merle and willie


Hear Willie Nelson Remember Merle Haggard in New ‘He Won’t Ever Be Gone’

Nelson honors friend and collaborator in heartbreaking final track from 'God’s Problem Child’

Unlike the liberal pop and hip-hop artists who participated in the Women’s Marches around the nation on Saturday, essentially preaching to their choir, country artists possess something unique in igniting change: a kinship with rural America, conservatives and Christians, and the ear of many of those who voted Donald Trump into the presidency. Madonna speaking in bluster and hyperbole won’t change their minds; but a concerned, familiar voice they hear on country radio may be able to relay why this is such a dangerous time and spark dialogue in fans resistant to such bluster.


[I]f you oppose the policies (or lack thereof) of this unqualified president and remain silent? Your apathy would make Johnny Cash roll over in his grave.

Cash, revered as a deity and even referenced in songs by many of today’s stars, never shied away from criticizing social injustice, recording songs like “Man in Black,” “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” and the Vietnam War critique “What Is Truth.” Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson have been equally outspoken, along with pioneers like Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Kitty Wells, who fearlessly championed women’s rights. Many of those names quickly cross the lips of contemporary artists when asked to cite their influences – as do rock artists like Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp, two songwriters who openly call out authoritarian wrongdoing with strength, conviction and honesty.


[I]t’s no longer a reasonable excuse to say that country artists are stuck in the stranglehold of radio, or that speaking out means a guaranteed Dixie Chicks-style blacklisting. Yes, there will be fallout, but after this weekend’s parade of lies, falsehoods and “alternative facts” bullshit by the administration, it’s too dangerous not to stand up.

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 Reagan.

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 Nelson).

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.”