The ‘Snobs were shocked to see news of Merle Haggard’s
passing. He had been in the headlines
recently having to cancel some of his current tour dates, and had been recently
diagnosed with a double pneumonia. He
died this morning at home, on his 79th birthday. Strangely enough, his son Ben had said that a week ago Merle told his family he would die on his birthday. It came true, he died from complications due to the pneumonia. (Also strange to note that Tammy Wynette died on this very day back in ‘98)
Merle had a varied and colorful life, and probably was the
man who single handedly brought ‘hoboing’ to the public’s attention. He was actually born in a converted boxcar,
right outside of Bakersfield. He did time, in San Quentin, for an attempted
robbery. He and another inmate planned
to escape, but things went all wrong.
Merle got drunk and thrown in solitary while his buddy escaped and shot
a policeman. He was brought back to
prison and executed. This was added
stress to Merle’s preoccupation with news that his wife was having another man’s
child. Everything changed for the better
though the day Johnny Cash performed his famous concert at the prison. Merle was in the crowd and decided to turn
his life around. Later, after getting
his career well off ground, his criminal record was fully pardoned by Ronald
Hag was considered one of the main architects of the ‘Bakersfield
Sound’, a more raw and dirty honky-tonk sound flying in direct opposition of
the slick sound Nashville
was putting out. He, Buck Owens and Wynn
Stewart were the gang kicking up dust with this new style of country music. Merle actually played a short stint as a
bassist in Buck’s band before starting out on his own and it was a song by Wynn that gave him his first
hit, “Sing A Sad Song” in 1964.
Hag has at least a #1 hit in the charts for 10 years
running, from 1966 to 1976, and had his last #1 in 1987. All in all, he had 38 songs hit the top of
the charts. He had countless awards
throughout his career and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in
1994. In his acceptance speech, the
first person he thanked was his plumber.
More recently, Merle was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor, for his
contribution to American culture.
Hag’s last album came out last year, a duet with Willie
Nelson, ‘Django & Jimmie’. The album
was an ode to Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers, both major influences on
Willie and Hag. The album hit #1 on the
country charts and #7 on the Top 200.
Hag released over 47 studio albums and 14 collaborations (6 with Willie
Merle was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008. He had surgery to remove a part of his lung,
but still went on the road to play over 100 shows a year. Is health had become a concern over the last
several months, with intermittent shows having to be canceled. At one point a photo was published of a fan
praying outside his tour bus. He was a
giant in country music and fiercely patriotic, a real working man’s man.
“If we ever get married,” James started as he leaned against the back of the couch, “ah’d like t’ have our first slow dance be somethin’ in timeless country. Ya know, Hank Williams or Merle Haggard or even Willie Nelson.”