Singer goes from homeless to chart-topper in five years
FIVE years ago, New York native Doug Seegers was a homeless country musician busking on the streets of Nashville.
That’s when a Swedish documentary crew filmed him singing his rueful song Going Down to the River and booked him a recording session at Johnny Cash’s old studio. Now Seegers, 66, is one of Scandinavia’s biggest stars: a chart-topper playing to sold-out crowds, with a new memoir, Going Down to the River.
“It’s been a cosmic experience,” Seegers, who splits his time between Nashville and Stockholm, told The Post. Then again, he added, “my life has been full of wildly different changes and scenarios.”
Seegers was born in 1952 in Rockaway Beach. His mother, Marilyn, sang gospel and bluegrass and supported Seegers and his brother through odd jobs. His father, John, was a drifter and ditched the family when Seegers was about eight.
“But he left all his Hank Williams records,” said Seegers, who taught himself guitar by playing along with his dad’s old discs.
He spent the 1970s and ’80s trying to make it as a musician in Manhattan and Austin, Texas, playing in bands and singing his own tunes on the streets.
He then moved to upstate Ithaca to raise a family and pursue woodworking, but was restless. Seegers had dabbled in booze and drugs since high school, and it turned into a full-blown habit around this time. After spending six months in jail for his fourth DUI, Seegers — then nearing 50 — told his two teenage children that he was going to Nashville to pursue music, a decision that pains him today.
While Nashville was more hospitable to the kind of country rock Seegers wrote, it was also fiercely competitive. He slunk further into alcohol and drugs — and eventually lost his home.
“Crack was what stripped me from my music,” he said. “I was selling my instruments to buy more drugs.”
In 2013, after more than a decade in Nashville, Seegers — in a particularly low moment — began to pray. “I could feel [God] letting me know, ‘I’m going to take care of you,’” he recalled. He threw out his vodka and resolved to get clean.
That’s when he met Swedish singer Jill Johnson, who was filming a documentary about street musicians. But Seegers, then living under a bridge, didn’t expect anything to come of the recording session she offered.
“I couldn’t believe it when I heard that my song was No. 1 on Swedish iTunes,” he said.
Soon he had a record deal, a European tour and accolades from personal heroes such as Emmylou Harris. He even reconciled with his kids.
Now working on a new album, Seeger still plays on the street. He just bought a house near Nashville, but said he’ll “always feel like a homeless person.”
“I enjoy the freedom [of being a bit of a drifter],” he said, adding that he still fishes in the trash for furniture and other goods.
“I guess I’m not like most people.”