Merle Haggard 1937-2016

Damn – Merle Haggard checked out.

I really liked Haggard and that Bakersfield sound – always seemed more ‘Country’ to me than most music coming out of Nashville. Bakersfield was a broken beer bottle on a spit ‘n’ sawdust floor whilst Nashville was, at best, beer sipped from a glass someplace that could at least stretch to a carpet. At worst it’s a small Pinot Grigio in a wanky wine bar.

His Western Swing material was great too –  I’ll always think of him as just as much a Western Swing guy as a Country guy. The mainstream tributes all seem to ignore that side of his work but he made a massive contribution to the genre.

Country music has become a bit of a ‘thing’ recently amongst the mainstream indie set with Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton both playing Glastonbury. Contrary to Cash though and despite (or maybe because of) being a genuine ex-con Haggard never really played up to his ‘bad boy’ image and pretty much stayed on the fringes of the whole ‘outlaw country’ scene. He never sank as low as Cash either (I don’t believe I ever saw Haggard on an album of Christmas tunes wearing a santa hat), and maybe that’s why his ‘comeback’ album ‘If I Could Only Fly’ (2000) went largely unnoticed in such circles. But whilst ‘If I Could Only Fly’ may not have a big-name hip-hop/metal producer, or arguably slightly gimmicky covers of tunes by ‘hipster-friendly’ songwriters like Will Oldham and Nick Cave, it does have twelve, largely self-penned, honest and affecting songs about growing old and looking back on a life that’s been ‘colourful’ to say the least. It’s subtle, understated, effortlessly musically sophisticated and deserves more recognition.

Lastly I must say that to my mind ‘The Bottle Let Me Down’ is one of the most archetypal Country songs ever written. It’s also one of the first songs I learned to play and sing on guitar – I sang it at a bluegrass session a couple of weeks ago. Think I’ll stick to singing songs by guys who are already dead in future.

R.I.P. Merle.



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