Friday, April 08, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Merle Haggard, 1937-2016

Like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard was clearly a country singer, but his songs transcended across all lines, across all levels of America. It would be hard to find someone who didn’t know where an Okie came from…Muskogee, of course.

Haggard, affectionately referred to as the Hag, died Wednesday on his 79th birthday. He will be deeply missed by all musicians and fans.

I had a chance to spend a few moments with him at a Las Vegas casino where he had dropped and lost a few quarters. We both commiserated on the tightness of the machines, he talked a little more about this and that — just like a regular guy. But he was the one who spoke his mind often and strongly when it came to our country. He truly had a “Fightin’ Side.”

In his career he hit No. 1 on the charts 38 different times across three decades.

His connection to Cash is greater than just the music. Haggard actually served time in jail, where Cash saw him perform in the prison band and the Man in Black made sure Haggard would not be known as the Man in Orange.

Haggard, a stalwart of the Bakersfield, Calif., music scene, was a prolific songwriter as well as a singer who made you feel like his songs were just for you.

How many times have we said, “If we make it through December,” or felt the parental sadness in “Mama Tried,” the joyous mix of “Let’s Chase Each Other Around the Room” and the family ties in “Daddy Frank the Guitar Man.”

He sang about being a “Branded Man,” but it was hard to really put a brand on him. His music represented us all from angry to optimistic to broken hearts and true love. As wide ranging as his music was, so was his life.

His mom was asked once to sum him up and did it in one word, “unpredictable.”

“I come by it honestly. But I also plan it. I intend to be taking a different route this morning to wherever I’m going than I did yesterday morning, and I’m not gonna leave at the same time. And I’m not gonna worry about the show I’m doing this weekend till I get on stage. I just have always been that way. And you might even trick the devil once in a while, if nobody knows what you’re gonna do.”

There’s no doubt he tricked the devil and is taking his “Silver Wing” on an unpredictable route to heaven, but that’s where he’ll be cause the good Lord likes a little pickin’ too.

— Rick Kron