Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Merle Haggard

I knew Merle was in bad shape when he canceled his spring tour but he never fully recovered from getting double phenomena and on his 79th birthday Merle checked out of this world.

For myself, Merle's best years were on Capitol and during the mid 60s when he scored a major hit with Branded Man and The Fugitive.  But while he was famous for those prison songs, Merle Haggard also expressed a genuine love of Bob Wills and made a classic album called A Tribute To The Best Damn Fiddle Player and Merle appeared on Wills last album For The Last Time.  To which Wills was in poor health and would later pass away but Haggard's version of Cherokee Maiden is a fun listen.   Another good concept LP was My Love Affair With Trains.  Haggard recorded something like 50 albums for Capitol it seems and most do hold up.

When Merle left for MCA, the albums were more honky tonk and a bit more polished.  I Think I'll Stay Here And Drink is my favorite song from that era.  But by the time he went to Epic I don't think I paid much attention anymore.  Perhaps it was the canned and sterile 80s production that sink most of those albums I don't know.  He made a couple albums for the punk rock Anti label and returned to Capitol for a couple of forgotten albums but his later albums were with Willie Nelson and the late George Jones, one of which was Kicking Out The Lights or Floodlights, one of the two titles.

Overall, Merle between 1965 and 1975 made some of the best country songs.  The misunderstood Okie From Muskogee, The Fighting Side Of Me, Sidewalks Of Chicago and Mama Tried are top notch songs.  Even the lesser known like It's All In The Movies, It's Not Love But It's Not Bad have a soft spot in my heart.  But while pundits poopooed Movin On, the TV theme for that forgotten show, I liked it fine.   Even Lynyrd Skynyrd covered his Honky Tonk Nighttime Man and should have covered The Old Man From The Mountain.

Yet again, the Grim Reaper is working overtime this year and being a musician seems to be on top of that list of people saying goodbye.  With the passing of Merle Haggard, old time country and western is falling by the wayside, replaced by garbage from the likes of Kane Brown and maybe Merle seen enough of Bro Country White Trash just to say the hell with it all.   The old man from the mountain has returned home once again.


From Charlie Daniels:

I was in the recording studio working on an album on April 6 when I received a text from my manager with only one line.

“Merle Haggard has died.”

I immediately shared it on Twitter and almost as immediately, Paula, our publicist, started receiving calls from media outlets looking for reaction about Merle's death from industry people, and within an hour or so we had the first of three TV crews who came out to tape interviews.

Such was the stature of Merle Haggard in Music City and the music community in general and as the entertainment reporters scrambled to get something together for the early news, I had occasion to express the way I feel about the Hag, the legend that he was, the songs he wrote and sang and the long shadow he cast over American music for five decades.

You can count on your fingers the number of people in country music who reached the status of being recognized by just their first name. Elvis, Hank, Loretta, Willie, Dolly, Garth, and a precious few others ever breathed that rarified air and Merle was one of them. When you said Merle, anybody who knew the least thing about country music knew who you were talking about.

You could hear one of his songs you'd never heard and after you'd listened to the first line you knew it was Merle.

Now, just how many modern day singers can you say that about today. In this homogenized, cookie cutter, copycat affair that the mainstream record business has become, Merle was always recognizable, a breath of fresh water among the stale atmosphere of modern day country music.
Merle wrote and sang in a style and vocabulary that was understood by the common man and like Hank Williams and George Jones, held a special place in their hearts, a "he's one of us" type place, that transcended the artist-Fan relationship.

People truly loved Merle and related to the heartbreak, hard drinking, outlaw songs he sang like nobody else could.

He inspired at least two generations of aspiring country singers and up until the recent country rap, “bro country” or whatever the title du jour came along, you could hear a little bit of Merle in the vocal style of a lot of young country singers.

To say Merle lived a full and sometimes tumultuous life would be an understatement. He was married five times and there seems to be a gray area as to whether he did or did not spend time in prison.
He always kept a top-notch band and traveled the country right up until his health wouldn't allow him to get on the bus and head down the road anymore, and I'm sure that had to be one of the saddest days of his life.

I remember the first rime I ever saw him, some 48 or so years ago. He knocked my socks off. The simplistic style of the music the band played behind him emphasized the lyrics he was singing in that one of a kind voice, no tricks, no gimmicks, no musical acrobatics, just four guys and Merle putting out a sound that hit you right in the part of your heart where your emotions live.

Merle's individuality and unique style will leave a gap in country music, a gap that cannot be filled by anybody, present or future.

The Lord only made one Merle Haggard.

Rest in peace, sir and thank you for the music that will set the standard for many years to come.

In 1978, Merle Haggard played at a Texas bar that had the Sex Pistols come through town and played a gig, there's a website that documents that turn of events:

And now Dennis Davis, drummer for David Bowie's Station To Station album has passed away too!

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