Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Merle on Bob

I like country music. I know I'm not alone, but I wish I had a dime for everytime that someone told me "I like all kinds of music except COUNTRY!" I don't know whether this phenomena is rooted in the perception that Country is redneck music, or if a lot of people just genuinely don't like Country. Either way, I really don't understand it. Maybe it's something else altogether. Anyway, I like Country music a lot, I have ever since I was a kid. I remember sitting by the radio singing along to Glen Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy" (I still know all the words). I used to beg my Dad to take me to Bluegrass festivals. I remember having a particular fondness for a song called "I'm Gonna Hire A Wino To Decorate Our Home" by David Frizzell (younger brother of Lefty).

Merle Haggard is probably a big reason why a lot of socially progressive types like myself say they loathe Country music. 'Ole Merle let his redneck flag fly during the cultural ferment of the late sixties with such anti-hippie anthems as "Okie from Muskogee" and "Fightin' Side Of Me." But even a hardcore lefty like Phil Ochs recognized the strength of his artistry, and a closer inspection of his catalog reveals that he is not as much of a reactionary as many assume. There is a powerful populist streak running through songs like "Mama Tried," "Workin' Man Blues," "I'll Be A Hero (When I Strike)" and "If We Make It Through December" that show a real empathy for the plight of people who live paycheck to paycheck. I'm not going to deny that this form of populism can also have a nasty, bigoted, nativist side to it too, but I don't believe in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Plus, Haggard is a heck of a musician and singer.

This song comes from a 1970 Bob Wills tribute album that kicked off a Western Swing revival that continues to this day. Bob Wills had recently suffered a career-ending stoke, and Haggard gathered together a number of original Texas Playboys to record with his band The Strangers. Haggard caught some lightning in a bottle, and the result was one of the best albums of his career. It mystifies me that this is out of print. It was reissued by Koch back in 1995 after having been unavailable for over a decade, and now it is back out-of-print. Merle showed good taste in chosing "I Knew the Moment I Lost You," a fairly obscure Wills song, for this album.

I Knew The Moment I Lost You [Now reissued! click for Amazon link]

Little known fact: Merle Haggard and I are ordained ministers in the same church.

1 comment:

Michael Bates said...

Haggard's salute to Bob Wills, "A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World," is back on CD, part of a double re-release with his "It's All in the Movies." Here it is on Amazon.

You're right, it's a great album, partly because he chose lesser known songs. Three great Wills sidemen are on this album who evidently weren't available for 1973's "For the Last Time" session: Tiny Moore on mandolin, Alex Brashear on trumpet, and Joe Holley on fiddle.