merle haggard

Merle or Bob, Marcia or Laurie


Apparently, Bob Dylan gave a speech the other night that was generally well received, but made headlines for a couple of digs Mr. Zimmerman directed at some of his musical peers. Dylan said some condescending things about Leiber & Stoller and Tom T. Hall and had this to say about Merle Haggard:

“[He] didn’t even think much of my songs. I know he didn’t. He didn’t say that to me, but I know way back when he didn’t. Buck Owens did, and he recorded some of my early songs,” Dylan said. “Together Again, that’s Buck Owens. And that trumps anything else out of Bakersfield. Buck Owens or Merle Haggard, if you had to have somebody’s blessing, you can figure it out.”

This is a pretty juvenile thing, if you ask me. But who doesn’t like a good manufactured controversy? Alas, Merle did not take the bait.

Growing up in the 60s and 70s I remember all the false binaries of the day. The great fault lines: Beatles or Stones, Lennon or McCartney, Ginger or Mary Anne, MARCIA BRADY or LAURIE PARTRIDGE!!!! Was this kind of thinking symptomatic of adolescence or did it have something to do with the era itself? Maybe it is something in Boomer DNA?

One can only speculate what went through Dylan’s mind when he chose to call out the only living songwriter whose body of work eclipses his (and hey, maybe that’s the reason right there).  Here’s my blinding glimpse of the obvious for everybody: You don’t have to choose one or the other.  You can have your Haggard and Dylan too! Still, it’s a little saddening to have any kind of harsh words between these two Giants of American Song.

Allow me to imagine this dream scenario: Dylan, seeing his words in print and realizing they were a bit harsh, reaches out to Haggard and they make a record together. I see an opportunity here.


While we’re on the subject of the Merle, want to share this fascinating find from a 1972 documentary (terrible quality, alas) featuring Haggard wandering through an abandoned labor camp. What swagger the dude had back then!

“I’ve lived at the very end of what must have been a wonderful country”

I followed a link on tumblr first thing this morning and came to such a trove of Merle Haggard lore my first thought was, “Holy shit! The great man has died.” But no, it’s just a very good, passionate fan site.

It linked to an Esquire Q&A from 2007 I had never seen. It’s great. Here is an extremely large chunk of it.

I’ve lived at the very end of what must have been a wonderful country.

They’ve left the redwoods up alongside the highway so we’ll think they’re all there. But go up in an airplane and you’ll see that they’ve clear-cut everything behind.

The kids just don’t know how big the tear on the rip-off was. If they had any idea, I believe they could do something about it. But it may be too late. We’ll see. They’re smarter. They can talk to one another. I don’t look for a politician to bullshit his way in this time.

When I was nine years old, right after my dad died, my mother got me some violin lessons with this big heavyset lady. It took nine lessons before this lady said to my mother, “You’re wasting your money. He’s got too good an ear. He’s not going to fool with learning to read when he can play something that he hears on the radio.” When I heard her say that, I knew I had something.

We weren’t thieves by nature. Pranksters. Practical jokers. We were without a car one time, Dean Holloway and I. We just went out and started borrowing cars. Sometimes we’d bring ’em back. Put gas in ’em. Clean ’em up. Leave a little note: THANKS FOR THE CAR. Like the Phantom.

I’m in a very small percentage of people ever in the joint who beat it. It’s like 2 percent of 2 percent. If you’ve ever been to the joint, you’re going back.

[snip] …

Freedom is what prohibition ain’t.

I probably had as bad a sex urge as anybody when I was younger. I remember an old guitar player, Eldon Shamblin, told me, “When you get pussy off your mind, you can go ahead and learn something.” Isn’t that great?

Willie Nelson’s the one who told me the reason it costs so much to get divorced is because it’s worth it.

