Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Merle Haggard: Nothing Original, But a Real Talent

Merle Haggard: Kick out the footlights.
Country music and country music stars are derivative. So when you hear that Merle Haggard, who just died on his 79th birthday, being "an American original," smile and change the subject. That's half right. He was an American.

He derived his sound from a guy named Lefty Frizzell, a journeyman country singer in the 1950s and 1960s and an uncle of David Frizzell, a journaaen country singer in the 1970s and '80s, who had a big hit with Shelly West, daughter of Dottie West ("You're the Reason God Made Oklahoma"). I don't know where Lefty got his country/rockabilly sound, but there was a lot of Hank Williams in it and Hank got his sound from ... And so it goes.

There aren't many originals in country music because it is a music whose development has been gradual and contains few deviations from the norm. "Modern country" probably developed from old time music in the 1940s, when Western Swing mated with the fiddle and steel guitar. It was pretty static until the outlaw movement of the 1970s, which spawned Haggard, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash (who had been a rocker), David Alan Coe (who once sang "the perfect country song"), and the like. It has been a slow climb to nowhere from there, mostly getting away from the roots, but remaining strongly derivative in every way.

Haggard sang about trains, mama, getting drunk, cheating, being a country singer and conservative politics. He did it well and I had a number of his albums at one time. I think I outgrew him, but he was a staple for a few years.

Haggard, who looked like his name, lived a good life and entertained a lot of people. Rest in peace, old boy.


  1. You should truly reassess yourself:

    A canvas covered cabin in a crowded labor camp
    Stand out in this memory I revived;
    Cause my daddy raised a family there, with two hard working hands
    And tried to feed my mama's hungry eyes

    - Merle Haggard

  2. Better yet, just read this, which is an accurate assessment of Haggard's place as a true American original. (smh)

  3. Merle and Garner Ted will be back.