Merle Haggard took his leave of this planet today, his 79th birthday, dying of pneumonia. And as I’ve had to do far too many times already this year in the wake of a famous musician’s death, I put on my obit-writer’s hat and got busy putting some remembrance-type content out there.
It was handy to have “Comin’ Right at Ya” co-writer/subject/star Ray Benson’s number to call, since he was a longtime friend and collaborator of Merle’s, and he was quotable as always — see the bottom of this story. I’d also written a few entries a while back for this “30 Essential Songs” list (on “Hungry Eyes,” “The Fightin’ Side of Me” and “Ramblin’ Fever”), and that went online today at Rolling Stone.
Really, though, here’s the best Haggard piece you’ll read today. It’s an excerpt from our very fine American Music Series book on Haggard, 2013’s “The Running Kind” by the great David Cantwell, and this introduction masterfully sets the scene and the story. It’s worth your time. And while you’re giving it a read, dig this Whiskeytown cover of one of Merle’s classics.