April 10, 2016


Merle Haggard: the maverick musician and his 'defiantly contrarian journey' : The singer-songwriter, who died on 6 April, drew on his genuine outsider experience to forge a tougher sound in opposition to Nashville's slickness (Sean O'Hagan, 10 April 2016, The Guardian)

Legend has it that when Johnny Cash performed in San Quentin prison in 1958, Merle Haggard was in the audience, serving time for burglary and fleeing police custody. While Cash carefully nurtured his outlaw status, famously styling himself "the Man in Black", the troubled, taciturn Haggard was the real deal: an outsider by temperament rather than design, someone who had found a kind of redemption in writing and singing songs about his experience of hard times. [...]

In 1957 a botched restaurant robbery attempt saw him imprisoned, first in Bakersfield jail, and then, after an escape attempt, transferred to San Quentin.

On his release, Haggard played the bars of Bakersfield, California, honing what would become the "Bakersfield sound", a wilder, less polished take on traditional Nashville country that incorporated rock, blues and honky-tonk swing. So began a defiantly contrarian journey: for many, his best-known song remains 1969's hit, Okie from Muskogee, a strident counterblast to the 60s counterculture from the heart of conservative America. His best songs were often his most personal: Today I Started Loving You Again, If We Make It Through December - or his most hard-bitten - Sing Me Back Home, The Bottle Let Me Down - the latter sort earning him the respect of several generations of rock performers, from the Grateful Dead through Keith Richards, Gram Parsons, Elvis Costello, and on to the likes of contemporary songwriters like Will Oldham. "It never has been fun being Merle Haggard," he said in 1986, "I've had lots of peaks and valleys." His tough and tender songs attest to that.

Posted by at April 10, 2016 9:48 AM