Gone: Merle Haggard

merle rip

My first Merle Haggard record, picked up at a shop in Dinkytown in Minneapolis, way back in the early 1980s was called Serving 190 Proof. I really don’t know why I decided to fork out the five or six bucks for a country and western record but I thank my lucky stars I did.


At that point my musical tastes were quite immature. Sure, Johnny Cash was a hero and Willie Nelson was fun, but country music in general was anathema to me. Hoaky music for rednecks.


But I read a lot of music reviews and Merle was someone the rock critics consistently praised. Maybe it was the album cover—a hand coloured photo of Merle looking lonely at a bar—that got me to dish out the cash. I can’t recall from this far up the road, but that album became instantly a favourite. It’s remained so for 30+ years.


More albums followed and my head and cassette tapes filled with Merle Haggard songs: Big City, Driftwood, Okie from Muskogee, Shopping from Dresses, Poncho and Lefty many of which I’ve included in this mixtape to mark his passing yesterday.


Merle’s songwriting is top notch. I have always been drawn more to his mellow side and songs where he seems to be simply reflecting on the wonders and sorrows of the simple life. Merle’s songs are full of nostalgia and hope and a sad resignation to never ending change.   His baritone which has to be one of the smoothest and most expressive natural voices ever gifted to mankind is what consistently delights and enchants me. Be it the rowdy CC Waterback with pal George Jones, the boozy anthem Swinging Doors or the downright classic, Kern River, it is voice that drives the nail into the knotted wood.


From little things big things grow, said another fine singer. And from that one LP purchased three and half decades ago, Merle’s place in my musical estimation has steadily risen. I reckon he is one of three singers whose music I consistently and regularly come back to for more inspiration, insight and pleasure. So his passing is a terrible loss.


Thanks for everything hoss!


Track Listing

01 Mississippi Delta Blues

02 There I’ve Said It Again

03 Crazy Moon

04 I’ll Be a Hero (When I Strike)

05 The Last Letter

06 What Happened

07 You Don’t Have Very Far To Go

08 Truck Driver’s Blues

09 Rainbow Stew

10 Pancho And Lefty

11 Are the Good Times Really Over

12 Going Where The Lonely Go

13 Swinging Doors Strangers

14 Still Water Runs The Deepest

15 Workin’ Man Blues

16 The Fightin’ Side of Me

17 Django and Jimmie

18 The Bottle Let Me Down

19 C.C. Waterback

20 Tulare Dust

21 My Own Kind of Hat

22 I Am What I Am

23 If I Could Only Fly

24 Driftwood

25 Walking the Floor Over You

26 Natural High

27 Irma Jackson

28 Okie from Muskogee

29 Kern River




3 thoughts on “Gone: Merle Haggard

  1. Feilimid

    My only knowledge of Merle Haggard for the first twenty or so years of my music-listening life was shaped by “Okie From Muskogee” which was released in the first year of Nixon’s regime and struck me as a reactionary piece of dreck, akin to a Pat Buchanan-crafted Spiro Agnew rant at its worst. Compound it with my living in New England and his music was frankly off-limits until I moved to Texas in the 1980s and lived there for a decade. By the time, I left for the mid-Atlantic region below the Mason-Dixon line, I understood the complexity of Haggard, the irony of that song when contrasted with his life and lifestyle, and his genius.

    I had always liked some of Cash, Kristofferson, and Jennings, and grew to like Nelson, and, of course, Haggard even to the point of acquiring his music as well as the music of many others who would once have been banned from my record collection. Over the years, I began to really love him and appreciate his uniqueness. I also fell in love with and acquired a decent collection of alternative country and what came to be called Americana of which I would send tapes and burned discs to friends back in New England, trying to preach the gospel of the music’s spiritual and mystical, trance-inducing (for me) qualities. So much of it was white man’s blues and authentic poetic expressions of working class life, which was in fact my life, here in these dis-United States.

    When I heard weeks ago that Merle Haggard was still fighting pneumonia, I suspected, having chronic respiratory issues myself that include fighting periodic bouts of pneumonia, that, as his age, the prognosis was not good. Still his death leaves me especially sad, mourning the end of an era from which Nelson and Kristofferson survive to remind of us the best of that era, those days (or some might say daze) and nights at the Armadillo and other refuges for their ilk.

    Thank you, Merle, for capturing so articulately.the bittersweet poignancy, joys, and pains of this life in words and music, doing it without an excess of regret or self-pity. You epitomized the word survivor and inspired others to believe in personal redemption after sharing your story of hearing Cash sing while you were in prison. You epitomized, too, what it means to be a resident of this country which, other than in the writings of Joe Bageant, doesn’t get covered with respect but for a random documentary here and there. I am so glad your music survives but it just ain’t the same without your craggy, timeworn face, expressive eyes, and lips singing the words.

    Thanks again, Mr. Rabe for making the decision to return from blog retirement and thanks, too, for this tribute. In the Irish language, we say, “Ní beidh orainn a fheiceáil ar a leithéid arís”, (we’ll not see his like again), or as Merle might have said about him and his above-named peers, “”ní bheidh ár leithéidí arís ann” (our like will not be there again), a quote from Tomás Ó Criomhthain’s autobiography “An t-Oileánach” (The Islandman).

    1. Nate Rabe Post author

      Feilimid, thanks for that wonderful remembrance. I could not have said it better or more accurately. I too had to learn to like Willie whereas once I got the Merle bug it was like meeting a lost friend. I’ll have to now go and search out Joe Bageant. Thanks for that tip. Salut from Down Under. I keep listening to Merle over and over, relishing each word!


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