Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Merle Haggard - Poet from the Tulare Dust

Born April 6, 1937, Merle Haggard turns 73 years old today!

Just look at that face...never was a person more aptly named.

Merle and his band The Strangers, along with Buck Owens, were the stimulus for the "Bakersfield Sound" in country music in the 1960's. The slickness and smooth polish of Nashville Country Music, as horrific to my ears and spinal cord as it is, has always served as the impetus for people to come along and rebel against it with something better. Thank The Flying Spaghetti Monster for that! The Bakersfield Sound is characterized by twangy Telecaster guitar, tight vocal harmonies and complex melodies and a few real-life-hewn rough edges that keep it all real.

And in Merle's case especially, a poetry that transcends whatever label you want to slap on it.

Merle grew up the son of Okies, Oklahoma Dust Bowl refugees who came to California for a decent chance at farming but were denied adequate wages or living conditions. Merle took to some rebellious juvenile crime and ended up in San Quentin Prison.

There, after seeing a Johnny Cash concert, he realized that he was bound for a miserable life and began to nurture his latent musical talent. When he was released from incarceration he pursued music with a passion and we're all thankful he did.

And don't let that "Okie from Muskogee" song fool you. Merle's deeper than that...and we're all entitled to make some missteps along the way. The thing to admire about Merle is what I admire about all my heroes. Right or wrong, they make a stand for what they believe.

Conviction to an ideal. That's something to sing about.

Here's some Haggard songs. A guy with 38 number one singles and a performing career as long as Haggard's (he's STILL performing and touring at 73 after a bout with lung cancer a year and a half ago) makes it hard to choose which songs to highlight. Here's my best attempt. Have a beer and sing along.

Here's a true barroom classic, "Tonight, the Bottle Let Me Down": Best Line - "Tonight your memory found me much too sober.":

"I turned 21 in prison living life without parole!" - "Mama Tried"

Don't let all of that hot combed, 70's porn star hair fool you. Just listen to them Strangers play..."Gotta buy my kids a brand new pair of shoes" - "Workin' Man Blues":

With the stellar voice of Tammy Wynette, "I'm right back where I've really always been" - "Today I Started Loving You Again"

Thanks Merle! For always being what you believe and not offering any excuses!

Here's a bonus, Merle on "The Johnny Cash Show" with a song he brought out of San Quentin, "Let my guitar playing friend play my request" - "Sing Me Back Home":

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