New York Times bestselling author Mark Elliott knew the subject of his latest autobiography, “The Hag: The Life, Times, and Music of Merle Haggard” for 25 years before his death in 2016.
However, the writer’s exposure to music is deeper than “Okie From Muskogee”. He describes himself as a baby boomer and was friends with Phil Ochs and others in the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early 1960s. He remembers listening to Haggard in his youth, at a time when music was “not just background noise, it was a way of life.”
“I’ve always been attracted to the underdog,” he said. “So it is imperative that you write about the people who have overcome living both the American Dream and the American Nightmare to achieve success.”
Elliott has written about Bruce Springsteen and The Eagles, as well as movie stars such as Clint Eastwood. But Haggard perhaps fits Eliot’s description of the ideal.
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It was Ochs who introduced Eliot to the 1968 state anthem, which gave Haggard his nickname. “[Phil told me]Listen, Okie From Muskogee [represents] Great songwriting, and I’m going to start playing the song in my shows. Once he did that, it created a lot of excitement.”
While writing the 400-page work, the author had nearly 100 conversations with artists about Haggard. His subjects included Country Music Hall of Fame Marty Stewart and Dwight Yokham, several members of Merle’s band “The Strangers”, as well as Merle’s best friend and legendary steel guitarist Fouzy Owen, who discovered Merle and was the first to record it.
Through this rare level of access, Haggard’s depth and influence are discovered. For example, Dwight Yoakam – Bakersfield’s fellow audiophile and friend of the legend, sheds light on Haggard’s creative and personal motives.
“The best part about Merle’s story is his struggle to escape, not only from the prisons he was good at, but from the emotional prison he has no control over,” Yocam said. “The rest of his story is a somewhat cliched show epic – he wrote this, sang, performed this show, won an award, etc. The real drama happened behind the scenes, apart from the physical world, as a battle for self-reconciliation was fought.”
This insight gives Elliott the ability to dig deeper into Haggard’s roots to discern how the 38th-ranked singer in the country’s singles life influenced his style and voice. Haggard was raised as the son of a religious mother. His father was a musician who died of a stroke at the age of 39, when Haggard was nine. For Haggard, death caused a tension that inspired much of his career.
“Because he thought his father’s death was his fault, that haunted him,” Elliott says. “He worked out his frustrations by becoming a delinquent and ended up with [California’s] San Quentin [State Prison] At the age of 19. Furthermore, he took the guitar because he attached it to his father. However, the anger, anger, and fear of his father’s death remained with him for the rest of his life.”
“Merle wrote the story of his life in his songs, and these songs, though his own, are also universal to all,” Elliot continues about the genius that separated Haggard from other singers and songwriters of his and their other generations.
Like Buck Owens, another transplant from California to Nashville, Haggard drew inspiration from those who came before him—but his voice was entirely his own. Together, Haggard and Owens succeeded in forging the ancestors of a style that was later called the “Bakersfield Voice”.
Elliott notes that Haggard believes that the Nashville way of country music was inspired by the church. Haggard said Bakersfield’s voice was “off rails”.
Haggard’s works such as “The Bottle Let Me Down” (1966) and “Mama Tried” (1968) spoke about the ability of blue-collar workers to express some enthusiasm.
“That atmosphere made its way into the music,” Elliott said. “The songs had an upbeat, rhythmic pop-cross design using electric guitars, but the lyrics appeal to tough drunk men. It’s not romantic and outgoing with girls; it’s feminine with women. It’s not Coca-Cola. [they’re drinking]; It’s tough whiskey. They don’t drive around in Cadillacs; They drive around in Volkswagen buses. It created an equation that artists still use today.”
Eliot continued, “Haggard reminds me of a poet like Robert Frost or John Donne.” Take a song like [1974-released] “If we succeed during the month of December.” They were all obsessed with balancing humanity against the frankness of deadly or murderous images. The unease of their meter of poetry as a book reflects the transformation of the sincerity of our daily conversations into art.”
Ultimately, Elliot regards the subject of his book at a higher level as a man and an innovator after writing his last reading. In addition, discover the secret of Haggard’s lasting legacy.
“Merle was unique. He did something no one else had done before. Haggard made anti-romantic country music that was as realistic as it was autobiographical. In his writing, he was timeless and timeless. Every generation goes back to [Merle’s] the roots “.
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