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Once Homeless, 62-Year-Old Doug Seegers Releases Debut Country Album

Glenn Gamboa

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Newsday

(MCT)

Doug Seegers is set to be country’s next star.

The Long Island, N.Y., native’s debut album, “Going Down to the River” (Rounder), out this week, features a duet with Emmylou Harris and appearances from his old friend and former bandmate Buddy Miller, who was in Robert Plant’s Band of Joy and is known for his work on the ABC drama “Nashville.” Seegers’ album has already hit No. 1 on the charts in Sweden, knocking Coldplay’s “Ghost Stories” from the top spot. He sold out 60 shows there this summer, even though he doesn’t speak Swedish.

Of course, that’s only a small surprise in Seegers’ incredible story — one of overcoming heartbreaking odds the way they do in made-up country songs. That ache you hear in the 62-year-old’s plaintive voice is real, born from the bad choices and the bad luck he has endured in his life. The thing is, the triumph you hear in his voice on the honky-tonk anthem “Hard Working Man” is real, too.

Seegers remembers the exact moment, earlier this year, when he decided to turn his life around.

He had fallen in love with a woman, who, like Seegers, was homeless and struggling on the streets of Nashville. He was laid off from the custom woodworking jobs he had held off and on since leaving Long Island. “I was supposed to be her knight in shining armor,” he recalled. “But I was falling down to her level.”

They had just had another fight that Seegers was trying to forget. “I had been drinking real heavy, and I was outside this abandoned church in Nashville,” he said. “I had a pint of vodka in me and an other on me. I looked up to the sky and asked God for his help, to help me out of this lifestyle. I really believe he brought all this to me.”

But Seegers was still homeless, living under a bridge, a few weeks later. That’s when Stacey Downey of The Little Pantry That Could, which provides food to the homeless of Nashville, told Seegers to meet a documentary team from Sweden that wanted to talk to him.

He was still mourning his split with his girlfriend, but because Seegers considers Downey “the Mother Teresa of Nashville,” he agreed to meet with the documentary crew hosted by Swedish country singer Jill Johnson. “I went out there, and they had all these cameras, there were all these fancy people with fancy clothes,” he said. “I asked them if I could sing a song and they said, ‘Sure.’ So I sang them a song that I wrote called ‘Going Down to the River.’ … Well, I hate to brag, but she flipped out.”

Seegers’ life became a whirlwind after that. Johnson quickly booked studio time, and they recorded “Going Down to the River,” which ended up topping the iTunes charts in Sweden when the documentary aired there earlier this year. They also worked on an album of mostly Seegers’ originals that became his debut, hitting No. 1 in Sweden when it was released in June.

Seegers had to go to the library to look it up on the Internet to see for himself. “I was in shock,” he said. “It really was amazing.”

His turnaround is even more amazing. He now has a home in Nashville — not under a bridge, he is quick to point out — and is excited about touring the United States with his music.

That’s not what has surprised him most, though. Seegers remembers being asked to speak at a homeless shelter in Oslo, Norway.

“I just got the urge to talk to them and I just started crying, talking about God and how God brought me out of my bad habits,” he said. “I was trying to be inspirational and got choked up, but I think it was all right to do that… . That’s the kind of stuff that makes me feel wealthy.”

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©2014 Newsday

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Once Homeless, 62-Year-Old Doug Seegers Releases Debut Country Album