With Sweden calling, Doug Seegers has finally been given the chance to perform his music on an international stage.
Mention the name Doug Seegers to any country music aficionado and you will probably be greeted with a look of bemusement. There is one country, however, where the name Doug Seegers is very familiar to many. The reason for this familiarity is for the simple reason that the country of Sweden is responsible for bringing the name Doug Seegers to the nation’s attention but also alerted many others and, in particular, his home of Nashville.
You may be wondering how a country situated in Europe and lying some considerable distance from the United States is one of the main reasons for unearthing this mercurial talent, who has been likened to such country greats as Hank Williams, Bob Wills and Johnny Cash. As bizarre as this association may sound, it makes for one hell of a story as it happened more by chance than the often used conventional methods by the music industry for discovering new talent.
The reason why Doug Seegers’ profile is on the ascendency in one out of three Scandinavian countries is largely due to an original composition by the name of ‘Going Down To The River’, which sparked some initial interest before escalating to extreme proportions once word broke out via various social media sites due to experiencing a vocal that is full of character, honesty and evoking memories of the aforementioned country legends. In addition, a proposed Swedish documentary that actually came to fruition focusing on street performers in Nashville and headed by Jill Andersen and Magnus Carlson, chanced upon Doug Seegers, who agreed to an interview providing that he could flex his vocal chords and air ‘Going Down To The River’ at his own behest.
With the resulting documentary screened by Swedish TV on the Jills Veranda show, the name Doug Seegers has taken a turn for the good, which has seen this (former) street performer get to a position where his previous residency of living under a bridge somewhere in Nashville is no longer a necessity as finally some peace has been found through his passion for music. As mentioned earlier, it makes for one hell of a story and something which needs to be told by the man himself, Doug Seegers.
“Well, I guess we’re hoping it turns into a good story,” croaks Doug Seegers before taking a sip of his coffee and resuming. “Actually, it’s a heaven of a story if I may correct you, it’s not a hell of a story, it’s a heaven of a story. It all began when I was born as my mother and father were country performers as they were in a band together. So I was born into what I do, and that’s where it began to answer your question. I was born with the joy of music running through my veins. My big love in life is making music.”
Can you remember what age you were when you first picked up the guitar?
“Yes, I was 8 years old,” Doug replies without any hesitation. “I [remember] playing on my mom’s guitar at the time. I wanted to get an electric guitar as my mom had just an acoustic guitar without a pickup on it. Before my dad left – he left [home] and never returned when I was 8 years old – he sat me down one day and gave me a record by Hank Williams and the Drifting Cowboys and said that if I could learn how to play it, then he would buy me a brand new electric guitar. My eyes lit up and I got to work right away. Unfortunately, it took quite a while for me to learn it because I was just a little kid and he was long gone by the time I had learnt the song.”
Despite various bouts of homelessness throughout the years hampering any chance of pursuing a career in music, Doug Seegers route to musical recognition was also side-lined due to taking pride in family responsibilities and the daily grind of the nine to five occupation. Interestingly, all of this was taking place in New York as the transition to the country roots of Nashville was still some way off.
“I had a family in New York and I would’ve gone to Nashville twenty-five years earlier, but I had to raise my kids. Like I said before, my dad walked out on me and I think that was my best lesson for being a good father was the fact that I had a father that s*** canned me, and there was no way that I was going to leave my kids as little children. So I had to stay and raise my kids before I got the chance to go to Nashville, and that’s why what you’ve got here is an old man hanging on for dear life right now [laughing]!”
If you had stayed in New York, do you think that your music would have adopted a different sound?
“The reason why it’s hard to answer that question is because I only decided to go back to music on a serious level when I retired last November. My stepfather had passed away and left me with a small inheritance which got me off the street immediately. I decided to buy some woodworking tools and built myself a guitar and started progressing real fast. At the same time, I was recording with another producer in Nashville before I had met Jill Johnson, so I was pretty much on the way to putting some songs together. All I can say is that I just wanted to get my music out there. I never explain it by saying I was trying to become a big star or I was trying to make a living, that’s not why I am doing this stuff. I am doing this for one simple reason, and that is that I would like people to hear my music.”
