Suzy Bogguss gets ‘Lucky’ with Merle Haggard’s repertoire
You can’t really go wrong with the songs of Merle Haggard. That’s the lesson country artist Suzy Bogguss learned in 1989 when her album “Somewhere Between” drew its title from the Haggard song that was also her first single to make the charts.
On her new album, “Lucky,” Bogguss returns to the Haggard songbook, but this time it’s a full menu of songs penned by the Bard of Bakersfield. Included are timeless classics — “Silver Wings,” “Today I Started Loving You Again” and “The Bottle Let Me Down” — as well as deeper cuts from Haggard’s long career.
Bogguss didn’t start out thinking she would go “all Haggard.” She had written a batch of songs headed in the country blues direction when she started delving into Haggard’s work looking for a song or two to record.
“The more I got into it, the more I realized I wanted to sing all of his songs,” Bogguss says in a phone interview from her Nashville, Tenn., home. “Then I had to almost talk myself into doing it.” She decided to choose only songs Haggard had written: “I tried to pick songs I thought would give people a different take when sung by a woman.”
At City Winery on Sunday, Bogguss will highlight songs from the album and be backed by Chris Scruggs (steel guitar, guitar), Charlie Chadwick (bass), Guthrie Trapp (guitar) and Jason Miles (B3 organ).
Bogguss, who grew up in Aledo, Ill., has her father to thank for an early introduction to Haggard’s songs. A machinist at the International Harvester plant in East Moline, he would carpool to work with his buddies, listening to tapes of Haggard’s albums.
“I inherited my dad’s car along with all those 8-tracks,” Bogguss says with a laugh. “I used to buzz around town with the windows rolled down and Merle’s songs blaring. For me that was cool, dangerous music because it was so grown-up.”
Bogguss says “Lucky” is not a tribute but rather “an homage to what a great writer Haggard is. I’m a real wordy writer and Merle’s so economical when it comes to lyrics. He hones it down to some incredibly poignant, deep and serious emotions set around a melody that’s integral to it all.”
“Lucky” is Bogguss’ fifth album on her own Loyal Dutchess Records label. She launched a Kickstarter campaign to get the project off the ground. Her goal was $50,000; she took in more than $75,000 from fans, many of who have followed her since those early days.
The process was not unlike Bogguss’ early days starting out in Peoria when she borrowed money from friends and fans to record her first album. Now without a major label’s publicity machine behind her, Bogguss says the Kickstarter money allowed her to “push the album from the start. In a way it’s almost like starting over and the fans who have been there for you are the ones who buoy you up and keep you going.”
Bogguss says she got Haggard’s blessing before starting work on the album.
“He was so sweet and so complimentary and said he loved the arrangements,” Bogguss says. “He added that he’s always trying to find new ways to interpret the songs and felt that I had done just that.”