Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard
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"Whatever kind of music you're doing, if you're doing something with some honesty and truth to it, people will recognize that," says Merle Haggard. "Of course if you're doing that now, then you're defying the mainstream. But I think that people are tired of phony stuff, and hungry to hear raw, emotional music again. I believe that people are looking for honesty, and that's what I'm trying to put across." Honesty has always been the cornerstone of Merle Haggard's music, and honesty is the quality that drives his new album Haggard Like Never Before, a self-produced, mostly self-penned 11-song effort on the artist's label, Hag Records, distributed by Compendia Music. At the age of 66, with nearly 70 albums under his belt, the veteran singer/songwriter/guitarist/producer/bandleader could be forgiven if he'd chosen to take it easy. Instead, Haggard is in the midst of an impressive career resurgence that began with his acclaimed 2000 release If I Could Only Fly, making some of the most compelling music-and reaching the most diverse audience-of his long and storied career. The punningly titled Haggard Like Never Before is not the work of a legend resting on his laurels, but of a vital, still-hungry artist staking out fresh emotional territory and taking on new musical challenges. It almost goes without saying that Merle Haggard is widely regarded as country music's greatest living recording artist. A rugged individualist who simultaneously embodies and transcends the genre, Haggard is both a seminal superstar and an unrepentant outsider. Over the course of a remarkably prolific four-decade career, he's consistently shown himself to be an uncompromising creative force, far more concerned with pursuing his iconoclastic vision than with meeting the expectations of the music-industry establishment. Along the way, Haggard has scored no less than 39 #1 country hits; won various Grammy, CMA and ACM awards; become the only California-born artist in the Country Music Hall of Fame; been the only country performer ever featured on the cover of the jazz bible Downbeat; as well as the only man to be invited to perform at the White House and invited to serve time in San Quentin Penitentiary. His compositions have been covered by a variety of acts ranging from the Grateful Dead to Elvis Costello, he's been the subject of two multi-artist tribute albums, and he remains an iconic presence whose influence looms large over contemporary music. Haggard Like Never Before's homespun origins are reflected in the album's deeply felt lyrical contents, and in its intimate, inspired performances. Haggard's singing has grown richer and more emotionally resonant with the passage of time, while his new compositions tackle current events and interpersonal relationships with the emotional forthrightness and plainspoken insight of his best work. "That's The News," his skeptical assessment of the war in Iraq and the news media's coverage of same, is a typically pointed Haggard commentary; months before the album's release, the song had already struck a nerve with the American public, leading to the artist being interviewed about it on such news outlets as CNN and Fox News. He also movingly notes the human cost of war on the solemn "Yellow Ribbons," and casts a baleful eye upon eroding freedoms against an ironically upbeat Western-swing arrangement on "Lonesome Day." Elsewhere on the album, Haggard surveys the joy and heartbreak of longterm romance on "Because of Your Eyes" and "I Dreamed You Didn't Love Me," and considers the fleeting nature of childhood from a parent's perspective on "I Hate to See It Go." Perhaps most affecting is the album's title track, on which the longtime road warrior confronts the emotional toll taken by separation from his family. Meanwhile, Haggard's abiding affinity for American musical tradition is spotlighted on "Garbage Man," a tongue-in-cheek swing classic given a rollicking arrangement by Haggard and co-producer Lou Bradley, and on the Woody Guthrie classic "Reno Blues (Philadelphia Lawyer)." The latter number is performed here by Haggard as a duet with longtime pal and fellow musical maverick Willie Nelson. "I'm covering some new ground on this album, from very serious things to very silly things," Haggard observes. Haggard Like Never Before was recorded in Haggard's own studio on his 200-acre ranch near Lake Shasta in North California's Sierra Nevada foothills. The album's organic, stripped-down instrumental arrangements feature the current edition of Haggard's legendary road band, the Strangers, including longstanding members Norm Hamlet (steel guitar) and Don Markham (saxophone), as well as newer members Doug Colosio (keyboards), Scott Joss (fiddle, acoustic guitar), Kevin "Cab" Williams (bass) and Jeff "Big Guy" Ingraham (drums), plus Norm Stephens, original guitarist with fabled honky-tonker and early Haggard idol Lefty Frizzell. Haggard recently discovered that Stephens was living nearby. "It's meant to be loose," Haggard of the album, adding, "There's music that's created in offices, and then there's music that's created in garages. I prefer the garage. I don't want to make music that's safe, I want to surprise people. I want to surprise myself." Merle Haggard's turbulent and ultimately triumphant life has been full of surprises. The son of parents who'd fled the ravages of the Oklahoma dust bowl, he was born in a converted boxcar in Oildale, California on April 6. 