Merle Haggard and Other Legends
Legends. It’s been a week of legends. Another legend passing, while the stories of three legends — Hank Williams, Miles Davis, and Chet Baker — grace the silver screen. Through each, we see what we want to see, feel what we want to feel, and become what we want to become.
I was fortunate to have seen Merle Haggard on several occasions, separated by over 40 years. There was a sadness in his eyes. I don’t remember him smiling all that much even in his salad days. He seemed to have a world weariness about him. Perhaps it was his working class background; perhaps he distrusted success; perhaps it was his failed relationships, although he seemed to have gotten the last one right. We’ll never know — we see what we want to see and disregard the rest.
It just so happens that our ND photographers have caught other legends recently and posted their photos. There was a time when there were only two famous women folksingers, and Judy Collins was one. While Joan Baez may have had more cache in some circles, Collins cast a wider net, and in 1966 she released one of the significant albums of that decade, In My Life. It was radical for featuring a song by the Beatles at a time when there was a distinct line between pop music and folk music. She also introduced the folk world to Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. Additionally, Stephen Sondheim himself credits Collins with making “Send in the Clowns” the standard it has become.
With another DelFest in Cumberland, Maryland, gearing up, it’s fair to say one can never get enough of Del McCoury. His direct line from and to Bill Monroe — and that high lonesome sound — is a treasure.
Another treasure is any line back to Soul Brother Number One, and today that line comes from Charles Bradley, who for years performed as Black Velvet in tribute to James Brown. Bradley first saw Brown perform at the Apollo in 1962. He’s got a new new album out this month, and was recently on the CBS Saturday Morning show.
The English blues has always held a strange fascination for many Americans, and John Mayall would seem to lead that list. In the 1960s and ’70s, he was turning out exceptional albums featuring some of the finest guitarists around: Eric Clapton, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor, plus a spinoff group that became Fleetwood Mac. Mayall recently celebrated his 82nd birthday with yet another album, which makes so many that I have lost count. It’s been a long time since I first saw him, but by the looks of it it he’s still got it.
Seventy-four-year-old David Crosby never seems to age, despite his flowing white mane. One of rock’s royalty is always a cause for celebration.
Photographer David Huebner Given (a relative ND newbie) had the rare opportunity to take in a joint solo appearance of Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen at the WYO Theater in his hometown of Sheridan, Wyoming. He wrote: “I had high expectations as to what the artists would choose to present. This image captures the night very well because it illustrates the animated storytelling of Robert Earl Keen, alongside the more restrained Lyle Lovett. While Lovett presented wonderful, flawless renditions of his classic tunes, Keen’s songs often tended towards the humorous, making for a memorable evening of music that both educated and inspired the audience. The lifelong friendship they’ve shared was very evident in the easy back-and-forth of their storytelling and jokes. For a moment, the audience was allowed inside the living rooms of these two greats, and left with a deeper understanding of their music and history. They were welcomed to the stage with a standing ovation, and left with an even louder version of the same. [It was] a fabulous show.”
Can we ever get enough of Mr. Americana himself, Jim Lauderdale, who just seems to be everywhere, always in good humor, and never takes a bad photo?
John Hiatt has also come a long way since he was a bright young thing on a major label in the 1980s. He’s become an elder statesman in roots music. Last year he, too, hit the road on a double bill with with Lyle Lovett.
Perhaps we have a legend in the making in Margo Price. Her new album is everywhere, and she just did a set on Saturday Night Live. This is shaping up to be her year. Kirk Stauffer’s photos of her are nothing short of stunning.
Finally, I’ve included some other folks just because I like them: Nicki Bluhm with the Infamous Stringdusters, and two duos who have made excellent beginnings: The Grahams and Birds of Chicago.
With so much out there nowadays, it’s hard to stay at home. So, get out there and hear some live music, wherever you may be.