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Merle Haggard On A Saturday Night

Posted: Feb 19, 2011

Merle Haggard On A Saturday Night

This afternoon I re-read Paul Hemphill’s story from Too Old To Cry (1981) about Merle Haggard titled “Okie”. Hemphill wrote 15 books including The Nashville Sound, Long Gone, Leaving Birmingham and The Good Old Boys. Johnny Cash once wrote this about Hemphill’s novel King of the Road: “Jake Hawkins is a lot like my own dad was, and this book took me home. King of the Road is a southern masterpiece and one of the finest things I’ve ever read by any writer. I can’t wait to get some copies out to my friends.”

Hemphill spent time with Haggard on many occasions through the years. In “Okie” the story takes place on  Haggard’s tour bus in Columbus, Ohio. Hemphill introduced Haggard to his friend named ‘Streetcar”, a down and out good soul, who the famous country singer identified with from his own tough background. The point of this excerpt revolves around the famous Haggard’s ability to identify with the common man:

“And, from what I see, an amazing thing has happened. Rather than spoiling the man, success has strengthened him. Five years ago he would come blowing into Nashville ‘to do some howling’ and be seen stumbling around Music Row like a lost soul, but today he has all but quit drinking. In the past he was a moody man who seemed terribly complex and haunted by all sorts of devils, but now he is as self-composed as any man I have ever known in show business.

“The money and fame have worked for him, not against him, giving him a self-confidence and a freedom he had never known. Not having to worry about paying the bills or becoming a success or otherwise proving himself, he now has the peace of mind to go on and become what my friend Streetcar and a lot of other people think he can be: an artist whose work should be every bit as lasting as that of a very few, such as Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers.

’I tell you what,’ Kris Kristofferson told me once, ‘that man has already written some of the best folk songs that’s ever been done. I think that now, when we speak of Merle Haggard, we aren’t talking about how he’s going to come out on the Country Music Association Awards this year, we’re talking about posterity.’

“It is really quite simple, to me, why Haggard did not have his head turned—did not sell his soul and his art—when success finally came. It is because he remained true to his roots.”

I’m listening to Haggard’s If I Could Only Fly now. He’s playing several shows in the South next month.

James Calemine


Celebrating The Life & Work of Paul Hemphill

Merle Haggard's The Bluegrass Sessions

Merle Haggard's If I Could Only Fly


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