April 6th, 2016 was the day the turntable stopped turning, leaving the world of country music in mourning when Merle Haggard passed away on his 79th birthday. The life he led had a staggering impact on the world of music. He has touched so many lives, not just in America, but around the world. The loss of Merle Haggard in country music is the equivalent to the loss of Elvis Presley in the rock and roll world. He is almost the definition of country music and is the artist most people think of when they talk about the country music genre.
Life was not always easy for Haggard; he had a troubled youth, living his songs was not as easy as singing them, but somehow he managed to turn his life around and grace the world with his music. Along with Buck Owens, Haggard helped create the Bakersfield sound, making him a pioneer of his day. In the late sixties, he racked up hit after hit with songs like “Mama Tried,” “Okie from Muskogee” and “The Fightin’ Side of Me.” His career was strong throughout the seventies and early eighties as well, with songs like “Ramblin’ Fever” released in 1977 to “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” which was released in 1980. Haggard’s career can be envied by even the legends, I wouldn’t be afraid to say, he’s a legend to the legends.
Haggard’s career has had its ups and downs for 50 years with comebacks now and then, though he never really went anywhere in the eyes of country music fans. In 2000 he released “If I Could Only Fly” on an independent record label called ANTI- and it did well, showing he could compete in a pop-saturated country music market where other legends couldn’t. Whether “the Hag” was doing tributes to legends like Bob Wills or singing duets with Bonnie Owens during the golden age of duets when Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, and many others were a huge success, he made it happen as well. If any country singer has done it all and done it on his own, it would have to be Merle Haggard.
Many legendary artists have had their own guitar lines and Haggard did as well. He had a custom artist signature model Fender Telecaster and Martin Guitars released a limited edition Merle Haggard Signature Edition acoustic guitar in 2001. It’s hard to imagine what one of those will be worth in the near future.
Haggard also received many awards over his career including from the Academy of Country Music, Country Music Association and Grammy Awards. He received the BMI “Million-Air” Award from his catalog of songs that added up to over 25 million performances, as well as inducted as a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. There is really too many to mention, which stands to reason from the staggering impact he had on the country music world.
When millions of people around the world have felt sorrow with a touch of grief and distress, many have turned to Haggard’s music to drown there blues. His music somehow always left you somewhere between sadness and ‘I’m ok with being sad for now;’ a Merle Haggard song is country to the core. Though they may not be the saddest songs in the world, these are some of the songs that set the stereotype, “cry in your beer” and to country music fans, that is a good thing. The world of country music will never be the same without “the Hag” to sing us back home when we are feeling low.
The Heavenly Choir just got a little sweeter and Haggard is singing along with the rest of his peers, the legends who have left this world already. So Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, George Jones and the many other legends are hanging with “the Hag” this morning, catching up on old times. For anyone who is not familiar with Haggard’s music, do yourself a favor and go out and buy one of his CDs. I know you can listen to them online, but listening to “the Hag” old school adds a level of feeling to the music that some are unfamiliar with and I believe taking the time to do so will open up a whole new experience with music. Say a prayer for the Haggard family today and listen to a Merle Haggard song in his honor. Rest in peace Merle, you will not be forgotten.