It’s time to say goodbye to Merle Haggard, who died Wednesday, April 6 – his 79th birthday. Time to appreciate his talent and his perseverance in the face of profound change.
We’re going to try to do that on The Big Fat Wide Americana Hour in unique way, in a show that will be posted Saturday.
Haggard was a man who had a rough start in life, did some hard time, then got out of prison, came up with 38 number one hits, and produced good music right to the end of his days.
He was a gifted musician, a fine singer and a vivid songwriter.
Perhaps surprisingly, I think his touch as a songwriter talent shines particularly brightly on his most famous song, “Okie From Muskogee.” Because it might seem at first like a novelty song, and a divisive one at that.
But was actually a unifying song, one that clean-cut hawks and long-haired doves all sang with equal enthusiasm.
That’s because it was a song of nostalgia for a simpler time, in a period of great societal change.
In the Americana Hour show that debuts Saturday, we’ll take a musical look at the life and times of Merle Haggard.
Not too many words. Just a few of Merle’s songs. And a lot of other music – sort of a musical tone-poem, giving a sense of the different eras through with Haggard lived, worked and thrived.
In the end, he came to grips with the changes. They might not have smoked marijuana in Muskogee, but Merle is reported to have smoked plenty himself over the years.
And just last year, he issued an album with his good friend Willie Nelson – an old leftie and pot smoker. The album is called Django and Jimmie, and it was a tribute to jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers, who’s often called the father of country music.
We’ll hear from that Willie and Merle album, as well. It’s a tip of the hat to the people who influenced them, and without whom they would not have become the musicians they were.
Just as future musicians will owe their careers to the Hag.