Who was/is Merle Haggard ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
Sing a Sad Song:
Saying Goodbye to Merle Haggard
by Scott B. Bomar
Merle Haggard, an icon of American music, died at his home in California on Wednesday, April 6, 2016. It was the singer, songwriter, and musician’s 79th birthday. In 2008 he battled lung cancer, and was hospitalized in December 2015 with double pneumonia. Haggard returned to the stage soon after, but was sidelined again in February due to continuing health concerns. “A week ago Dad told us he was gonna pass on his birthday,” Merle’s son and lead guitarist, Ben, revealed the day his father died, “and he wasn’t wrong.”
Merle Ronald Haggard was born April 6, 1937 in Bakersfield, California. Following his father’s death in 1945, Merle grew restless and rebellious. Several brushes with the law ultimately landed him in San Quentin prison in 1958. Following his release in 1960, Merle returned to Bakersfield, where he worked at manual labor jobs during the day. In the evenings he paid his dues in the same local honky tonks that sculpted the early career of fellow Bakersfield Sound pioneer Buck Owens.
Merle eventually signed with Bakersfield’s tiny Tally label, releasing a handful of singles before signing with Capitol Records in 1965. During his decade-long stint with Capitol, Haggard scored more than two dozen #1 country hits, including “Branded Man,” “Mama Tried,” “Okie From Muskogee,” “If We Make it Through December,” and “The Roots of My Raising.” Subsequent stints with the MCA and Epic labels yielded additional #1 hits, including “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” “My Favorite Memory,” “Big City,” and “Going Where the Lonely Go.” He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994, and continued to record for various labels, releasing his final studio album, Working in Tennessee, in 2011.
The celebrated “poet of the common man” frequently explored themes of restlessness, determination, stubborn individuality, responsibility, hard work, and a longing for personal freedom. His gift for capturing the spirit and struggles of the working class earned him a reputation as one of the great American songwriters in the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Beyond his mastery of lyrics and melody, Haggard was an accomplished multi-instrumentalist and nuanced vocalist who set a new bar in country music for both twangy barn-burners and tender jazz-tinged ballads. “He wasn’t just a country singer,” son Ben added. “He was the best country singer that ever lived.”
Haggard reached the Top 10 on the Billboard Country Singles chart more than 70 times between 1966 and 1989. Nearly 40 of those songs climbed all the way to the #1 spot. Beyond the hits, Haggard released 54 studio albums as a solo act, 10 collaborative albums with other artists, 11 live releases, and 5 additional studio albums spotlighting his legendary band, the Strangers. He won more than two dozen awards from the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association, as well as three Grammy awards. Haggard was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and, in 2010, was honored by the prestigious Kennedy Center for “outstanding contribution to American culture.”
“I want to die along the highway” Haggard sang in his 1977 hit “Ramblin’ Fever.” The legendary road warrior almost pulled it off. “It’s what keeps me alive and it’s what fucks up my life,” Merle said of touring in a 2016 interview with Matt Hendrickson. Although he had little interest in the trappings of celebrity, Haggard loved to sing and play. Bringing his music to his fans fueled him to the very end. His passing marks not only the end of a remarkable career, but the death of an icon who ranks with Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, and John Lennon as a musical force who forever changed the face of music.