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On the bus with Merle Haggard

On the bus with Merle Haggard

  |   News   |   6 Comments

Stagecoach 2010: On the bus with Merle Haggard

Los Angeles Times – April 24, 2010 – by Randy Lewis

Parking is a journey to the dark side for all concerned this weekend. Several acres were set aside for free parking for those coming to Stagecoach just for the day, and the three-lane-wide jam of cars and, mostly, pickup trucks jockeying to get in earlier Saturday was breathtaking.

Merle Haggard on the bus with Fanny Mae before his set – by Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

Even a musician of Merle Haggard’s stature got caught in the fracas, his bus pulling in about an hour behind schedule to the area in back of the Palomino Stage, where he would play later in the evening.

But the esteemed singer and songwriter was relaxed when I caught up with him on the bus, as Tiger Army lead singer Nick 13 launched his new roots-country side project just a few feet away. (Nick 13 paid earnest homage to Haggard and 84-year-old Ray Price, both of whom would be following him shortly on the same stage.)

Haggard’s new album “I Am What I Am” came out earlier this week, and he spoke about the intimate tone of many of the homespun songs. There’s no flash, little outward fire in the gentle collection.

“It’s pretty personal,” Haggard, 73, said softly, sitting at a small table at the back of his bus, while other members of his entourage hung out in the front — joined by Bobby Bare, who climbed aboard after finishing his own set a few minutes before.

“There’s not a lot of politics,” said Haggard, dressed in a comfortable-looking old New York Athletics jersey. “I guess it’s a little more from the heart than the last few albums.” There’s a sweetly reflective remembrance about growing up in Bakersfield, “Oil Tanker Train”; a song about his home in Northern California, “Down at the End of the Road”; and a bittersweet observation that love is “Pretty When It’s New.”

Haggard plays on the Palomino Stage- by Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

The one exception to the general tone of songs of the heart and hearth is “I’ve Seen It Go Away,” the new album’s lead-off track. Without throwing barbs, he gently but sadly notes many of the things he’s observed of the best of what defines America to its citizens and the rest of the world, how over time “I’ve seen it go away.”

Is the man famously “proud to be an Okie from Muskogee” getting disillusioned with the land he’s loved for so long?

“Some people might say that,” he said. “Maybe I am,” he added with a little chuckle. “But I think there are some people who are going to agree with it too. I think more people have started to turn our direction in the last couple of months, so I think it sounds right up to date.”

Haggard said the lung cancer for which he underwent surgery in 2008 has stayed in remission and he’s feeling strong enough to pump up his touring schedule again. “We have a couple of children who are out of the house now, and we have some extra time.”

For himself, Haggard was looking forward to hearing a bit of Price’s set scheduled immediately before his own.

“Willie and I went on tour with him two times, and he sounded great,” Haggard said. “He really made us take notice.”

— Randy Lewis

Top photo: Merle Haggard on the bus with Fanny Mae before his set. Bottom photo: Haggard plays on the Palomino Stage. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

  • James Schroth | Feb 2, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Merle, saw your show in Fort Myers, Fl last night 2/1/2011 , that was the best and true country music i have herd in a long time! Merle, you are country not that NEW COUNTRY crap !!! Thanks!!!!!!!!!! SPARKY

  • bobbyhutchinson | Feb 2, 2011 at 8:21 am

    mr. haggard, i would like to say thank you for what you have brought to country music. my mothers favorite song in the world is ( today i stared loving you again ) which this song was played at my wedding also. i have done time in the florida prison system, the song that touched more men in there was ( sing me back home ) from everybody in dixie county, fla. we love you, and god bless you and your family

  • Jesse | Jan 31, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    My all time favorite country music story teller and singer and your dog on the bus looks like My “SweetPea”s twin. I wish the very best for You and Family.

  • jennifer southward | Jan 22, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    i love you and i love you dvd tapes i have them i watch them all the time i also got your cds i also play them all the time to i just love what you do you are very good i love everything about you

    yours truly jenn and jerry cross

  • Mary Craig | Jan 19, 2011 at 11:46 am

    Love You Merle!!! You still got the looks!!! YUMMY!!!

  • Frances Wells | Jan 17, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    We love you Merle. Wish my husband Charles could just pick with you one time and that would make his life complete!!!!!!!