1937. His father died when Merle was nine, and he spent his adolescence following his restless urges, hitting the road and riding the rails. He was also incarcerated in-and escaped from-a series of juvenile institutions, and his troubles with the law culminated in a botched robbery attempt that won the 20-year-old Haggard a three-year stretch in San Quentin. His prison experiences led Haggard-who'd begun playing guitar at the age of 12 and worshipped Bob Wills, Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams-to take stock of his life and decide to pursue a career in music. Upon his 1962 release, he became a fixture on Bakersfield, California's thriving country music scene, working manual labor jobs by day and playing local clubs by night. A string of singles for the local Tally label led to a deal with Capitol Records, and in 1965 Haggard launched an incredible string of classic hits including "Swinging Doors," "The Bottle Let Me Down," "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive," "Branded Man," "Sing Me Back Home," "Today I Started Loving You Again," "Mama Tried," "I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am," "Hungry Eyes," "Silver Wings," "Workin' Man Blues," "The Fightin' Side of Me," "Tulare Dust," "If We Make It Through December" and the much-misunderstood 1969 redneck anthem "Okie From Muskogee." Those classics found Haggard honoring country-music traditions while drawing upon a broad range of jazz, blues, and folk influences, while his vivid, emotionally nuanced lyrics poignantly chronicled the dreams and heartbreaks of common people, as well as his own harsh life experiences. "Life has been peaks and valleys all the way for me," Haggard says. "The only way I know to come out of the valleys is to write my way out." Following his incredibly productive run with Capitol, Haggard recorded for MCA in the '70s and Epic in the '80s, still reaping artistic and commercial successes but finding himself increasingly at odds with the rigid structures of the Nashville music-making machine. After spending most of the '90s locked in a frustrating relationship with the Curb label, Haggard found a more hospitable home with the punk-oriented Anti/Epitaph, where he made some of the most personal and passionate music of his career, namely the aforementioned If I Could Only Fly and its 2001 followup Roots, Vol. 1. The deal with Anti came about as a result of a piece on Merle in the LA Weekly published in ’99. Andy Kaulkin, President of Anti-and a big fan of Merle’s-read the article with great interest and learned that Hag was not only without a record deal, but didn’t necessarily want one. "He is, to me, one of the most unique and richly diverse artists in American music," says Kaulkin. "I saw it as an opportunity to work with one of my all time favorite artists, so I tracked down his business manager and made an offer." Like those two albums, Haggard Like Never Before was made completely on the artist's own terms, with no outside record-company input. "I really enjoyed being involved with Epitaph, and I'm glad I did it," Haggard states. "They're good people, and they were always straight with me. But it was important to me to do this record myself. I've fought hard for my independence, and at this point in my life I'm not about to give it up." Haggard's operation gives him everything he needs to make music without outside interference. He's working on developing Hag Records into a full-service label, with a catalogue that already includes several Haggard projects, as well as Haggard-produced albums by other artists. "I hope to do the same thing with Hag Records that Frank Sinatra did with Reprise, working with friends, past and present. I want to work on projects from Freddie Powers, Bob Wills, Floyd Tillman and other artists of that caliber." "We've cut it down to the bare necessities," he says of the operation. "We've got a great band, a great engineer, a great studio with a Neve board, and I finally have the right people around me to do the job correctly. It's a lot more work to do it this way, but it's worth it." Rather than slowing down, Haggard is currently in one of his most productive and phases to date, producing new music at a prolific rate and playing about 150 tour dates per year, while leading a happy, settled family life that contrasts the wanderlust that's defined much of his history. "It has been a continual balancing act between the music maker and the family man. A lot of credit has to be given to my family; because of their sacrifice, good love and good cookin’, I’ve been able to make this album." "This is a really good period for me," he affirms. "I'm in good health, I'm enjoying myself, and my urge to make music is as strong as it's ever been. As long as I feel like I can still do this, I will. I'm just trying to stay alive and stand my ground."
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07/30/2010 - Merle Haggard Gives Jail Advice to 'Spoiled Brat' Lindsay Lohan - Read More
04/16/2010 - SEMO fair grandstand to have Merle Haggard and John D. Hale - Read More
02/22/2010 - Haggard, Kristofferson give masterpiece at Rosemont - Read More
02/15/2010 - Merle Haggard says he was saved by songwriting - Read More
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Average Rating : 5              Total Reviews: 7

Merle Haggard  08/14/2008            
Merle Haggard  11/16/2007            
The Cosmic Cowboy
Since this album came out on vinyl our family has started Christmas day with Merle Haggard. the first thing I do after giving the cosmic wife a Christmas kiss is put this cd on constant rotation while we open our presents. Hell, my kids think that everoyne does this on Christmas morning and they are 21 and 17 yrs old.
Merle Haggard  01/24/2007            
hope this is as good as everything else by merle...sure it will be..he's an america ledgend ..for real...
Merle Haggard  04/20/2006            
The 5 CD "Untamed Hawk" collection is a better anesthetic than a bottle of gin... How long do you say "I love you" just to hear it echo into silence? Where do you go when you suspect you've become a placeholder until something else comes along? Or when the things she lets slip reveal she's keeping you because she fears nobody will love her the same, but you aren't what she really wants. Well, I suppose you can hope that time will prove you wrong. Me? I can think good things for a while. But If those pretty lips of yours don't start telling me I'm mistaken I'll sadly kiss them for the last time. And then I'll listen to "Misery and Gin" and pray the picture fades.
Merle Haggard  01/21/2005            
Big O
Merle Live at Billy Bob's is excellent. this man has been putting out stuff for 40 years and he just gets better. I cannot believe how he has kept his voice for so long and how he continues to write great songs. It's a shame that he music is not played on the radio.
Merle Haggard  11/21/2004            
Looks like the fRAT rockers and their fans like to say names like Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings, but when Merle has 2 reviews and Cross Canadian Has 400+. . . that's just wrong.
Merle Haggard  07/02/2004            
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