Merle continues to rack up the awards and accolades more than 45 years after his first album was released. He was inducted earlier this month into California’s Hall of Fame, in a class that included Barbra Streisand, Betty White and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. He was also honored in December as part of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors, at a special ceremony with President Obama, fellow honorees Oprah Winfrey, Paul McCartney, composer Bill T. Jones and dancer/choreographer Jerry Herman. An all-star cast of performers paid tribute to the honorees, including Miranda Lambert, Sheryl Crow, Vince Gill, Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley and Kid Rock.
Julia Roberts, Barbara Walters, John Travolta and Dave Grohl. Merle says he walked away with a few new friends.
“[Oprah] and I had some funny things happen. She leaned over to me one time during the presentation and she said we came the farthest,” the country legend reveals. “She sent me some gifts when we got home. There was a six-pack of some of the most expensive champagne I’ve seen in my life. She’s quite a lady.”
Merle describes fellow honoree Paul McCartney as not being “very funny,” but says the ceremony made him a new fan of the Commander in Chief. “He was really nice to us and he was nice to everybody else. It wasn’t just a brush-by — he made a special effort to get to know us, the singer says of President Obama. “I was highly impressed with him. I’m not one to go for the charisma, [but] I realize that’s a talent and it’s really not something that may or may not make his presidency better. He has that charisma. I think that’s necessary and I think that when you represent America around the world, you need it. Ronald Reagan had it, and Bill Clinton had it.”
Story by Richard Tafoya
SoundSpike Contributing Editor
Published October 9, 2011 09:56 PM
Photo: Tim Mosenfelder / SoundSpike
On a night where cool autumn temperatures might have made hot chocolate a popular concession offering, Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson provided the sonic equivalent of a warm blanket to a crowd of true believers Friday (10/7) at Los Angeles’ Greek Theater.
While both artists’ names appeared on the marquee, this was clearly Haggard’s show and Haggard’s crowd. Kristofferson fronted nine songs of the 24-song set, commanding many of the more contemplative moments of the night with his richly detailed, classic story-songs, but for the most part, all eyes were on Haggard to see which way the ship would steer next.
Kristofferson opened the show solo with a heartfelt reading of “Shipwrecked in the Eighties,” which he dedicated to America’s vets. From there, Haggard and his band took the stage, hitting the ground running with “Pancho and Lefty.”
Haggard’s excellent touring band, The Strangers, currently features his son Ben on guitar, and the younger Haggard displayed impressive chops, shining particularly brightly on the Haggard standard “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” and “Working Man Blues,” which was revived for Haggard’s strong new album.
Kristofferson’s memorable and largely serious lyrical turns in the likes of “From Here To Forever” and “Hear Comes That Rainbow Again” proved an ideal foil to Haggard’s wry and rambunctious offerings.
In a recent interview, Kristofferson spoke of the natural fit of the blended show, crediting the camaraderie of the musicians and familiarity of the material with the fact that they eschew a formal written setlist for a general “play it by ear” approach.
For the crowd at the Greek, that approach seemingly worked very well, with more than a few shouted requests turning up throughout the show, whether by coincidence or not.
Ultimately, Haggard’s side of the show traveled through plenty of fruitful terrain, from the stately “Pancho and Lefty” through a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” which proved a galloping party bus of a performance.
The version of “Workin’ Man Blues” that appears on his new “Working In Tennessee” album with Willie Nelson and Ben Haggard helping on vocals, picked up some steam along the way, with a bouncier backline rhythm that reaches back to his 1969 version, which was anchored by the great James Burton on guitar. The result pulsed with a slinky “CC Rider” vibe.
The evening capped with a pair of singalongs, Haggard’s signature “Okie From Muskogee” and Kristofferson’s “Why Me,” which featured some powerful harmony vocals from Haggard.
Shipwrecked In The Eighties (Kris Kristofferson vocals)
Poncho and Lefty
Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star
I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink
Me and Bobby McGee (Kris Kristofferson vocals)
Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down
Lovin’ Her Was Easier (Kris Kristofferson vocals)
Folsom Prison Blues
Are the Good Times Really Over
Here Comes That Rainbow Again (Kris Kristofferson vocals)
Workin’ Man Blues
Sing Me Back Home (Kris Kristofferson vocals)
From Here to Forever (Kris Kristofferson vocals)
The Farmer’s Daughter
The Pilgrim (Kris Kristofferson vocals)
Working in Tennessee
Take Me Back to Tulsa
Sunday Morning Coming Down (Kris Kristofferson vocals)
Okie From Muskogee
Why Me (Kris Kristofferson vocals)
An album full of relaxed mastery, as well as grit and charm, from the country veteran.
By Ninian Dunnett 2011-10-06
If you think a guy might sound a little jaded coming to his 49th studio album, Merle Haggard should set you straight. Working in Tennessee is a sheer tonic: a warm brew of the charm that has distinguished one of country’s great heroes for half a century.Haggard is famous for his hits – 38 number ones between 1966 and 1987 – but also because of what he stands for. There probably isn’t anyone in music who is more completely the real deal. And if there’s a quaver in that 74-year-old baritone, it doesn’t dim its ringing authenticity.
This is a man who sings Okie from Muskogee with rare conviction: the son of Oklahoman immigrants to the Bakersfield oilfields, and somebody who lived in a box car, served time in San Quentin, dug ditches and drove trucks. When he sounds like Bob Wills, it’s not a coincidence: the great innovator of western swing left Haggard his fiddle when he died. And when he falls naturally into the rocky honky-tonk of the Bakersfield brand of country, it’s because – along with Buck Owens – Hag invented that whole fiery answer to the slick ‘countrypolitan’ of Nashville.
Not that there’s much nostalgic about this album. It’s packed with ornery opinions, opening with a sprightly title-track that manages to evoke the spirit of Wills while taking a series of cheerful swipes at Music Row (“Water came in, water came out / Saw the Hall of Fame, floating about”). What I Hate and Too Much Boogie Woogie tell it like it is, while there’s a wistful note on Sometimes I Dream and Under the Bridge.
But the mood is what’s irresistible. Sashaying through a bunch of tunes that showcase his craft, Haggard sounds laidback and happy. And the bounce spreads right through the band, with lovely fiddle and guitar work from Scott Joss and Reggie Young. There’s even a nod to the future on the singer’s famous Workin’ Man’s Blues, pairing Willie Nelson with Haggard’s 18-year-old son Ben for a cross-generational triumph on an album that is full of relaxed mastery.
As Merle and Theresa Haggard prepare to hit the road for the September Tours, they will be celebrating their 16th Wedding Anniversary September 11th! – Cheers to Merle and Theresa …and to many more!