Merle Haggard: The Running Kind (American Music (University of Texas))
Merle Haggard has enjoyed artistic and professional triumphs few can match. He’s charted more than a hundred country hits, including thirty-eight number ones. He’s released dozens of studio albums and another half dozen or more live ones, performed upwards of ten thousand concerts, been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and seen his songs performed by artists as diverse as Lynryd Skynyrd, Elvis Costello, Tammy Wynette, Willie Nelson, the Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan. In 2011 he was feted as a Kennedy Center Honoree. But until now, no one has taken an in-depth look at his career and body of work.
In Merle Haggard: The Running Kind, David Cantwell takes us on a revelatory journey through Haggard’s music and the life and times out of which it came. Covering the entire breadth of his career, Cantwell focuses especially on the 1960s and 1970s, when Haggard created some of his best-known and most influential music, which helped invent the America we live in today. Listening closely to a masterpiece-crowded catalogue (including songs such as “Okie from Muskogee,” “Sing Me Back Home,” “Mama Tried,” “Working Man Blues,” “Kern River,” “White Line Fever,” “Today I Started Loving You Again,” and “If We Make It through December,” among many more), Cantwell explores the fascinating contradictions—most of all, the desire for freedom in the face of limits set by the world or self-imposed—that define not only Haggard’s music and public persona but the very heart of American culture.
guitar real good. You can be somebody someday.” Hendricks saw no such future for himself: He escaped, shot a cop while on the lam, and was eventually executed in the San Quentin gas chamber. For a time, Haggard didn’t see a future either. Back in Bakersfield, his wife Leona had given birth to their second child, Marty (named after singer Marty Robbins), but had stopped visiting or writing, and now he learned she was pregnant again, with another man’s baby. He became involved with a gambling ring
“The Running Kind,” his gift for escape extolled with a swagger indistinguishable from regret. “There just had to be an exit for the running kind,” he concludes, which is not at all to say he ever really found one. Never forget. In Merle Haggard’s vision, as laid out in “Mama Tried” and reaffirmed for nearly half a century since, it was “a lonesome whistle blowin’ and a young’un’s dream of growin’ up to ride” that led him directly, inevitably, to San Quentin, the way a train can keep on a-movin’,
big city all the way!” That tension between newfound community self-esteem and smalltown inferiority was present all night. “Welcome to the beautiful new civic auditorium in Bakersfield, California,” Henson gushed, “one hundred miles north of Los Angeles. We have our own airport, thank you very much.” Merle was at the show that night, watching from the wings. When Ken Nelson, up from Hollywood to record the show, spotted the singer, he buttonholed Haggard, telling him what a fine record “Sing a
Merle’s riding the Same Train, but his emphasis is on A Different Time. Now. Switch out that Dobro for a slide and you’ve got the basic template for a bulk of the tracks on the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet, out only a few months prior to Same Train. The biggest sonic differences in the projects come down to the Stones’ simpler lines and louder drums, and their self-consciously rougher and rowdier textures—a British art student’s notion of what a poor boy could do—and Merle and the Strangers’
loves and trusts his daughter, allows himself to be changed. This young man, Merle sings at the end, his heart breaking and mending all at once, “says he really loves the farmer’s daughter.” And, more to the point: “I know the farmer’s daughter loves the man.” Hag was a #1 country album and boasted four hit singles, more than any album of his career to that point: “Soldier’s Last Letter,” “Jesus, Take a Hold,” and “I Can’t Be Myself” were #3 hits across the board, and the latter’s flip,