Monday, October 20, 2008

Spotlight On Merle Haggard (More To Come)

Something tells me this is going to be the year of Merle Haggard around here.

Sure, everybody knows who Merle is, but have you ever really contemplated the greatness of his work? Next to Hank (Or—dare I say—maybe even more than Hank...? Nah.), Merle has the most impressive body of work of any singer/songwriter in the country genre.

I'm not overflowing with ideas for this blog at the moment, but one thing I definitely want to accomplish in the coming year is to shine a brighter spotlight on Hag.

Read Merle's impressive AMG bio.

Now enjoy this gem from 1981:

Merle Haggard - Big City (buy)

I'm tired of this dirty old city.
Entirely too much work and never enough play.
And I'm tired of these dirty old sidewalks.
Think I'll walk off my steady job today.

Turn me loose, set me free,
Somewhere in the middle of Montana.
Gimme all I got comin' to me,
And keep your retirement and your so called social security.
Big City turn me loose and set me free.

Been working everyday since I was twenty.
Haven't got a thing to show for anything I've done.
There's folks who never work and they've got plenty.
Think it's time some guys like me had some fun.

Captures my feelings exactly.

(Except I want to keep my social security. What can I say? I'm not completely self-destructive.)

So what's your favorite Merle Haggard song?


Anonymous said...

Kern River. According to Wikipedia, 250 people have died in the river since 1968.

Paul said...

It's a mean piece of water, my friend.

Dave D. said...

Pick *one* favorite Hag song? Might as well ask which of my children I like best. I'll narrow it down to four, since Kern River has already been mentioned.

If We Make It Through December
A Place to Fall Apart (preferably not the duet with Janie Fricke)
I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink
Turnin' Off a Memory (preferably the duet with Johnny Paycheck)

cameo said...

well if that's the case you'll have me reading over the next year.

Swinging Doors
The Bottle Let Me Down

Dave D. said...

Oh, and Silver Wings and Mama Tried.

Jon said...

I had an answer ready until I read all of the other comments. My favorite? What kind of screwy question is that? Better to ask me to name the one or two songs I don't like. I never really liked "If We Make It Through December", but I don't mind it. All of the rest of them are my favorite.

Ramone666 said...

I´ll add The Fugitive please.

Robby said...

I don't especially like the way he performs it (too slow), but as a piece of songwriting, "Why Am I Drinking?" stands pretty damn tall. Nothing but an endless round of serious questions that he won't quite go all the way with, which leads to more drinking, which leads to more questions, etc. etc.

Vaughn said...

"Today, I Started Loving You Again", what a voice, what a VOICE!

Sometimes these real legends out-live their status and then it all comes 'round again. Let's lift Hag up where he belongs once more. His writing is amazing, quite dark (and modern) and very much "outsider"-ish. It was appropriate that his band was called The Strangers.

Anonymous said...

'All Night Lady' and 'Shopping For Dresses' are two of my fave Merle tracks that deserve a mention alongside the more well known classics. Johnny paycheck was right about 'All Night Lady' when he said that listening to it you could feel just a little of what it could be like to be living the last 24 hours of your life on death row. One of the most powerful and moving songs I've ever heard and one that never diminishes in it's ability or emotion no matter how many times I hear it. Merle is a songwriter of the highest calibre(level with Hank in my view) but he also confronted the mainstream with
such amazing depth and vision that he couldn't be ignored. People had to sit up and take notice whether they wanted to or not and maybe that's the one failure of today's country singers in comparison because great though many are, they
seem happy to stick to the sidelines without confronting the mainstream head on like Merle did. Harsh maybe, but I would love to see a songwriter of the same mould
again challenging mainstream audiences in a similar way.

Anonymous said...

It certainly is hard to pick one or two, but I've always liked "You Don't Have Very Far to Go." Lucinda Williams does a great version on the "Tulare Dust" tribute album.

I'm also looking forward to more Hag posts on STWOF!


tipper said...

You just can't beat the Hag. Merle would have to be at the top of anyone's greatest artists ever lists! Hard to pick favorites from his songs but I love love Silver Wings, and The Way I Am. Neat post!

Duncanmusic said...

