Though not always though of in the same “Outlaw” vein as Waylon Jennings, David Allan Coe, or even Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard had just as many, if not more moments where he stood up to the country music industry and what it had become later in his life, while showing his “Fightin’ Side” streak at other opportunities in his life, whether it was beating Cancer, or recalling his days in prison.
Thursday, April 6th, 2017 marks the one year anniversary of country music legend Merle Haggard passing away on his 79th birthday. Today would have been his 80th. To mark his passing, and his birthday, here are 11 “Fightin’ Side” quotes from Merle.
#11 On Sturgill Simpson
“As far as I’m concerned, he’s the only one out there. The rest of them sound like a bunch of (crap) to me.” — From In Forum.
#10 – Merle’s Response to Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan criticized Merle Haggard during a rambling speech during a Grammy function in 2015. “Merle Haggard didn’t even think much of my songs,” Dylan said, “I know he didn’t. He didn’t say that to me, but I know way back when he didn’t. Buck Owens did, and he recorded some of my early songs. ‘Together Again,’ that’s Buck Owens. And that trumps anything else out of Bakersfield. Buck Owens or Merle Haggard? If you had to have somebody’s blessing, you can figure it out.”
“I don’t know what the fuck’s wrong with Bob. I’ve always liked his music. And his writing was just impressive to me, because I was a songwriter, and struggling. So I admired him from the very first. I love hearing him sing. And I loved hearing him play guitar. I wish he’d come out from behind that damn piano and play his guitar. He’ll think it over and change his mind.”
#9 – After Finally Receiving An Honorary High School Diploma from Bakersfield High School in 2015
“But I was only there nine days.”
#8 – Watching Johnny Cash Perform While Doing Time at San Quentin
“He had the right attitude. He chewed gum, looked arrogant and flipped the bird to the guards. He did everything the prisoners wanted to do. He was a mean mother from the South who was there because he loved us. When he walked away, everyone in that place had become a Johnny Cash fan.”
#7 – On Escaping from Jail 17 Times
Merle Haggard wasn’t sent to San Quentein because he was a hardened criminal. Most of his crimes were petty, but he kept escaping. So to attempt to scare him straight, he was sent to the big house. Merle recalled his escape record to Vanity Fair in 2010.
“I wasn’t really that bad a guy. They just couldn’t hold me anywhere else. I escaped 17 different times, so they sent me there because I was an escape risk.”
#6 – On Beating Lung Cancer
“I’m in better shape than I went in.”
Merle, after being diagnosed with lung Cancer in 2008, and after having a tumor the size of a lemon removed from his right lung, was out playing shows again less than two months later.
#5 – On The Lack of Melody in Modern Country
“It needs a melody. It needs a melody real bad. Not sure what they’ll have to remember. A song is defined as words put to music, but I don’t hear any music. All I hear is the same band, the same sound, and everybody screaming to the ceiling. You stand off at a distance and you couldn’t tell who they are. They are all screaming for one note they can barely get. I don’t find it very entertaining. I wish I did.”
From The Blade in 2015.
#4 – The Boogie Woogie Wham-Bam
“I’ve gotta be honest, I don’t really listen to the radio at all anymore. Once in a while, I’ll scan it and I don’t understand what they’re doing. I can’t find the entertainment in it. I know these guys, occasionally play shows with them and they’re all good people. But I wonder if that record they’re making is something they can actually do. Too much boogie boogie wham-bam and not enough substance.”
#3 – Challenging Mike Curb of Curb Records to a Boxing Match
Curb Records refused to release Merle’s music in a timely manner when he was signed to the label, and barely promoted him. For four years after his first record with the label, Curb released no new music. Haggard would eventually release two more albums on Curb, named for the years they were released: 1994 and 1996. 1994 somehow did even worse than Haggard’s first Curb release, coming at a paltry #60 on the albums chart, and 1996 did so bad, it didn’t even chart at all. The tombstone-style motif of the album covers seemed telling.
“People wonder where I was for the last 10 years. I was on Curb Records,” Haggard said in 2000 after his Curb contact had finally expired.
“He (Curb president Mike Curb) used me as a billboard for younger acts. He got people like LeAnn Rimes and Tim McGraw. He didn’t do anything to promote my records. I’d like to publicly challenge him to a boxing match.”
From The Chicago Sun in 2000.
#2 – Calling Modern Country Nothing More than Screwing on a Pickup Tailgate
“I can’t tell what they’re doing. They’re talking about screwing on a pickup tailgate and things of that nature. I don’t find no substance. I don’t find anything you can whistle and nobody even attempts to write a melody. It’s more of that kids stuff. It’s hot right now, but I’ll tell you what, it’s cooling off.”
From In Forum.
#1 – Mouthing off the CBS Records Executive Rick Blackburn for Firing Johnny Cash
In 1985 Merle released the song “Kern River” and it reached #10 on the country charts. But if it was up to CBS Records executive Rick Blackburn, the song would have never been recorded at all. Blackburn hated the song, and apparently went out of his way to tell Merle as much at every opportunity he had. Then at some point, Merle had enough. Blackburn mouthed off to Merle about it, and Merle lost it.
“That’s about the third time you’ve told me that.” Haggard said, “It’s more like five times. Well, I’m about five times short of telling you to go to hell.”
Then Haggard continued:
“Who do you think you are? You’re the son-of-a-bitch that sat at that desk over there and fired Johnny Cash. Let it go down in history that you’re the dumbest son-of-a-bitch I’ve ever met.”