caribbean Money, Hurricane's Comin', Break in the Weather, and Standing in the Rain, and his albums include Floating on the Surface and Wooden Boat. "I had a real, professional band from the time I was about fifteen, in tenth grade, I guess," he says. "We were called the Haze, as in Jimi Hendrix and the Purple Haze. We went around and played high schools, military bases, all over the area. We played rock 'n' roll." Suggs played bass in the group, a role he also took on with his next band, Cross Creek, which lasted through undergraduate and master's degree studies at Florida State University in Tallahassee. They played a mix of what today would be called Americana music. The band broke up eventually, and Suggs, who'd always played guitar and written songs on the side of his band projects, decided to go on his own as a solo artist.

It wasn't a decision he came to lightly. He'd seen some of the darker and drearier sides of the music life through his touring with his bands,. He'd seen good sides too "I was really fortunate early in my career to meet a couple of people who really had a lasting impact on me. Steve Meisburg, of the duo Meisburg and Walters, was one of them, just the epitome of a gentleman and really changed my idea of what a musician could be. The other was Gamble Rogers, who was just as good to me as anybody has ever been." Rogers, known for his cracker barrel humor and fine singing gand playing, opened doors for the young musician professionally and personally. "I'd call places looking for work and say I'd opened for Gamble, and they'd say, oh, okay, you can come play," he recalled. "If I was out on the road somewhere and I'd pop in to see him play, he'd always notice me in the audience, and point out 'oh, Del Suggs is here.' They had no idea who I was, of course, but just by the fact that Gamble had pointed me out from the stage, they noticed me -- he always did things like that."

Before long, Suggs was building his own reputation. He's played many kids of venues and his music has received airplay from Eiuope to Australia, but he decided years ago to concentrate on playing at colleges. "For one thing, " he says, laughing, "if only a few people showed up, the activities director would apologize to me and promise to have more people when they brought me back." Working at colleges also fit with Suggs' easy going personality, the stories he loves to tell about his songs, and his interest in teaching. That master's degree he earned at Florida State was in education. It surprised him, though, when one of the organizers of a college conference where he'd been booked to play suggested he ought to be giving one of the talks. He decided to pursue the idea, though it scared him at first. "Getting up on stage with just a microphone, no guitar, just to talk for forty five minutes, no singing, that was terrifying," he says. Why did he take the risk? "I think because I felt I had something to say, something to contribute. I've got techniques I've used and applied in my own life, and seen how they work, ways to set goals and achieve them." He must have been right. His talks on setting an achieving goals have become popular at colleges across the country and he now speaks on several related topics as well. He's written regular columns for publications for college administrators, also, and is currently mulling the idea of turning these into a book.

Music is still at the heart of it, though. In addition to writing and performing, he collaborates on and produces projects with other artists including Carrie Hambly, Mimi Hearn, and Tammerlin. The song writing is a continuing journey too. On his most recent album. Living Deliberately, Suggs challenged himself to add new flavors to his Gulf coast gumbo, writing a starkly moving piece called Standing in the Rain which touches on the life of the homeless, and kicking things up in lively fashion with a Cajun flavored song called Bayou Josie. There's also a cover of the Gram Parsons song Brass Buttons, and a bit of mid life reflection in the title cut. Whatever it is, it's still Del Suggs, and it's still saltwater music.

Next up for the Florida based singer and songwriter are more college tour dates and some speaking engagements. He's also producing a collection of Christmas songs based on an annual tradition he shares with Pierce Pettis, Danica Winter, and other musicians, The Almost Christmas Concerts. You may find out more about Del Suggs and his music at his web site

for more songs of the sea and the waters, you may also want to see

Music Road: now playing: Jennifer Cutting & the Ocean Orchestra

Music Road: now playing: Cathie Ryan: The Farthest Wave

Music Road: now playing: Souls of the Sea

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


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