A Nod to the Country Music Legend Merele Haggard
By Paul Allen
Country music isn’t like it used to be.” – Merle Haggard
That statement is even truer today after the passing of Merle Haggard last week at the age of 79.
Merle Haggard was one of the greatest American songwriters and storytellers to ever live. He told us stories about living on the run as an outlaw, or trying to scrape by on a daily basis. Most importantly, he told us stories that resonated with us thirty years ago, and still resonate with us today.
In one of his iconic songs, “Okie from Muskogee”, Haggard took on the counterculture that defined much of the Grateful Dead scene of the 1960’s and 70’s, singing “we don’t let our hair grow long and shaggy/like the hippies out in San Francisco do.” Bob Weir recently revealed he took no offense to the jab saying, “I had a pretty strong suspicion that he was laughing all the way to the bank. I had a pretty strong suspicion that he was smoking pot on the back of his tour bus and he came up with a character, and as a writer, as a storyteller — and a singer is storyteller, any artist is a storyteller, first and foremost — he is painting a picture of a character and it resonated with a lot of folks.”
That was the defining characteristic of Merle Haggard. He was a storyteller who could take on any number of voices or characters and capture the imagination of the listener.
When I think of country music, I think of Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Merle Haggard. They are giants in American music history, and they are the reason I still consider myself a fan of country music. In today’s country music scene, overcrowded with commercialized “pop-country”, we can only hope that more young, budding storytellers look to Merle’s example and bring back country music, “like it used to be”.