Sturgill Simpson gave the country music pot a good healthy stir first thing Monday morning (8-29) when he posted a scathing letter against the ACM’s and their “meat parade” for co-opting Merle Haggard’s name for a new ‘Merle Haggard Spirit Award.’
And while he was at it, Sturgill decided to put the Southern contemporary culture magazine Garden & Gun in his crosshairs for disrespecting Merle earlier this year by deciding to put Chris Stapleton on the cover as opposed to Haggard who was ailing at the time. Merle died on April 6th—his 79th birthday. One of the last media pieces Merle participated in was the Garden & Gun feature that went to print shortly after his death.
Sturgill said in his statement on Monday:
He [Merle] was so excited about it … We spent the whole day of the interview visiting in his living room with our families and had a wonderful conversation with the journalist. Then we spent about two hours outside being photographed by a brilliant and highly respected photographer named David McClister until Merle had enough…he was still recovering from a recent bout of double pneumonia at the time and it was a bit cold that day on the ranch.
But then at the last minute, the magazine’s editor put Chris Stapleton on the cover without telling anyone until they had already gone to print. Don’t get me wrong, Chris had a great year and deserves a million magazine covers…but thats not the point.
Its about keeping your word and ethics.
Chris also knows this as he called me personally to express his disgust at the situation. Dude’s a class act.
Interestingly enough, Chris Stapleton addressed this very same issue back in April while being interviewed at the ACM Awards by The Band Perry of all people. The Perry trio, Brandy Clark, and Chris Stapleton all did an 11-minute interview together (see below), and the usually reserved Chris Stapleton had some choice words for Garden & Gun‘s decision to preempt Merle for him.
“You were just on the cover of Garden and Gun which is hands down my favorite magazine. So beautiful,” Kimberly Perry says in the interview.
“What was that like? I’m a photographer too and I love that side of things. So how was it shooting for the cover of that magazine?” Neil Perry asks.
Chris Stapleton responds,
“That’s a weird story. I’m not sure if I should tell it or not because their magazine’s supposed to be about manners and they don’t have any. They were literally supposed to put Merle Haggard and Sturgill Simpson on the cover, and they did a 30 minute interview with me and Will Smith for what was supposed to be the inside thing. And then they bought a photo off a guy that did a GQ shoot and put it on the cover. And I never knew anything about it. I never was told about it. And Merle was in the hospital when they did that. It wasn’t cool.”
Sturgill Simpson went on to say in Monday’s letter,
“The editor later claimed in a completely bullshit email apology to both Merle’s publicist and ours (Chris and I share the same publicist) that they didn’t get any good shots that day.
David McClister…2 hour shoot…no good photos…OK buddy..whatever you say. Anyway, Merle passed away right after it came out.”
Garden & Gun has commonly run profiles on independent country and roots artists, including Sturgill, Stapleton, and many others. In the same issue titled “Country Music’s New Outlaws,” they also included a list of new Outlaw artists. Though many of the artists included on the list are excellent music talents in the roots music scene, most except for Whitey Morgan would be hard to construe as Outlaws, while many of today’s true Outlaws were left off.
The Garden & Gun ‘New Outlaws’ issue seemed to illustrate the problem with many of today’s music periodicals that see the expanding interest in independent country music, but rely mostly on journalists and editors who only know country music from the outside looking in. The decision to call certain artists “Outlaws” and to put anyone on the cover instead of Merle Haggard during Merle’s final days, especially after it had been promised to him, was a decision that fundamentally cuts against the grain of country music culture, and may haunt the periodical for a while, at least in country music circles.
Saving Country Music reached out to Garden & Gun about the Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton comments, but received no answer.
The Chris Stapleton comments can be seen at about the 9:45 mark.