Dear Ben Haggard,
First off, on behalf of all country music fans, I want to offer my sincere gratitude and appreciation for all the efforts you have undertaken in both preserving and paying forward the legacy of your famous father over the last few years. The pain we all felt at his passing was powerful, but those of us who only knew him through his music can only imagine how that pain must have been magnified as a family member and son. Hopefully sharing that grief with so many millions of music fans made it easier, just like the music your father left behind made it easier for all of us to cope, and gave us something to reflect back upon fondly.
Beginning with your work playing guitar in The Strangers beside your father while he was still around, and then later leading the band yourself and making appearances with your brother Noel, it has helped us all to prepare and then transition to a world with no Merle. Not every son would have the selflessness or the sense of duty to help carry on a father’s legacy with such sincerity, putting their name in second place. But most exceptionally, very few have the talent or skill to do so, at least so adeptly.
I’ll be damned if sometimes you don’t sound more like Merle than Merle, and you may have him licked in the guitar playing department. I can remember interviews your dad gave back in the day when they were still calling you Binion, and Merle was already warning us about you. At that point it was hard to know if it was just the words of a doting father, or if you were going to develop into something worth paying attention to beyond the famous last name. Now anyone can just watch you perform, or pull up some videos on YouTube and witness it themselves.
It can’t be easy being the son or daughter of a famous country singer. There’s all those expectations and comparisons, some will never give you credit and say you’re simply riding off a famous name, and it’s hard to know how to balance preserving a legacy while forging your own. Pedigree is given such credit in country music because it’s paid off so well in the past. But the 2nd and 3rd generation performers who’ve risen beyond the adversity and expectations are the one’s who’ve struck the perfect balance of carrying on a legacy and being themselves. That crucial balance seems to be developing in you as well.
I don’t want to be presumptuous, but you did sign a songwriting contract with BMI a few years back, you most certainly have the name recognition and social media presence to put something serious together (402K ‘likes’ on Facebook, and 151K Instagram followers without releasing a record or single?), and true country music can always use fresh young voices in the cause, especially ones who’ve proven they can resonate with audiences far and wide, young and old. Where could this thing go if it wasn’t just confined to live appearances and a few tribute songs? Fans also see you as a likable guy. People are lined up to root for Ben Haggard.
What I’m getting at here is that I don’t think I just speak for myself when I say I wouldn’t be opposed to hearing you take a stab at releasing an original album of some sort. I’m talking about something beyond what you’ve already been doing on the stage. Get Dave Cobb involved as a producer, or perhaps your buddy Sturgill Simpson. My guess is the line forms to the left for the people who would be willing and wanting to work with you if an album came to fruition. If you’re waiting for the right batch of songs, you don’t have to write them all yourself, there’s some great songwriters out there these days. You don’t have to be the next Merle Haggard, you just have to be Ben Haggard, which has already proven to work brilliantly, and much better than what a lot of the bastards in pop country and even Americana are doing right now.
I know you probably have it pretty cush at the moment, with a cute little kid at home, and it’s fair to question whether it’s even worth the rigmarole to have a full-blown solo career in country music these days. Let’s face it, it’s only a select few getting rich off of music in this era, and that’s mostly through touring. This request is completely selfish on my part, and the part of other country music fans. But dammit, we want to hold a Ben Haggard record in our hands, hear you do your thing with some original songs, or even mix in some of your father’s material. And we want it on vinyl too if you don’t mind, kind sir.
No pressure though. You just do what you want to do. For all I know, you’re in the studio right now, or have a record in the can and are just waiting for the right moment to release it. I’m just glad there’s somebody out there making it hard to forget about the music of Merle Haggard, being the face of the estate, someone who is willing to crisscross the country to appear and perform at functions where Merle Haggard’s legacy is being remembered.
Not everyone has the gift to resonate with a wide audience, not even many of the sons and daughters country Music Hall of Famers. But you do. There will never been another Merle, but there can be another Haggard.
I’ll shut up now.