Did you always have a desire to land a record deal or was it something that you never really gave much consideration?
“I’ve given it some consideration, but I haven’t really driven real hard in that direction,” replies Doug after taking another sip of his coffee. “What happened to me was that a friend of my mine asked me one day if I would be interested in talking to someone who was making a documentary on street musicians in Nashville. At first, I told her that I didn’t want to talk to anybody because I was depressed after recently splitting up with a girlfriend of mine. However, she kept asking me and I finally agreed to the idea. Jill Johnson and Magnus Carlson were in town filming the documentary, but I had no idea who they were at the time when all of this happened. All that I knew was that there were some strangers making a documentary and I thought that maybe I could get my song a little exposure if I went and talked to them. So I talked with them and mentioned that I didn’t mind them interviewing me as long as I could perform a song. They thought this was a great idea and I got to play the song ‘Going Down To The River’, which was only about three or four months old at the time, and they instantly fell in love with it. In fact, they liked it so much that Jill [Johnson] asked me if they could record the song in a recording studio. I thought this was a fantastic idea, and we ended up in a studio where Johnny Cash used to record. Once the song was recorded, it ended up number one on the iTunes music chart in Sweden within a matter of days, which was incredible!”
It must have come as a complete shock that a country such as Sweden, which is a long way from the States, has taken to your music. Can you remember what your initial feelings were when all of this happened to you?
“What I found out later on, once we started going through all of the motions of gaining all of this recognition and getting to know people that I didn’t know from before, Jill Johnson actually travels to Nashville quite a bit and deals with co-writing with other musicians that she knows in Nashville. A lot of people from Sweden really like Nashville and I see quite a few of them over there, and that’s pretty much how it started as they like Nashville and just happened to bump into me one day. You could call that luck, but I call it a blessing.”
Do you pinch yourself sometimes to see whether this is a dream or not?
“There is a clip in the documentary where I actually mention that, because all of this seems like it’s happened overnight,” comments Doug. “One minute I’m living under a bridge and the next I’m standing in Johnny Cash’s studio the following day. I feel like asking somebody to slap me [laughing]! I can’t leave God out of this because I owe that to him as he’s the one who’s doing all of this for me, and the one who brought Jill Johnson to me. For example, I was sitting out in the church parking lot one afternoon getting wasted on vodka and just pounding it down because I was so sick and tired of myself. I remember looking up at the sky and I said, ‘Lord, I need your help, you’ve gotta help me here, as this is not how I want to end my life’ [he breaks off for a moment with tears in his eyes before resuming], and that’s why I owe it to God. It’s a blessing and that’s how I describe it in one word because it’s a blessing and I’ve gotta play my part with him [God] now, as that’s important to me. I actually asked the crowd [gig in Oslo the night before] if it was ok that I played a gospel song. So I played ‘I Met Jesus In A Bar’ and therefore I kinda met him in the middle [laughing]! There’s no doubt that music is medicine; it’s therapy, a free therapy session!”
Considering the periods of homelessness Doug Seegers has experienced in his life to date, he remains a remarkable man and one to be greatly admired for his courage to step back from the brink of self-destruction and find a new lease of life through his country blues. It may have taken some time before the name Doug Seegers started to receive the recognition that it richly deserves, but more than likely, in his own way of thinking and judging from his earlier comments, it was probably meant to happen in this way and in this particular order.
Due to the sensitive nature of the subject of homelessness, Famous Last Words is wary of examining the causes and effects of such a serious topic in relation to Doug Seegers, due to this being a deeply personal matter. Also, there are other forums and areas of academia where such an issue as homelessness can be discussed as this is not the platform for such a debate. However, FLW considered it worthwhile to ask Doug Seegers how he became homeless and what this meant to him, but at the same time it was made clear to Doug Seegers that if he had no desire to discuss his thoughts regarding parts of his former life of living on the streets of Nashville, then such a discussion did not have to take place.
