Merle Haggard died on his birthday, April 6th. He was 79. While it wasn’t a shock, it was still a surprise. The legends that have been around my whole life seem so unbreakable, so solid. I’ve been thinking about my relationship with Merle over the years, from the backseat of the car when Daddy had HIS station playing on the radio to today when I happily include classic Merle Haggard songs in my clients’ programs.
When I began going to junior high school dances, the live local band that played the music ALWAYS ended the night with “Silver Wings.” I probably had no idea at the time that it was a Merle Haggard song, but it always represented that last hope for a soft slow dance with an awkward young teen. I’m quite certain I never got to dance to it, but I had hope.
My first job in radio was as an all-night disc jockey at a “progressive country” station in Amarillo, Texas. Progressive country in those days meant we played most of the hits of the time from Conway Twitty, Tommy Overstreet, Johnny Paycheck and Kenny Rogers, but we also focused on the groups like The Eagles, The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Marshall Tucker Band and on singer/songwriters like Emmylou Harris, Guy Clark and John David Souther (a hometown boy who made it big writing songs for The Eagles).
This station gave me lots of choice on what songs I wanted to play during my show. That was a rarity even for that time, and I was very lucky to get to experience that fun aspect of radio. We had the full library of music from the Pure Prairie League and the song “I’ll Fix Your Flat Tire Merle” became a favorite from their Two Lane Highway album.
One of the greatest joys of being a DJ was getting to choose not just a single song, but choosing a string of songs that played well together, related to one another, and blended on the segues perfectly. I loved when things aligned and I had the opportunity to play “Okie From Muskogee” (all about not smoking marijuana and derision of “long and shaggy” hippies in San Francisco, of course) and then directly roll into the quick guitar of “I’ll Fix Your Flat Tire Merle” over the applause of “Okie from Muskogee.” If you are unfamiliar with the song, it’s a funny little song about a bunch of hippies driving down the road and spotting “the greatest country singer alive” broken down beside the road. They stop to help and tell him “don’t you get your sweet country picking fingers all covered with oil.” The topper of course, is that they are hippies, still love his songs, and they don’t mind him making fun “of us long-haired kids” and claims Merle should loosen up with their preferred relaxant.
I’ve been listening to lots of Merle Haggard music since his death and I marvel at his songwriting. So many should be Great American Standards, but they are so closely associated with his beautiful voice and styling they aren’t often recorded by others. They are worth revisiting, discovering, and sharing. I’m having long-forgotten memories flood in with every song.
Here’s a favorite of mine that shows Merle Haggard’s depth:
– Submitted by Janice Williams, Music Design