Like Elvis Presley and Ray Charles, Merle Haggard is a singer in whose voice one can hear all the strands of American popular music. Last Sunday’s Los Angeles Times published a terrific profile of Haggard by Times music critic Robert Hilburn. Hilburn’s profile focuses on Haggard’s songwriting.
The profile is not accessible on the Times site, but it appears in today’s St. Paul Pioneer Press and is available on the Pioneer Press site as “‘Mama tried,’ and Merle has done her proud.” Hilburn opens the profile with a visit to Haggard from the tax man:
Merle Haggard, the country music star who really did turn 21 in prison, just like it says in one of his songs, figures it cost the IRS nearly $100,000 the day an agent came to his ranch near here to try to figure out what goes into writing a hit.
Haggard’s tax return was apparently kicked out by the computer for too many business deductions, and the agent wanted the songwriter to show him how the 200-acre spread in the mountains helped him do his work.
During a walk around the grounds, Haggard explained how a creek inspired one song, a flowerbed led to another, and a bulldog jump-started a third.
“Finally, this fellow looks at me and says, ‘Why, Mr. Haggard, everything you do is a write-off,’ and he started pointing out other things I should have declared,” the songwriter says, laughing so hard his whole body shakes.
I know Rocket Man is a fan of the Hag’s tongue-in-cheek “My Own Kind of Hat.” I wonder if the Hag might have pointed out any mothers, babies, fairies or cherries on the walk around the grounds.
The profile also explores Haggard’s early days in prison. As governor of California Ronald Reagan granted Haggard a full pardon in 1972, and Haggard hasn’t forgotten.
HINDROCKET adds: The Trunk gave me the four-CD version of Haggard’s collected works a couple of years ago. I’ve been listening to it a lot, especially now that I’ve got pretty much my whole music collection on my iPod (more about that another time). Just a few minutes ago I was driving my oldest daughter home from the barn (horse barn, that is) and I played her some Merle along the way. She’s a country music fan, but Merle is pretty authentic for today’s teenagers, and it helped that she was a captive audience. If you haven’t listened to Merle, I highly recommend the experience.
Alan Jackson recently recorded “My Own Kind of Hat,” by the way, which shows that political correctness hasn’t yet come to country music.