“I will talk about anything that you want to talk about sir,” comes the courteous reply from Doug Seegers. “To answer your question about homelessness, it’s real easy to become homeless because you lose your job and you’re instantly homeless as you have no income and you can no longer pay your rent. It was not really a big issue for me being homeless. The thing that I find, and I almost want to say irritating but I think that’s a little too hard, is that people are so interested in homelessness as far as they want to talk about it, but why do they want to talk about it? I ask this because it’s not an issue for me. Being homeless for me was being free, like a lion. I look at it differently to other people. In fact, there was a large part of being homeless that I really enjoyed. For example, in the summertime, in the nice weather, we’d go down to the stream and that was our bathtub as we would wash in the stream. It was beautiful. Before the last time that I was homeless, I was staying at a friend’s antique shop. Unfortunately, I got laid off from my job as they hit a slow season. I decided that I wasn’t going to ask my friend for a break in terms of paying the rent by staying there for longer than I needed to, so I basically just left the place and left my friend a note saying that I owed him some money and that I would get it to him as soon as I could. So I was homeless and decided to buy several blankets and went to live under the bridge.”
Have the periods of homelessness provided inspiration for your lyrics?
“Oh yeah, as a lot of my songs are personal and about living life out on the street,” says Doug. “If you consider the word hobo for a moment, this word has a lot of different meanings because when I was a hobo I would consider myself a troubadour, as in the George Strait song. So that hobo lifestyle isn’t over, but it’s never been frowned upon by me because it’s how I maintain my freedom. Every now and then, I gotta take a back step and go and visit my freedom once in a while [laughing].”
Do you think that you will continue to perform on the streets of Nashville once you return home from your promotional tour in Sweden?
“Yes, I will do that until the day I die sir, absolutely. I love it and it’s how I relax. But I know that I’ve gotta start thinking in a new way because when I am finished with touring in Sweden, we have a lot of plans for shows in Nashville and out in California. There are a lot of plans in the works right now because of the success of the record. People are really amazed at the success of the record. I’m amazed at the success of the record! I had no idea that my songs would be successful. I had no clue. I just thought that it would be fun to record an album, and I’m not saying that I don’t like my songs, but I never thought that it would be that good. You need that response from people sometimes, to really get the assurance that what you are producing is worthwhile. I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to being critical about this stuff. So that’s why it comes back to performing out on the street as whenever I write a new song, I will take it out on to the street just to get a response and to see if it means something to somebody.”
Being homeless for me was being free, like a lion. I look at it differently to other people. In fact, there was a large part of being homeless that I really enjoyed."
FLW - From the Tapes
Even country singers love The Beatles. Doug Seegers recounts one memorable moment when performing on the streets of Nashville.
“One of my favourite stories falls in the category of street singing. I had this one afternoon where I decided to play some ‘Beatles songs and, in particular, ‘Rocky Raccoon’ [provides FLW with a brief burst of this song]. All of a sudden, this guy walks past me and gives me a look as he is walking down to his car. I could smell money on this guy and he didn’t put a dime in my guitar case [laughing]! Anyway, he looked at me and slowed down a bit and I’m singing ‘Rocky Raccoon’. I’m watching him as he walked down to his car and he was just about to get into his car when he turned right around and walked back to me and started singing ‘Rocky Raccoon’ with me! I stopped singing and let him finish the song [laughing]. We bonded immediately afterwards, and he mentioned how good it was to sing that song. I commented that he really enjoyed that flashback [laughing] and that he must have Beatlemania, like me, because he remembered every word and he agreed. He actually offered to buy me a guitar at the time because I was playing a smashed up guitar. I appreciated the gesture, but having a really good guitar at that time would have been the wrong thing to do because I was sleeping under a bridge.