Merle Haggard has died at the age of 79. There are, of course, any number of obituaries online already.
Perhaps the best story about Haggard is that his musical career had its inspiration in one of Johnny Cash's prisons gigs. It's a great story because it shows what treating prisoners like people can do, but it's also great because that whole 'here is a man playing guitar, I can do that too' storyline in effect makes Haggard a punk hero as well as a country one.
I first came across Merle Haggard thanks to the NME - younger readers might need to be told there used to be a music magazine with that name. Back in 1988, the paper produced an album of Vietnam related pop, rock and soul called Feels Like I'm Fixin To Die. It's pretty good, and on it was this:
He came to regard the song as a bit of an albatross:
Sometimes I wish I hadn’t written Okie. Not that I’m ashamed of it. I’m not sure but what bothers me most is the people that identify with it. There is the extremity out there. I don’t know. It made people forget that I might be a much more musical artist than they give me credit for. I was indelibly stamped with this political image—this political, musical spokesman, or whatever.And although it's a great song, based on the lyrics I might have not bothered digging much further into Haggard's back catalogue when I was 18. But this song made me give him a second look:
There's a moon across the border in the Louisiana skyIf Nanci Griffith was giving him a verse in a song, equal billing with Loretta Lynn - well, he had to be worth a second look, right?
I smell the Pontchartrain,
I hear Silver Wings
Then, away Merle Haggard flies