Hag's 70

Sorry I missed your 70th birthday yesterday, Merle. I was hitting the bottle. Actually, it was cans of Lone Star, but I'm sure you'd approve. There's lots of things I could thank you for - childhood memories of singing "Rainbow Stew" and "Big City" with my dad during excursions through South Texas, getting together with Ray Price and Willie for your current tour when many others your age are getting settled down, the "Bakersfield Sound", all of your great songs...

For the rest of y'all: sorry I haven't been keeping this blog updated, I've been a little busy. And after a temporary upgrade in space, I'll be going back down to a cheaper file-server package, so don't expect as many large posts as there have been lately, but I should always be able to give you something good at least once a week. And for Merle Haggard's 70th birthday yesterday, I think we'll find the room for another big one. Not for the reasons listed above, but for this story:

I've only seen Merle live once. His songs were omnipresent in my childhood. But this was 1999 - all my school days were gone and I'd become a twenty-something alt-music snob. I think my brother and I went to the show not so much expecting a great show as much as just the opportunity to say "I saw Merle play live". Merle came out on the stage at the large modern dancehall - fuuucked up. He was wearing black sweat pants tucked into his brown cowboy boots. But his walk slurred more than his speech. He stepped up to the microphone and busted out the opening lines of "Silver Wings" with passion, and I got physical chills. The show was smoking, more upbeat than the following recording, especially Hag's oft-used lead guitarist (and Texas legend) Redd Volkaert, who played snaking, almost psychedelic lines around the songs I had known so long. Merle looked right at me and my brother when we howled for "Rainbow Stew" and he winked and played it. And after the show I got my acoustic guitar from my car, and Redd was happy to be the first to put his signature on it. He and the band hung out by the buses, chatting with fans - Bonnie Owens was there, too. After a short while, my brother and I wondered over to Merle's bus, where he had been since the moment the show was over, and we launched into an impromptu, drunken, sloppy version of "Mama Tried" - had we been even one or two beers more sober we would have been (rightfully) too embarrassed to play a great man's great song in his vicinity. But Redd appreciated our enthusiasm (or got tired of hearing us butchering the song), and went into Merle's bus. A minute later the bus doors hissed open again, two thirty-something groupies spilled out, followed by black sweat pants tucked into brown boots. "Merle Hag 99" he scribbled out onto the top of my now-priceless guitar. He looked dead tired, but I remember he smiled and returned our "thank yous" with sincerity. And for that and everything else, this big 'ol post is for you, Merle - Happy Birthday, and many more.

If you are going to burn this to a CD, please write "mp3" or 'mp3 sourced" on it somewhere, and do the same on any copies you burn, so somebody doesn't think it is lossless high-quality. If you're interested in getting high-quality recordings legally from the internet, it's easier than you think - just check out the white "bittorrent how-to" link on my sidebar.

And I do listen to what you, gentle reader, have to say. This show isn't zipped like the last one, although I do like zipping for a reason - it prevents internet trolling software from grabbing and hotlinking to songs, and if you like the artist anyway, you should want the whole show. Hopefully if you aren't too familiar with Merle you'll be interested enough to listen to this show in its entirety, preferably with some alcohol, it really is more satisfying than listening to one or two tracks - a sense of the event happens, like when Merle asks about how the boxing match on TV is going. "Knocked on his bingo card." And the jazz flourishes in songs like "Old Fashioned Love". I liked this show a lot more when I listened to it strait through than I did by skipping around, have some patience with Merle, folks who normally don't like country, he deserves it.

Amazon has a few hundred albums with Merle Haggard, including the highly acclaimed new album with Willie Nelson and Ray Price, "Last Of The Breed"

"I wound up out here a lot more sober than I meant to be, has anybody got anything to drink?"