I Can't Hold Myself In Line
Wish A Buck Was Still Silver
Mam's Hungry Eyes
Sing A Sad Song

I've played SOOO many of his songs over the years in country bands

My favorite local lead singer, Dave Donnelly must know about a hundred Merle songs so I never know which one he'll call,,,but it really doesn't matter because they're all pretty easy to fall into and get right emotionally

I remember seeing The Grateful Dead play "Mama Tried" at Woodstock in 1969...THAT opened a few eyes. I'll bet I was one of a few that night who knew who they were cool and what a tribute to a singer who hadn;t even been that long on the charts.

on a related note I've been listening to a whole lot of Wynn Stewart lately...Wyn encouraged and mentored Merle while he did time in Wynn's band (and elsewhere)playing bass. Wynn really set the Bakersfield California Country Honky Tonk Template for Merle & Buck & Bonnie et al including one Gram Parsons who blended the Bakersfield sound with Memphis Soul & Appalachian Mountain Country Gospel Folk to create that Cosmic American Music that we all love today.

Paul said...

Great comment Duncan. I think it's time for a Wynn Stewart post (when I get back from my current business trip).

Paul said...

Anon @ 8:40. Great observation about Merle confronting the mainstream. Mainstream country today is about as non-confrontational and non-substantive as possible.

WILLIAM T. VOGT, JR. said...

Got to be Kern River...."a mean piece of water my friend". It would be closely followed by Lonesome Fugitive, Silver Wings and The Bottle Let Me Down. Also you can't beat his part on Poncho and Lefty with Willie...."Save your tears for Lefty too"

I saw him open for Bob at the Beacon in NYC a few years back. He played Kern River and I literally cried. The old boy can still sing like a bird.

Keep up the great work.
Best, Will

Vaughn said...

Emmylou covers "Kern River" on her newest. And speaking of Emmylou related stuff, Gram Parsons made Merle cool with the long-hairs (if they were cool enough to listen to Gram in the first place).

Anonymous said...

Upbeat - 'Skid Row'
Ballad - 'Where No Flowers Grow'

Sorry I couldn't name just one,

Anonymous said...

Call me a slow learner, but the genius of the Hag didn't really become evident to me until I bought the Down Every Road box set. Unlike most career spanning 4cd sets, where the last couple of discs are usually just coasters in waiting, the Hag's work has just gotten deeper and more mature. It's this, along with his songwriting, that places him above Cash, if still a step below Hank.

...Which is why I'd have to pick 2000's If I Could Only Fly.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone provide information on where I can obtain a recording of Merle's version of 'Guess He'd Rather Be In Colorado."

Merle sang it in the closing scenes of the 80's Western mini-series 'Centennial.'

A beautiful rendition, but I don't think he ever recorded it?


Anonymous said...

"Jesus Take a Hold" is one one of my favorite unsung Haggard tunes. Just as relevant today as when it was written.

eric said...

I love me some Merle Haggard, I have featured him heavily on my radio shows. some of my Favorites include: Anything off Strangers/Swinging Doors , Holding Things Together, I'll Leave the Bottle On the Bar and many others from that early period. i also adore his recent album covering mainly lefty Frizzell tunes.

Ramone666 said...

Paul, can you put up Kern River sometime? I´m intrigued and the song´s not on my Lonesome Fugitive anthology. Thanks in advance!

godoggo said...

Here's a question. What year did Merle's beard appear?

Anonymous said...

I've been a Hag fan since the 1960's! Merle Haggard and Hank Williams SR. are my favorites,in that order.I'm also a musician.Lately I've been thinking about who would be on my top ten list of favorite musicians.I would have to put Merle Haggard at the top of that list.Hag is a great singer and songwriter.I've never heard anyone as SOULFUL as Merle Haggard.!!! Hag is authentic.When he sings about prison,he's been there.When he sings about riding the rails,he's done that as well.Merle Haggard is not one of these "manufactured" artists. Hag is the real deal.!!! I still haven't heard anyone better than Hag.

Anonymous said...

I received the new Merle Haggard DVD/CD today."Live from Austin Texas" It was Merle Haggard's first performance on Austin City Limits.It was recorded January 18,1978 Merle was at the top of his game! Hag gives great,and soulful performances.If you were thinking about buying this DVD/CD don't hesitate! I first saw Hag live in 1973 at Madison Square Garden, it was something I will never forget.

E. E. Lawson said...

In my mind, considering his entire career and catalog, the best country artist of all time. My favorite Hag for this time and space....Someday When Things are know, the definitive marriage song.