merle-haggard_capitol-edit-dlWhen a musician, who has written many memorable pages of American Music, passes away, it’s not easy, to summarize a career, albeit long and intense, of someone who has played an important part of U.S. history. The 79 year old Merle Haggard, who died on his birthday on April 6th, has gone through the various decades, from the fifties onwards, maintaining a fiery and genuine spirit, indifferent to the ‘politically correct’, embodying a kind of forerunner of the “outlaw image”. The episode tied to his musical “imprinting” was legendary: 1958 whilst serving a sentence at San Quentin’s, for an attempted robbery at a roadhouse in Bakersfield, (his hometown), and subsequently an attempted escape from the local prison, he discovers country music thanks to one of the historic appearances of Johnny Cash in the American jails, and following his release in 1960, he devoted all his energies to music. Somewhat of an “uncomfortable” figure, often polemical and uncompromising, Merle admired musicians such as Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams Sr. and of course Johnny Cash, trying to interpret his style of country music. Together with Buck Owens, they managed to create and shape a personal sound within the world of country music, that ‘Bakersfield Sound’, which still boasts many admirers and descendants, so as to define the small Californian town ‘Nashville West’.
05-ogMerle Haggard, son of emigrants from Oklahoma at the time of the ‘Great Depression’, never forgot his roots, recounting the sufferings, the hopes and the (few) joys of the common man, the worker. No coincidence therefore, that one of his classics is entitled “Working Man Blues”. Released in 1969, along with other hits towards the end of the sixties, these led to fierce controversial charges against him for being reactionary and overly conservative. The profound indictment of the then widespread hippie movement of “Okie From Muskogee” or the aggression and military thread of ”The Fighting Side of Me” (also in 1969, during the Vietnam war) have labeled him as nostalgic and retrograde, stereotyped and, in his case, unjust. Many great songs have distinguished his decade-long career, (beautifully described with a four Cd box set entitled “Down Every Road”, which covers the period between 1962 to 1994), and titles like “Swinging Doors”, “The Bottle Let me Down”, ”Mama Tried”,” I Take A Lot Of Pride In What I Am”, “White Line Fever”, “Tulare Dust”, “Honky Tonk Nighttime Man”,”Red Bandana”,”Ramblin’ Fever”,”Kern River” cannot be left out.
Merle-Haggard-1200x545_cMerle Haggard has remained true to his image, being a solid and impeccable country artist, inspiring not only country musicians but also rock musicians, who were able to capture his passion and sincerity, heart and humanity. Over the last twenty years or so his records have diminished, however noteworthy though, are the recent recordings of some classic songs from “Working Man’s Journey” to “Working Tennessee”, published by the chain of restaurants “Cracker Barrel”. Let’s not forget to mention, what can only be considered the true “Jewel in the crown”, Django And Jimmie” (2015), recorded with his friend Willie Nelson, a true masterpiece, an unforgettable gem of “American music”. We have to thank Merle Haggard, because, his music will, in the future, be the inspiration for many new talents (Remo Ricaldone)