Interview: Suzy Bogguss Reflects on 2014’s ‘Lucky’, and Merle Haggard’s Long Impact on Her Career
Looking back at at Lucky, her 2014 collection of Merle Haggard covers, Suzy Bogguss can't speak about Haggard's mark on her career without mentioning his influence on her as a country music fan. She learned to love the genre from her dad's 8-tracks -- but, just like a trusty farm dog, the music stayed outdoors.
"Yes, it stayed outside," Bogguss tells The Boot with a laugh. "The country did not make it into the house. The country was only in my dad's car."
Inside the house, Bogguss' siblings each had their preferred style of music; her mom, a Big Band fan who loved Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra, did too. It was outside, away from the record collections her siblings didn't let her touch, that the singer got her first tastes of iconic country music.
"I grew up listening to [Haggard] ... [My dad] had all the greats on 8-track," Bogguss explains. "I inherited that car that had all the 8-tracks -- you know, Buck Owens, Marty Robbins, Ray Price, all those great combination records -- Patsy Cline, that kind of stuff. That's really where I got my country side."
That foundation served Bogguss well later on, when her major-label studio debut, Somewhere Between, took a Haggard classic as its title track. She even played some shows with the country giant, leading to a lighthearted misunderstanding that almost cost her a career song.
"I was doing soundcheck, and he was hanging out on the bus and heard me singing "Outbound Plane." He said, 'Where'd you get that song?! I want that song!'" Bogguss recounts. "I said, 'Oh, please don't take that song! I really love this song! I think it's just what I need.' He was just teasing me about it. But it's so funny, because if Merle would have taken that song, I would have been left out in a storm, you know? He had a great sense of humor."
Haggard may have joked about swiping Bogguss' song out from under her, but his songs have been a constant throughout her career. When she began to to compile the tracks for Lucky, Bogguss shied away from calling the project a tribute album, because Haggard was still actively touring and performing -- not a legacy artist by any means.
"I actually called him before I did it, just to make sure that he understood that I wasn't trying to say that he was passé. He was still touring like crazy at the time," she points out. "I just wanted to let him know that my idea was to highlight that his songs were so equal, gender-wise, that it didn't matter -- I mean, I had to change, like, two words in 12 songs, because they were so universal."
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Not only did Haggard give her his blessing, but when she finished the album, he was among the first people that Bogguss wanted to have a copy of the record. Getting a copy into Haggard's hands turned out to be easier said than done, but she knew him well enough to provide a backup.
"I had two copies of it mastered. Marty Stuart was going out to play at [Haggard]'s daughter's wedding, and so I gave the two copies to him," she says. "I said, 'Please put one in his hand, but because he's going to be really distracted that day, put one at his studio in his house, so he's got a copy later on.'
"Of course, he did lose the first one," Bogguss continues. "He called me up and said, 'Hey, I heard you finished that record, and I wanna hear it.' I said, 'There's a copy in your studio right now.' He said, 'Okay, well, I'm gonna go see if I can find it. Oh my God, here it is!'"
Haggard and his family listened to Lucky the same day. "He said, 'I'm just so thrilled with it. You did such a great job of singing these songs from a girl's standpoint, without it seeming strange at all,'" Bogguss recalls, adding that Haggard had been particularly tickled by hearing her sing "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink."
"He thought that was really funny," Bogguss adds with a chuckle.
Haggard died two years after the release of Lucky, in 2016. Bogguss' project would, no doubt, have been a different album had it been recorded after his death, and she's thankful that he lived to listen to it.
"Man, I'm so glad it came out before [he died]," she says. Had she made the record afterward, it might have focused more on paying tribute to the legendary performer, but as it stands, the project deals more with getting back to a kind of musical style that Bogguss had experienced the first time she covered a Haggard track, back on Somewhere Between.
"I was really thinking that I missed that soul that "Somewhere Between" had in it, that was a Merle Haggard song," she explains. "And that I wanted to get some of that country style back into my singing, so that I could have that real connection, with delivering a real human story. This is not 'I have to think of something creative right now;' it was more like, 'I wanna get down to a real basic part of our human relationships.'"
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