A coffee shop on Hollywood Boulevard seemed a strange place to talk about Merle Haggard with country singer Suzy Bogguss, who’s about to release her new tribute album to the Bard of Bakersfield, “Lucky.”
But while she was briefly in town this week, we connected to talk about the latest project from a singer who first surfaced in 1989 with her album “Somewhere Between,” which drew its title from the Haggard song that also was her first charting single.
“He’s always been one of my favorite artists since I was a kid,” the 57-year-old Aledo, Ill., native told Pop & Hiss just a few hours before she heads to the Grammy Museum for a Q&A session and mini-performance tonight, ahead of the album’s release Feb. 4. “I decided to make this album to share my feeling about just what a great songwriter he is.”
The genesis of the album, which includes Haggard touchstone songs such as “Today I Started Loving You Again,” “The Bottle Let Me Down” and “If We Make It Through December” as well as some deeper cuts, was requests from fans over the years about acquiring a physical copy of “Somewhere Between” now that the original LP and CD are long out of print.
“I thought, 'Should I release a live version?' I didn’t want to re-record it -- I’d already done it. That didn’t make sense,” she said, wearing a python-print silk jacket over a blue western shirt with piping on the pockets.
The question of how to address fans’ interest in her interpretations of Haggard’s music got her thinking about recording more of his songs. That morphed into the concept of a full-on Haggard tribute album.
“His lyrics are so economical,” she said. “It sounds so casual, like he just sits down and writes, ‘Well, this is what I’m feeling today.’ But it’s so beautifully done, and so artfully written you know it’s been very carefully created.”
She recorded “Lucky” for her own Loyal Dutchess Records label, her fifth self-released album, but this time out she launched a Kickstarter campaign to generate funds and grass-roots support to get the word out. She set the goal of $50,000, and took in more than $75,000 from 964 fans.
In the statement she posted on the fund-raising site Kickstarter, she wrote: “Having been liberated from the treadmill of making records for a major label, I asked myself, ‘Self, what do I want to do now?’ And the answer was this album. I titled it ‘Lucky’ because that’s how I feel. This is not a tribute album. Merle is a great artist and his recordings of these songs are timeless and will stand on their own forever. I wanted to make a new Suzy Bogguss album (excuse the third person) with the best country songs I could find -- and this is it!"
More than 160 people bought in at support levels of $100 or more, which brought them various donation premiums, including an intimate living room performance (a perk purchased by three donors at the $5,000 level).
“It’s great,” she said of the fan-funding process. “People really feel connected to it, and even after donating, they get out there and keep spreading the word about it.”
Bogguss will take the album on tour and will emphasize the Haggard material in the early going, she said. The tour opens Feb. 4, the day the album is released, and heads west for stops in California on Feb. 22 in Auburn and Feb. 23 in Berkeley. She said she hopes to add a date in San Diego or Los Angeles if she can find the right venue that’s available.
Follow Randy Lewis on Twitter: @RandyLewis2