He took a lot of pride (in who he was)

Published 6:40 pm Tuesday, April 12, 2016

I’m sure everybody knows Merle Haggard passed last week. His contributions to the genre of country music are probably greater than any other artist. That’s saying a lot when considering names like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, George Strait, and George Jones and so on down the line. I may not have named your favorite if country music is your cup of tea.

It’s mine and I’ve been drinking from the cup of country music for just about all my life. I have to admit spending a few years in the wilderness when pop music was full of great songwriters like Lennon and McCartney, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, and all those great Motown writers and artists.

It was country music, though, that lent itself to a single guitar player and songwriter. Tom T. Hall said the best thing to write about is something you know. Since I knew the country, having grown up in it, the most natural music for me was country.

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It did not hurt that it was full of writers like Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and the greatest of all, Merle Haggard.

When I started singing in clubs, mostly the Happy Hours when drinks were two-for-one, my song list was full of Hag’s songs. The reason? They were easy to play. All I had to know was three chords and the simple lyrics.

I’ve probably sung Today I Started Lovin’ You Again and Mama Tried a jillion times. Plus, everybody always got a big kick out of Okie from Muscogee. “We don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street.”

The early songs of Haggard hit home for a large part of America in those late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The country was changing. Hair was growing longer, drugs were becoming more available and the divide between what constituted American values and what did not was just beginning to appear.

As an aside to my words about Haggard, the divide is wider now than then.

Merle Haggard courageously spoke up for the common side of America. I’m not sure I can define the common side of America, but whatever it is, The Hag, with his songs hit the nail on the head.

Walkin’ on the Fightin’ Side of Me said “When you’re running down my country, hoss, you’re walkin’ on the fightin’s side of me.”

Workin’ Man Blues spoke for those people “who work hard every day; ain’t never been on welfare, that’s one place I won’t be.”

One of my favorites is I Take a Lot of Pride in Who I Am. Haggard wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. In fact, he was far from that, growing up in a boxcar that his daddy, who died when Merle was 9 years old, had reworked.

Yet, there was no whining. “I never been nobody’s idol, but at least I got a title and I take a lot of pride in what I am.” Those words still bring a tear to my eyes.

I marvel at his imagery and his craftsmanship. George Strait had a number one hit with a Haggard song The Seashores of Old Mexico. Strait shows the Merle influence as he sings “After one long siesta, I came wide awake in the night. I was startled by someone who shadowed the pale moonlight.” It’s an amazing song with beautiful lyrics.

Hag was known as the “poet of the common man,” but he was far from common. I’m thankful for the way his voice would break when he sang and I’m thankful to have known him through his songs.

RIP, Hag.