I really liked Merle Haggard’s music. I have been a fan of his since I sought out his and George Jones’s records after hearing versions of their songs on SWEETHEART OF THE RODEO and ALMOST BLUE. His early records are best because they featured more of his original songwriting. Of all the enjoyable parts of his music, I think he may be the best country music songwriter in history combining lyrical voice character studies (which people mistook as his own right wing opinions), hard luck stories, the setting of the country music archetype – drinking and bad women, the language of exaggerated blue collar misery of a personal nature, a surprising amount of sensitivity in his later songs about relationships. He also had made good choices in the songs by other writers he chose to cover. Lyrically, he was a clever wordsmith. “I threw away the rose and kept the thorn” a line that turned up in other artist’s songwriting. Musically, he wrote more like someone from the British Invasion short punchy songs verse-chorus – Bakersfield rockabilly style – less saccharine pedal steel.
More importantly, his hard early years – son of Okie dust bowl migrants to Tulare County, they lived in a converted railway car, his father died when he was nine, he served time in juvenile hall for car theft then later served two years in prison for a botched robbery attempt….Hard early years gave his music character and experience that modern country music lacks. I have already seen a number of obituaries make this point but modern country music is worthless and soulless. Will we ever see performers like Merle Haggard and George Jones again? RIP
A funny Haggard story I read – When the Hag first met Johnny Cash, he told him this isn’t the first time we met, Johnny. We also met at your San Quentin concert. Cash told him he didn’t remember him on the bill that day or playing with him. Haggard said no he was in the audience as he was a prisoner at San Quentin at the time.
My Favorite Merle Haggard songs (an abbreviated list)
I Take A Lot of Pride In What I Am
Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down
Loneliness Is Eating Me Alive
I Threw Away The Rose
I’ll Be A Hero (When I Strike)
Things Aren’t Funny Anymore
The Emptiest Arms In The World
Misery and Gin
Here In Frisco