When I heard earlier today that Merle Haggard had passed away, I felt just terrible. I loved that guy. The best way I can think of to celebrate Merle is through his music, so what follows here is a collection of videos featuring my favorite Merle Haggard songs.
I was lucky enough to see Merle Haggard three times. I also had a near-miss when I was a kid. My mom had tickets for us to see him with Marty Robbins, but they were a no-show. (Marty Robbins was one of my mom’s favorites.)
The first time I saw Merle was in 1991. Reba McEntire was scheduled to play a concert at Pheasant Run in St. Charles, Illinois. When a bus crash killed several members of her band, various country stars volunteered to do fill-in shows as benefits for the families. Although I wasn’t interested in attending a Reba McEntire concert, when the replacement show was headlined by Merle Haggard, I jumped on it. Along with Lorrie Morgan and Sawyer Brown, Merle did a brilliant show. Wearing a flannel shirt and vest, he looked like he’d just stepped out his fishing cabin, slung on a guitar, and started belting out some of the best country songs ever written.
The second time was at The House of Blues in Chicago. I can’t remember when it was but sometime after 1991. It was standing-room-only and we were right down front. Not only was Haggard a great singer-songwriter, but he was also a searing guitarist and a show-stopping entertainer. All of that was on fine display that night.
The final time was in 2005 when Merle toured with Bob Dylan. The tour came to the Auditorium Theater in Chicago with Amos Lee as the opening act. Amos Lee was good. Merle was terrific but a little subdued in a shortened set. Although I’m not sure Merle Haggard should have been the opening act for anybody, he kept taking off his hat and bowing humbly. When Rolling Stone asked him if he’d spent any time on the bus with Bob Dylan, Merle said, “Bob doesn’t hang.”
The words that come to mind for me today when thinking about Merle Haggard are integrity and literary artistry. These are the songs that formed my impression of someone who I never met but I’ll definitely miss.
1. “Sing Me Back Home”
2. “That’s the Way Love Goes”
3. “Mama Tried”
4. “Kern River”
5. “Silver Wings”
6. “If We Make It Through December”
7. “Big City”
8. “Okie from Muskogee”
9. “Daddy Frank”
10. “Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Star”
Thanks, Merle. I would’ve fixed your flat tire any time.
Please add a shout-out to your favorite Merle Haggard songs!