I heard the sad news Wednesday that Merle Haggard has passed away at the age of 79. The news came to me by way of an Associated Press Newswire. I guess if the Associated Press deems your demise to be newsworthy you were something special!
Merle was a later in life hero of mine. I didn’t appreciate him in my youth, even though local lore claimed that one of Merle’s band The Strangers was from my hometown. My father, recalling a memory or pulling my leg – 50/50 chance – passed on this bit of trivia… “…that’s why he came and played the fairground that one time” he exclaimed, “a regular hometown hero!”. It took time, but I came to know and love Merle’s lyrics, style and message within the last several years.
I was too young to appreciate the Outlaw Country movement when it was happening. It was only after dismissing all of country music as over orchestrated plastic schlock that I dug down to the core and found Willie, Waylon, Merle and others there waiting for me.
My Merle record collection is rather thin, but it is also a mighty. Most importantly it includes an album Big City. My Montana bread wife and I can be counted on to sing this song loudly to the rafters if it ever appears on a radio playlist or a honky tonk juke box.
I was lucky enough to see The Hag in concert back in 2000 and something in the small town of Presque Isle, Maine. He played alongside Ray Price and Willie Nelson (God please let Willie be one of those people who is alive and active until the age of 110!)
Rest in peace Merle and I hope to see you on the other side.
PS, tell my dad I said hello!