Merle Haggard, one of the poets of country music, has passed.
Some of my friends know that I was in a country group back in the 80’s, and Merle Haggard, for me. was one of the best song writers of the time, in any genre. Definitely one of my favorites. And it wasn’t even his corny commercial success with a song like Okie from Muscogee, which everybody liked, like they like Garth Brooks Friends in low Places, that drew my ears, head, and hearts attention. It was another song, a highly personal song, that made me a fan of Merle Haggard, from the moment I heard it. Kern River. I heard the honesty, and the pain of loss, in his simple, understated, conversational delivery. Of a love, and a friendship, lost way too soon. And I felt that loss, because Merle Haggard made me feel that loss by the way he sang the song, and told the story.
Seeing Merle Haggard live, for 15 minutes, was worth the wait.
Years after I heard that song, my group Indian River, was performing at the Anderson County Fair, in Redding, California. Merle Haggard was going to be the main-stage performer that night, so once our show was over, we ran to the arena, where they had just had some funny cars racing just a short time before, to see Merle in concert. And we waited. And waited, and waited some more; about 45 minutes after the time his show was supposed to start. The rumor was that he was more than a little drunk, and was going to have a hard time even standing on stage. It might have been true, but no one cared when he finally took center stage, and then only performed about 15 minutes of his show. Did we fans mind? Sure. We all wanted to see more of Merle Haggard. But when all was said and done, years later, I’m glad that I got to see him live, and in person, even if it was just for 15 minutes. No one’s perfect, and Merle’s imperfections, and what he wrote and sang about them, were some of the reasons why his fans loved him. Honesty is what he gave us with his songs. He didn’t shout them at us, like some over the top performer. He told us about them like he would, in conversation, with a friend. And, speaking for myself, it’s why he has always been one of my favorite country singers, and songwriters.
Rest in Peace, Merle Haggard. Thanks for sharing yourself with the rest of us.