Singer, Songwriter and American Icon Merle Haggard Passes Away at 79
In a statement from his son, Ben Haggard said of his father, "He loved everything about life and he loved that everyone of you gave him a chance with his music. He wasn't just a country singer, he was the best country singer that ever lived."
By Michael Bachara, Hemp News
Merle Haggard, the prolific singer-songwriter whose autobiographical outlaw songs and political anthems are loved across generations of fans, died April 6 surrounded by family at his home in Palo Cedro, California.
Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994, Haggard was instrumental in developing the Fender Stratocaster twang and rugged baritone voice of the Bakersfield Sound and recorded 38 No. 1 hits, including "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive," "Mama Tried" and "Sing Me Back Home."
Haggard, although best known for his 1969 classic “Okie From Muskogee" which protested the counterculture of the time, had evolved his stance on the marijuana plant over the years.
“At the time I wrote ‘Okie From Muskogee,’ I didn’t smoke,” he explained in a 2011 interview with the Star Tribune. “It was ’68. I thought it was responsible for the flower children walking around with their mouths open. It was not so. But if a guy doesn’t learn anything in 50 years, there’s something wrong with him.”
"I was as dumb as a rock. I didn't know much about what I was talking about. But I knew more than the hippies knew. We've come to terms with each other. I've got a lot of hippies in my audience. And I'm pretty much a hippie myself. A short-haired hippie."
As a young man Haggard attended three of Johnny Cash's concerts while locked up at San Quentin and detailed his years in and out of prison, his musical influences and his many musical successes in an NPR interview that originally aired on April 6, 1995.
Haggard was a well-known marijuana smoker who often smoked before going on stage to perform and said he stopped when medicinal marijuana became legal in California. "There's no way I'm going to smoke somethin' that's legal, so I quit," he said. "But I think it's like onions: You ought to be able to grow it if you want it."
“I think it’s silly to put someone in jail for [marijuana possession]. I think it’s a threat to the pharmaceutical industry that you can go to the garden to grow something that might keep you from having to use Lipitor,” Haggard proclaimed when the Bakersfield Californian newspaper, asked about his friend Willie Nelson's 2010 marijuana arrest.
In 2012 for Nelson's Heroes album, Nelson and Haggard recorded the opening track together titled "A Horse Called Music."
Haggard and Nelson also recorded a duet album, "Django and Jimmie," released in June of 2015, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart and No. 7 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart.
Haggard had been scheduled to join Nelson on tour for four shows in May, in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, as the two re-connected in 2015 doing a video for their tune "It's All Going to Pot."
As a converted marijuana advocate, Haggard expanded on his thoughts during a 2003 Livewire interview with Frank Mull, saying, "We live under such an overwhelming existence of double standards in America. We say one thing and mean another. We have two sets of laws - one for the fellow with money and one for the guy who doesn't have any money."
"I don't know how much you know about hemp," Haggard continued, "but there was a time when hemp was the number one export. It gave nutrition to the soil, which is something that cotton doesn't do and something that oil drilling doesn't do. It could be the answer to the problems of the entire world right now. And everybody'll go, 'haw, haw, haw!,' but its a fact. We've been brainwashed with hemp and led to believe that if somebody smokes marijuana, we should give him 65 years in prison somewhere. That's the mentality that we've been led to favor and its real ignorance on our part. We've got tobacco farmers and corn farmers and people all over the country that would love to have the right to grow hemp. You can build a bridge out it. You can make pants out of it."
When it came to his own life, Haggard said he could remember hearing his mother telling him, "Oh, son, whatever you do, don't let somebody slip you one of them marijuana cigarettes." And in his mind, she knew what she was talking about, so he believed her.
Haggard explained, "Only thing was, she'd been lied to and the country's been lied to, and the children they try it and say, 'Well, what else did they lie to us about?' I think its time we be honest and start lookin' for answers to a fuel that can be used without contaminating the air. Something that can be grown in the soil and then be turned back over and be useful, as opposed to cuttin' down the rain forest and drillin' holes in the earth. It could all possibly be solved with hemp."
It seems Haggard had become more of a hippie than he imagined. His attitude about preservation of the planet was clear: "We need to be creative with our thoughts. We need to save ourselves. We're a society that's about to go into, I think, a phase one of intelligence, or we'll wipe ourselves out - one of the two. I think it's happened in the past, I think we all know that. And here we are again, right on the verge of becoming either residents of the universe or another dead planet."
Outlaw country singer Sturgill Simpson released a statement on Haggard's passing saying, "We lost a true hero today and I am very, very sad to say a true friend. I will always be eternally grateful. Goodbye Hag."
"He was my brother, my friend. I will miss him," said Willie Nelson said in a statement.
Image Courtesy: Merle Haggard Facebook Page