Remembering My Hero – Merle Haggard
Tulare dust in a farm boy’s nose
Wondering where the freight train goes
Standin’ in the field by the railroad track
Cursin’ this strap on my cotton sack
I can see mom and dad with shoulders low
Both of ’em pickin’ on a double row
They do it for a livin’ because they must
That’s life like it is in the Tulare dust
Each time I saw Merle Haggard in concert he’d sing the first two verses of “Tulare Dust,” and then lead into “Mama Tried.” I always found that poignant, very simple honest lyrics about being a dirt farmer.
Merle Haggard died April 6, 2016 79 years after he was born. Not sure there is a more badass thing one could do that literally call his shot. He told his son, Ben, that he’d die on his birthday and damn, the mic drop of all time.
I can’t stand writing obituaries & tributes sometimes. They either come out sounding really trite or chest pounding (you know the whole “look all of what I know.) There are times though, your heart just pours right out onto the paper, the words and feelings just flow. Merle Haggard wasn’t just one of the greatest Musicians of all time, he played a gigantic part of 48 years.
My very first concert was with my pop’s at Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo New York. It was early 1980’s I believe and I was truly blown away. When your 13-14 years old you really don’t know anything. Leading up to that show the only time I ever heard Merle was Sunday mornings sitting around the record player, in my pop’s truck or the cassette deck when I’d nick my pop’s copies of Back to the Barrooms, and 190 Proof. That concert though I was blown away hearing all these songs in such a different manner, more jazz, more western. I know my pop’s wasn’t happy as he said afterwards, “what was with all the damn horns.” Well from there I was hooked.
Merle wasn’t just a country singer and writer, he was well respected in the jazz community with what Pat Metheny once called “the simplest 5 chords with two finger playing I’ve ever seen.”
Merle’s music was one of the things I’d share with my pops and I’ll never forget those times. Though I’ve been estranged from my family for some time now, that doesn’t mean I don’t remember those Sunday Mornings, the rides to the flea market in pop’s truck the time Kelly, Mom and Pop’s went to see Merle at the Erie County Fair or when pop’s got completely shit faced with his best friend in Daytona Beach singing “Silver Wings,” those memories are forever.
We could go on and on about how many hits he had, the great albums, his collaborations. Well that’s for someone else’s tribute. For me I’ll always remember “Kern River,” “Footlights,” “Always on A Mountain(When I Fall,) “Silver Wings,” “Back to The Barrooms,” damn I could go on forever. His writing was poignant, simple and hit you right in the soul. The other thing? His damned Tele’s.. The tuning was, well you’d have to ask him, it just sounded so amazing.
Merle you may be gone, but your music lives on. Rest in Peace Hag.