Touring and Merle Haggard have been an interesting proposition lately, ever since he was diagnosed with a double pneumonia back in December. It’s been on again, and off again. As soon as you hear it’s on, he cancels a show last minute due to heath. Then when you hear he’s still recovering, all of a sudden he decides to play a few dates. This has left some fans confused and frustrated, and many concerned, especially since information has been scant, or at times misleading or downright wrong. A story will come out about how he’s feeling much better, and then the next day he will cancel a show. Then you’ll hear he’s not feeling well, but he’ll play a show anyway.
Part of the reason for the fluidity of the situation is Merle Haggard just really wants to tour. If he thinks there’s any chance he can play a show, he will give it a shot. After spending virtually his entire life on stage, it’s what he knows, and Merle has said it makes him feel better to get up on the stage and play . . . if he’s in good enough condition to do so. His friend Willie Nelson says he wants to die on stage. George Jones virtually did die on stage. Performing is what these country legends were put on the Earth to do, and to take that away from them could be more detrimental to their well being than anything, though the rigors of touring also puts their health in peril.
In the upcoming April/May edition of Garden & Gun magazine, writer Matt Hendrickson got the rare opportunity to spend some time with Merle at his property in Northern California near Redding, and during a visit by Sturgill Simpson. While talking to the two stars Hendrickson asks, “Merle, I thought your family was asking you to stop touring?”
Merle responds, “They want me to.”
Merle goes on to say, “I can’t. I feel it’s a double-edged sword. It’s what keeps me alive and it’s what fucks up my life. It’s hard to have a family, so I try and split it up. I try to build a life here of a reasonable sort, and then go and jump on the bus.”
Sturgill Simpson chimes in, “That’s interesting when you say that it’s what keeps you alive and what destroys your life at the same time. That’s been the biggest thing as far as the transitional aspect of this in my family’s life. It’s been the hardest part for me. Everything coincided around the same time, my son being born and then my record took off, and then I spent the first year of his life on the road, watching him grow through pictures. That was all a little bittersweet and hard to swallow some days.”
What Merle doesn’t say is if his recent health issues are the reason his family wants him to quit, or if they just want him to spend more time at home. Merle likely doesn’t need to tour for financial reasons.
Currently Merle has tour dates scheduled starting in the Midwest and Texas in April, through the South in May, in the upper Midwest in June, and up to the Pacific Northwest in July—about eight or nine dates a month.
“Everything is progressing normally,” says promoter Dwight Glenn in Springfield, IL where one of Merle’s first upcoming shows is scheduled for April 8th. “Right now, everything is looking good; his health is better. We have no reason to believe (Haggard) won’t be here on April 8. First and foremost our hope is for (Haggard’s) health, long-term. That’s more important than any given show.”
So the show goes on, and it all emphasizes how important it is to see these legends when you still have a chance. Because you never know when health or other concerns could sideline them for good.