Country Music Hall Of Fame - Merle Haggard
|This appeared in the Country Music Association's Award Program - September 1994|
|Country music speaks for itself right now. It appeals to more people than ever before. It makes more money than ever, and its future possibilities seem endless. Although still being touted as a trend by some, the first million-selling Country song was released in 1927. One of the truths of the trend is that it seems invented singers are flying in and out of Nashville's revolving door on a daily basis. The innovators are few and far between. Where once being different and stylistically identifiable was the ultimate badge of honor, it's now more chic to imitate rather than innovate.
However, beyond the surface of the moment, down near the Heart and Soul of the matter, stands a guy named Haggard. M-E-R-L-E D-A-M-N H-A-G-G-A-R-D. He is the truth, and he is beyond trends. He's a well-traveled liver of life, a rascal, a poet, a picker, our singer, a cat among cats. What Kristofferson wrote about Cash applies to him too, "A walking contradiction....Partly truth, partly fiction. A pilgrim and a preacher and a problem when he's stoned." That's HAG.
I got a ticket and went to the Ryman Auditorium this summer to see Merle Haggard and the Strangers. It was like watching Babe Ruth stand at home plate at Yankee Stadium and call his shots each time before he swung his bat. Word after word, line after line, song after song, right into the grandstand of every heart there. It wasn't like watching yesterday's star trying to live up to the old days. It was the past, present and future of Country Music with some of its finest songs, some of its finest singing and some of its finest memories. Haggard means something to everybody. He's Woody Guthrie's seed. He's a 7th chord. He's a boxcar hauling Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills through the dust of Oklahoma across the Grapevine to Bakersfield. He's a different breed. Thank God. He is a solitary American Flag that flies on a California mountain where he stands alone.
Merle Haggard and the Country Music Hall Of Fame were made for each other. He was destined to be there. I read where he once commented that a certain award that he had won made a helluva doorstop. This one can't be stopped. From the dirt road that I'm standing on, just knowing that this is going to happen for him opens a door of faith, hope and inspiration for me. It is th same door that I've personally witnessed the likes of Bill Monroe, Johnny Cash, George Jones and Willie Nelson walk through. People that God made special and who dared to be different. It's a life that ain't easy but one that I understand. Success, failure, victories, defeat, heartbreak, tragedy, true love, what looks like true love, truck stops, honky tonks, cigarettes, whiskey, Jesus, hook lines, Nudie suits, ex-wives, kids, fiddles, guitars, fishing, fans, freeloaders, on endless miles of road. All that figures in as the lifestyle of a true Country Singer that's worthy of a three-minute song and a half-page in the newspaper when we're gone. But it's the mountain tops in the meantime that keep you going.
Witnessing Merle Haggard being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame is a mountain top for all of us now. It's a beacon for the outside world to see that the grit inside of the spiritual conscience of Country Music is alive and well. (And in the midst of this worldwide explosion that we're experiencing, that's a good thing to know.)
Keep doing it, HAG, because you're needed more than ever.
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