I remember going to a dance when I was a kid — my older brother took me in. Roy Nichols was playing. My brother said, “Hey, there’s a little guy in there playing guitar. He don’t have to pick cotton or go to school.” Roy Nichols became my idol on the guitar. Many years later, he went on to play for me for half price. But he and I could never look directly at each other. I never knew why. At first, I thought it was because I admired him too much. But it was Roy, too. Anyway, late in his life, Roy had a stroke. Paralyzed him on one side. Right down the middle. Half of his nose he could blow, the other half was dead. After his stroke, I went over to Roy’s house. He looked me right in the eye and said, “Look here: I love you.” I got chills. He said, “That old shit went down the hole with this stroke.”

They got laws for the white man and laws for the black man — we all know that.

There’s more. Here is the link to the original. And again, here is the link to 190 Proof.

If we make it through December


Reading the news, and it’s all bad

  • “I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world.”
    –Mayor Mike
    . See also this
  • “No one is arguing for rule of law as we once knew it. Rather, it’s a fight between those espousing martial rule of law and those espousing unilateral intelligence ops.”
    –Marcy Wheeler, The Rule of Martial Law Vs. the Unitary Spookery
  • According to the study’s authors, the United States’ poor performance and relatively slow improvement compared with other nations may be attributable to “the lack of universal coverage and high costs of care.”
    U.S. Ranks Last Among High-Income Nations on Preventable Deaths
  • “Still, the world is watching a geopolitical game of chicken: Western powers are raising the stakes, threatening economic warfare and even kinetic military action unless Iran backs down; Iran believes it can withstand whatever the West and Israel is plausibly going to throw at it, and is firing symbolic warning shots of its own. To avoid an escalation that could lead to war, both sides would have to be offered acceptable off-ramps. But that takes diplomacy, which isn’t exactly in vogue in Western relations with Iran, right now.”
    –Tony Karon, After the Embassy Attack: Are Iran and the West Lurching Toward War?

Higher than a cat’s back

Music cognoscenti know: Buck Owens was the bee’s knees–in spite of the fact that in his later years, there was a certain clownish aspect to his act. You could make the case that Hee Haw was on the air for a little too long. But in his prime, Buck was one cool country cat.

Here are a couple of clips of the glory years of the Buckaroos, featuring Don Rich, Buck’s guitar man and harmonist (“he sings higher than a cat’s back”). Rich died in a motorcycle crash in 1974, and Buck was never the same.

Rich opened for Elvis at the age of 16, and had a regular gig at Steve’s Gay 90’s Restaurant in South Tacoma when Buck Owens hired him as fiddler. Fender gifted him a Champagne Sparkle Telecaster, and he could really wear a Nudie suit.

That distinctive accent harmony was a defining feature of the Bakersfield Sound. Merle Haggard, who performed in Buck’s band for a while (and who named them the Buckaroos) also made amazing use of it. (Check out the Bonnie Owens part in the studio version of “Today I Started Loving You Again”–alas, I could not find this online.) Merle and Buck had a pretty contentious history together (including sharing a wife, though not simultaneously), so I would not be surprised if they both took credit.

I think of how musically genius these boomtown hicks were, when listening to the New Pornographers’ Adventures in Solitude. That first verse with the spare accent harmonies. Pure Bakersfield.

* While I’m digressing on the subject of criminally overlooked collaborators of the Bakersfield Era, I would recommend a listen to Laura Cantrell’s gorgeous, heartbreaking song about Bonnie Owens:


My mother’s favorite male celebrities were Liberace and Claude Akins.

I know! That’s quite a pair (comparable: Ernest Borgnine and Paul Lynde;  Charles Bronson and Charles Nelson Reilly). But she was a banquet waitress and a true small-d democrat. She cherished equally the autographs of both men, superstars from a kinder, gentler era.

Been having trucking songs running through my head lately. Found this clip from Movin’ On, which starred Akins and had a great song by Merle Haggard

Staying with truckin’ songs, and trying to match the weirdness of my mother’s pairing (God rest her),  another classic, albeit one from a distinct tradition, that of the scary, exhilarating roller coaster ride that is a Fall song:

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