Thursday, April 7, 2016

Merle Haggard: Country Music's Greatest Singer-Songwriter

Image result for merle haggard

The music world is in mourning once again as it suffers another monumental loss with the passing of Merle Haggard on April 6, his 79th birthday.  There have been many biographical articles written about Mr. Haggard over the years, and many more have been written in the past 24 hours since his passing.  This piece will try to somehow put in to context what it means to lose such a giant figure in the North American music scene.

Mr. Haggard's country music chart success ran un-interrupted for roughly 25 years.  His total of 38 number one songs on Billboard's country music chart, along with many more singles that made the top ten, place Mr. Haggard among the giants in any musical genre. Mainstream country artists of today can only dream of reaching these types of numbers with today's fickle market. It's not impossible, but it is rare.  Mr. Haggard's feat was no different. His music endured many different style changes to country music, but his style was always relevant. It was his songwriting that made this so. 

"The warden led a prisoner, down the hallway to his doom
and I stood up to say goodbye like all the rest"

The lyric above is the opening line from an early Haggard hit "Sing Me Back Home."  A story song that was born of life experience.  It's no secret that Mr. Haggard spent time in and out of the prison system, including time served at the infamous San Quentin prison.  This time featured prominently in many of his early hits, including songs he didn't write like "The Fugitive."  

"I'll probably never see you eye to eye again
this letter's meant to be my last farewell"

This mournful opening line is from "Looking For a Place To Fall Apart" is again a true story. Mr. Haggard did indeed write a letter to his soon-to-be ex-wife who called an end to their marriage.  But rather than send the finished letter, he placed in the trash and burned it. Then, he wrote this masterpiece.

If you're a young person reading this article, I cannot stress enough that you go and explore the Merle Haggard lexicon. This is especially so if you are an aspiring songwriter, as Mr. Haggard's songs are perfect examples of how to craft a song. Write about what you know, tell the story of your life and your observations, but most importantly write from the heart.

Mr. Haggard's music is not something you would dance too.  Rather, Mr. Haggard's music is a style that calls for one to sit down and listen to the lyrics.  There is social commentary, heart, soul, feeling and real life in the words.  Consider this: in the recently released documentary on Keith Richards, Mr. Richards sat at a piano and sang "Sing Me Back Home" while stating Merle Haggard was a huge influence on the Rolling Stones, specifically the songwriting.  Indeed, other artists who have cited Merle Haggard's songwriting as a major influence on their work is a lengthy list:  Toby Keith, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Miranda Lambert, Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves, the Dixie Chicks, John Mellancamp, Jewel, Ronnie Van Zant/Lynyrd Skynyrd and Jamey Johnson are among the many that have cited Mr. Haggard as having touched their lives through his music. Successful artists and songwriters, all. I mean to say, you have the Beatles and Rolling Stones saying they turned to Merle Haggard music for inspiration ... if that doesn't signal a lasting influence and legacy, I don't know what does.

The heaven's gained one of the most prominent artists in modern history with the passing of Merle Haggard. We are blessed to have such an incredible catalog of music that remains. On a personal note, it's the loss of another one of my country music heroes.  I will be forever grateful for the music Mr. Haggard created, as it formulated my appreciation for the craft of songwriting and performance.  This last video is one which paired two of my heroes together.  They were reunited yesterday morning.  Mr. Merle Haggard and Mr. George Jones.  Sing for the angels, gentlemen.