Merle Haggard is the reason why I play country music.
“Mama Tried” was the first song of his I ever heard of his and it forever changed my life as a singer and a songwriter. Merle had a way of putting his vulnerabilities front and center while maintaining his strength and morale unlike any other artist I’ve ever heard. Many musicians try to write songs that make them look cool. Merle was cool simply because he was absolulely himself at every step of his career.
They say “write what you know”, well Hag wrote the damn book on that phrase. He was as authentic as it gets, allowing music to be the vehicle for his own self understanding - which in turn allowed the people who loved his music to have a greater understanding of their own values.
Where other artists wouldn’t touch the darker sides of who they are and where they came from, Merle sprinted towards those edges and did the artistic equivelant of standing naked infront of a crowd of ten million people.
I’ve never done hard time in prison, but I feel I understand some of what might go through an inmate’s head by listening to “Sing Me Back Home”.
I’ve never been a fugitive but I get a sense of the dispare of one when I listen to “I’m A Lonesome Fugitive”.
I sure as hell have let my mom down as a kid and that’s why I get choked up everytime I sing Mama Tried.
As a songwriter, as an artist, it’s our job to empathetcially tap into what it means to be a human being, providing windows of the full spectrum of life - the joy, the fear, the love, the pain.
I adopted the last name Bragg when I moved to Nashville to remind myself of where the bar is set. The “BR” in my name is for Bruce Springsteen. The “AGG” is for Haggard. In all the moments where I will get lost, I have the compass of the masters to guide me home.
Sing me back home, Merle Haggard. I know you will.