People Out Loud: Memories of Merle

April 2016 Posted in Columnists & Opinion

dixon2016By Dixon Bledsoe

“Silver wings. Shining in the sunlight. Roaring engines, headed somewhere in flight. They’re taking you away and leaving me lonely. Silver wings, slowly fading out of sight.”   Merle Haggard,  1969

Sometimes, simple is better. 

Silver Wings was so uncomplicated it just resonated with me. A Rolling Stone reviewer wrote “Haggard sang so intimately that you wondered if you were eavesdropping. Even the arrangement – with its slack guitar strums, soft brushes on the drums and a majestic wash of strings – felt like a sucker punch to the gut.” The country giant passed away April 6, 2016 on his 79th birthday.

There’s something about his music that stirs up old memories. When I moved to Texas to start my Air Force career in 1973, country music became a part of me. It helped me with being away from home, mend a broken heart and gave new life to my southern roots. Merle Haggard was at the forefront. Okie From Muskogee was his answer to those who protested the Viet Nam war. It was and is a great beer-drinking anthem best served on July 4. Corny and hokey? Some say. But this was a volatile time in our country’s history. Haggard’s songs spoke of a simpler way of life, strong American values and Old Glory.

Today I Started Loving You Again is another classic.

I got over you just long enough to let my heartache mend. But then today, I started loving you again.

In 1968, Haggard asked his wife, Bonnie Owens, to get him a hamburger, when he wrote this touching song about her. He told her, “’Bonnie, I don’t ever remember saying those words. It’s like God put ‘em through me. I knew he said them – I was there. I’d write them down.” He served time in prison in 1957 and that brought us his golden hit, Mama Tried, a 1966 song about letting his mother down because of his rough life and famous for one of country music’s most memorable lines – “I turned 21 in prison doing life without parole. No one could steer me right but mama tried.” He hit gold again in 1966 with The Bottle Let Me Down, reflective of a failed attempt to self-medicate when love went south.  So many hits, so many stories.

My all-time favorites? One was counter culture. “Today was Angie’s birthday. I guessed it slipped your mind. I tried twice to call you. No answer either time. But the postman brought a package I mailed some days ago, and I signed it, “Love, From Mama, so Angie wouldn’t know.” Holding Things Together in 1974 stands out as so sad and different – women didn’t leave their husbands and children.

If We Make It through December was a monster country hit that crossed over to the pop charts. It hit the working man and woman where they lived, getting laid off at the factory right before Christmas. “And my little girl don’t understand why her Daddy can’t afford no Christmas gifts.”

My own claim to fame with The Hag? Not much of a story, but good after a couple of cold ones. In 1980,  I wrote a song for Merle Haggard, who hadn’t had a good hit in years. A friend spent spring break with her close friend who managed Haggard’s ranch. My friend said if Merle was there, she would hand him my song. Nashville would be calling ME! The Grand Ol’ Opry would introduce country’s hottest writer! She returned with a letter and my hands were shaking as I opened my ticket to paradise. The typed note stated, “Mr. Haggard has enough songs to record for 10 years. Further, he does not accept unsolicited material without a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Sincerely, Mr. Haggard’s Manager.”

I lambasted his stupid songs, his rolling and twangy voice, his drinking “problem” and the fact that he threw away a chance to revive his “sagging” career with a remarkable song tailored to his voice. 

But today I just miss him.

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.