Merle Haggard

Authenticity. That's a word that has been spouted a lot recently, mostly by supporters of certain politicians who claim that their candidates invented the quality. Of course, what they really mean is that their candidate espouses their favorite ideas and prejudices. It is a misuse, a bastardization, of a perfectly good and descriptive word. I know that because I know what true authenticity looks like.

Photo by Marty Stuart

Merle Ronald Haggard

April 6, 1937 - April 6, 2016

An authentic American original

I came inside from working in my garden in the mid-afternoon yesterday and went to my computer to check on what was happening in the world. In the middle of the screen at The New York Times website was the picture and the headline: Merle Haggard, Country Music's Outlaw Hero, Dies at 79. I felt my heart give a lurch as if my world had shifted on its axis. 

I grew up with country music. That and gospel were the only kinds of music my parents listened to, and so, of course, when I became their "one and only rebel child" as Merle sang in "Mama Tried," I rejected all that and moved on to other things, other kinds of music. But there were a few country music artists that I could never reject. Merle Haggard was one.

There was just something about the man. His song lyrics were almost deceptively simple and straightforward. He sang about his life, his experiences, his feelings, his beliefs. He sang with a lot of sly, often ironic humor as well. And although he wrote in the country genre, his music influenced a wide range of musicians over the years.

Maybe even more important to his art than his lyrics or the melodies of his songs was his voice. It was a warm, silky smooth baritone that seemed to come straight from the heart and expressed emotions that his listeners could understand and relate to even if they were not able to express those emotions themselves.

Merle Haggard wrote sad songs, angry anthems, funny songs, what the Times called "flippant broadsides," thoughtful songs, songs about what it is like to grow up in poverty, what it's like to be in prison, to be an outcast.  He wrote about interracial love and love of his country. He even wrote about his distress at seeing the decaying infrastructure of the country as he traveled across it on his constant tours. But I think my favorites were always his simple love songs.

I gave some thought to what might be my favorite; there were a lot from which to choose. I think it might be this one.  

There's a line in one of my other favorite songs, "My Favorite Memory," that says, "Everything does change except what you choose to recall." Those we love never change in memory. We always see them as we first saw them. We can hold a moment in time, unchanging. And so will be my memories of Merle Haggard and his music, a truly authentic American original. 


  1. Such a beautifully written In Memoriam Dorothy. He was a consummate songwriter, simple but never trite; had wonderful melodies like the one in the video. And for a hard traveling country artist, he had a good run. My husband can play guitar like the lead guitar in the video. He says he stole a lot from people who stole from Merle Haggard!

    1. "Hard traveling" indeed. He was on the road until the last few weeks when he had to cancel engagements because of pneumonia.

    2. A true road warrior! That song you posted stayed in my head all afternoon.

    3. I find that his songs will do that.

  2. I'm sorry to hear you lost an idol.

    1. I wouldn't call him an idol. He was just an artist that I greatly admired because of his integrity, always remaining true to his vision. That is a very rare thing.

  3. Good job on this thank you for sharing

  4. A wonderful tribute, Dorothy. America and the music world lost a true legend.


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