Merle Haggard died, aged 79, on his birthday, still touring. With his musicianship, his melodies, his multiple styles, his utterly expressive voice, and his eloquent, authentic songwriting, Haggard–to my mind–was the greatest country music artist since Hank Williams. (I know, Johnny Cash has to be in there somewhere. But “the Hag” arguably surpasses him on musical points.)
You probably know him best from the corny “Okie from Muskogee,” but listen to his others. In fact, his greatest hits are among the most listenable in country music, no matter which style of music you usually prefer. Blues, jazz, rock, gospel, Western Swing, and more–you can hear it all in his songs, which are also characterized by strikingly beautiful melodies. What I most appreciate about him, though, are his song lyrics, particularly those that capture perfectly what it means to live paycheck by paycheck, struggling and sometimes failing to make ends meet for your family. He sings about poverty–reflecting his own childhood during the Okie migration to California–with plaintive dignity.
If you don’t believe me about the greatness of Merle Haggard, I’ll prove it. After the jump, read the obituary, watch the Youtube of “If We Make It Through December,” and then click to the other songs I link to.