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


Conan’s Musical Farewell

Late night TV talk shows simply aren’t what they used to be. At least until the recent NBC/Leno/Conan debacle. Early indications point to “blockbuster” ratings for O’Brien’s final show last night (1/22/2010), according to the New York Times.

Here’s one guy that won’t be watching late night talk shows on NBC anymore, but that’s not the point.

Conan had a killer closing show for his 7-month run as the guy on NBC’s “The Tonight Show.” It’s pretty rad how he incorporated music into the show, especially the ending.

Will Ferrell and his cowbell invited Conan to “strap on his axe” and join him on-stage, along with Ben Harper, Beck, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and E Street Band (and Conan’s) drummer Max Weinberg, for a memorable rendering of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s absolute classic, “Free Bird.”

One of my favorite parts of the entire thing was Will Ferrell’s t-shirt, which is the cover art for Neil Young’s 1975-album Tonight’s the Night.

There’s a little section from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s best-known work, “Sweet Home Alabama,” that says:

Well I heard Mister Young sing about her

Well I heard ole Neil put her down

Well I hope Neil Young will remember

A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow

These lyrics are Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song-conversation response to two Neil Young songs: “Southern Man” and “Alabama.”

The lyrics are usually misunderstood and misrepresented (a la Ronald Reagan’s use of “Born In the USA”). Either way, I love Ferrell quietly pulling it all together in this important pop culture moment, of which Young himself was also a part. Neil was the musical guest on Conan’s final episode of “The Tonight Show.” He performed his “Long May You Run.”

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