Comment permalink

Merle Haggard: Misery and Fandom

For whatever reason, country music hit its financial stride during the seventies. With Willie Nelson issuing no less than four classic (there were others, but we’re talking about stone classics) during the decade and Merle Haggard reconfiguring the general populace’s perception of the genre, it was a good time for the music.

Aside from writing one of the best jail house songs ever penned, Haggard was something of a fan boy. He’d obviously grown up listening to what we’d now consider classic country stuff from the thirties and forties. So the fact that Haggard attempted to work up a few tribute albums during his career shouldn’t be a tremendous surprise. And subsequent to praising Jimmie Rodgers, who actually deserves more praise, Haggard moved over the western swing impresario Bob Wills.

Today, western swing isn’t really a genre suited for pick up conversations at bars. At one time, though, the music boasted (well, some claim) that Wills’ group counted the first player to record with an electrically amplified guitar. Whether that’s accurate or not – who knows, Charlie Christian fans make roughly the same claims – Wills and his group were able to merge the jaunty good time feeling of folk and hillbilly music with jazz in something like a backwoods big band. The sound really was revolutionary, explaining Haggard’s love for the music.

A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (Or My Salute to Bob Wills) sports twelve tracks of varied sounds. It’s not all up-tempo styles. But whatever’s here doesn’t exactly sound like Haggard’s other recordings, which boast a slight rock and roll tinge, if only lyrically at times. Either way, the range of material run through here enables Haggard to exhibit his considerable talents. His voice, some how, is able to manage all of this in hushed tones, pushing the fiddle out in front and occasionally the high and lonesome lap steel.

Picking a high point seems futile here seeing as the track listing was culled by Haggard to exemplify his heroes talents. “Misery,” though, details a sleepless night, how the song writing dealt with it and what he thought about. Those long nights are instantly recalled by the listener. They have to be. That’s how true Haggard imbues the track with solitude and consternation.

Well, it’s getting late here. And really, there’s probably another sleepless night ahead for me. So, I’ll just hit repeat on that track and see if I can eventually drift off. Here’s hoping.