Merle Haggard

Johnny Cash once told me, ‘Hag, you’re the guy people think I am.’

From Merle Haggard’s Rolling Stone interview, by Jason Fine, in the October 1, 2009 edition.

Pop Culture has made the last 5-10 years pretty easy to view Johnny Cash as an original outlaw, one of the original “bad” dudes. And he is. But how about one such as Merle Haggard, who Cash told, “you’re the guy people think I am”?

Oh, and when Johnny Cash was doing one of his famous live prison albums (San Quentin; 1958), Haggard was an actual inmate at the prison, and was in the crowd.

Merle Haggard has 40 #1 hit songs, is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and was pardoned by Ronald Reagan (CA governor at the time) for his criminal past. Together with Buck Owens, he helped found the Bakersfield Sound. And according to the aforementioned Rolling Stone article, “The Grateful Dead named their 1970 album Workingman’s Dead in tribute to Haggard, and the Rolling Stones were influenced by Haggard, most directly on 1968’s Beggars Banquet.”

As I read through this Rolling Stone article yesterday, one common theme kept coming to mind: Merle really doesn’t care what most people think. Maybe he’s not made the most marketable decisions at times, but his integrity can not be questioned.

Haggard is a legend, and I’m convinced that the following sentiment is a big part of why. From the Rolling Stone article.

‘I’ve shot myself in the foot plenty,’ Haggard acknowledges. ‘I don’t even have to look back at my career to see that – I can look down at my foot. But I’m just not one to give a lot of thought to the brilliant ways to make money. I guess you’d call me a lazy thinker in that particular area, but I think more about good songs and catching a big bass than I do about how to make money. I can sit down and spend two, three weeks and make enough money for you and me both for our entire lifetimes. I’m not stupid. But I just don’t find all that much satisfaction with what the money might bring. I’d just rather do what I want to do.’

Haggard sees his maverick approach as a form of self-preservation. ‘If you compare my life to some other people who were ready to do anything they were asked to do, look where they are now,’ he says. ‘You take people who did anything to get on the Grand Ole Opry. They thought the Grand Ole Opry was the pinnacle of their life. Well, it was.’

*Originally published November 9, 2009



The end of the 1960s brought many significant events to the U.S. – Woodstock, Charles Manson, the last Beatles performance.

December 6, 1969 only adds to the eerie mystique associated with 1960s-United States.

This is the day Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death by the Hells Angels, during a free festival, known as the Altamont Speedway Free Festival. The Hells Angels were security. The Rolling Stones were on stage at the time.

A location change at the last minute left this music festival in disarray, and it only ended in worse.

In the February 16, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone, John Burke shares,

“It was perhaps rock and roll’s all-time worst day. December 6th, a day when everything went perfectly wrong. Altamont remains Topic A among the musicians who were there.”

This post isn’t really in support or defense of either Hunter or the Hells Angels. In video footage, it does appear that Hunter has a gun, which seems like it would be unnecessary in the San Francisco area of 1969. But the Hells Angels don’t exactly have a stellar reputation.

A Rock and Roll Situation

Rock and Roll is way more than just music. It’s a lifestyle, a persona, a wall that few ever get over.

The amazing music journalist Chet Flippo had a highly-coveted seat during a Rolling Stones almost-fiasco in 1977, Canada. In my opinion, said fiasco is rock and roll at its finest. The following stories and direct-quotes come from Flippo’s highly-entertaining book, It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll.

The Rolling Stones had arrived to Toronto to finish recording a live album, and they were in the midst of a record label bidding war. Canada seemed like “someplace out of the way, so it would not turn into a freakish, full-blown, Stones-crazy Media Event.” Upon arrival to the Toronto International Airport, Keith Richards was busted for drugs. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) weren’t able to properly handle what (probably) should have been not a big deal, and the fear was born that Richards would spend the rest of his life in prison, in Canada.

Sequestered in Toronto, mostly in the Harbour Castle Hilton, the Rolling Stones were still able to work on their live album, in a couple of shows also feared to potentially be the last Rolling Stones shows ever.

The crazy atmosphere of what was going on went on for days and days and days. Here’s Flippo’s description of the scene:

“So the freewheeling wife (Margaret Trudeau) of the Prime Minister of Canada joined the  free-floating Rolling Stones apparatchiks or remoras or camp followers or the growing army of weird people in and around the Harbour Castle who had a vested interest somewhere in the very presence of the Rolling Stones. There were record company presidents (Mike Maitland of MCA, Walter Yetnikoff of CBS, Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic) wanting to sign the Stones; RCMP officers wanting to keep a sharp eye on the Stones (and maybe do more); shrieking London tabloid reporters wanting to debrief the Stones (and perhaps worse); wild-eyed Stones fanatics wanting to meditate (and more, much more) with their icons; every status climber in Canada desperately wanting a Ticket to the Show; many image-conscious dope dealers eagerly wanting to upgrade their status by becoming known as Supplier to the Stones; every flaky low-rent scumbag crazy acidhead who ever infected the front row of any Stones show; and (finally) down here at the bottom rung of the status ladder, your writers from the United States (of which I was still the only one present). Oh – somewhere off in an antechamber, there were your TV correspondents and your Canadian columnists, whose cobwebs were just beginning to think about rattling. And who didn’t yet know that Maggie Trudeau had front-row seats for the Stones for both Friday and Saturday nights.”

This is Rock and Roll.

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