Diverse artists ready to 'Sing Me Back Home' for Haggard
By James Beaty
It’s hard to comprehend Merle Haggard’s been gone for nearly a year now — but the most impressive list of musical artists I’ve seen lined up for a concert in ages are coming together this week to celebrate his music.
Thousands of singers and musicians have registered hit recordings in the U.S. since the dawn of the phonograph age in the late 1890s and the early part of the 20th Century.
Many of them were one-hit wonders and and countless others went on to notch numerous hits. Still, many are nearly forgotten today, except by music aficionados.
Who knows why some artists go on to become legends and others fade into the mists of time, regardless of the musical quality of their recorded output? It’s becoming more and more apparent that Haggard is one whose music is going to endure through the coming years. His music is already the focus of a multi-artist tribute set for this week in Tennessee.
Who else but Merle Haggard could bring together such a diverse group of artists as Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams Jr., Sheryl Crow, Kenny Chesney, Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert and Oklahoma’s own Toby Keith?
Also include Lynyrd Skynyrd, Alabama, the Avett Brothers, Alison Krauss, John Anderson, Jamey Johnson, Oklahoma’s Ronnie Dunn, Dierks Bentley, Lucinda Williams, Bobby Bare and Connie Smith.
Even ZZ Top’s guitarist/singer Billy Gibbons and second-generation Allman Brothers guitar player Warren Hayes are on the bill.
They’ve all answered the call to pay tribute to this unforgettable singer-songwriter, guitarist and fiddler.
The concert, called “Sing Me Back Home: The Music of Merle Haggard,” is set for April 6 at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on what would have been Haggard’s 80th birthday. It also marks a year to the day since he passed away on April 6, 2016.
Despite the array of musicians lined up to perform, a drawing of Haggard and an announcement that the concert is about his music is all that adorns a poster promoting the event.
Really, that’s all that’s needed.
With such a lineup, plans are in place to record the concert. Here’s hoping for a quick release, a TV telecast or DVD/Blue Ray offering — and there’s always the chance some performances will be posted by audience members on youtube following the concert event.
I have to wonder how the musical directors determined which artist gets to sings what song. No need to worry about running out of material though, as every Haggard fan knows. Even with all the artists set to perform at the tribute, they will only scratch the musical surface of Haggard’s vast song catalogue and recorded output.
Not only do they have Haggard’s remarkable hits to consider, ranging from “Swingin’ Doors” and “Branded Man” to “Silver Wings” and “Mama Tried,” there’s also Haggard’s outstanding deep albums cuts — which often are as musically rewarding as his more well-known songs.
Haggard’s also done entire album tributes to other artists, such as the Singing Brakeman, Jimmie Rodgers; Western swing legend Bob Wills and even Elvis Presley, with “From Graceland to the Promised Land.”
Richards, a longtime admirer of Haggard’s musical and songwriting abilities, was a late addition to the concert lineup. He obviously wanted to join in the tribute along with all the other artists.
I remember the Rolling Stones guitarist being a longtime fan of country music. He voiced the praises of artists such as Johnny Cash as far back as the 1960s. He also became a close friend of Gram Parsons, the American musician and mentor of Emmy Lou Harris, who is credited with inspiring the Stones’ great song, “Wild Horses.” Parsons is also credited with being a pioneer of today’s Americana movement.
Richards has spoken in interviews of how he first performed with Haggard in a sort of all-star band during a rehearsal for a television special. He barely noticed that the grizzled guitarist sitting nearby wearing a straw Stetson was Haggard, until the Hag greeted him with a knowing nod and a wink.
Richards, who related how he almost lost his place in the song when he recognized Haggard, said the two became friends. He believes that’s because they mutually recognized that each of them had been through a lot, sort of brothers of the road.
Haggard ultimately left this world as a working musician. He stayed on the road until nearly the end, although he could have retired years earlier and lived a comfortable life on his songwriting royalties alone.
Those who are real musicians though, are in it for the music.
Haggard devoted his life to bringing his music to the people.
Here’s to all the musicians — both the multiplatinum artists performing in Nashville on April 6 and the front-porch pickers in Oklahoma and around the nation — who will continue to keep Haggard’s songs alive for as long as listeners are receptive to creative melodies, heart-wrenching lyrics and a voice that speaks from the heart.