Archive for the ‘Merle Haggard’ Category

A Half-Century of HonkyTonk (Willie Nelson, Ray Price, Merle Haggard)

Saturday, January 26th, 2019

 

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard” that just would have been easy business. And, put in terms of copyright and back catalog, it would have been a follow-through on “Pancho and Lefty,”  the hit record they made together almost 25 years ago. But to triangulate them with Ray Price, as the new record “Last of the Breed” does, is to structure a summit meeting on honky-tonk singing.

Photographs by Michael Falco for The New York Times

The three singers are connected by lots of small sum items  like the fact that Mr. Nelson used to be Mr. Price’s bass player  but also in one big way. They are all magnetized toward the sound of Bob Will’s Texas swing. Mr. Haggard, for his part, seems drawn to the kind of front man Wills was: a sporadic fiddle player, spontaneous organizer of arrangements and agent of the unpredictable. Mr. Price, for his part, long ago adapted Will’s twin-fiddle breaks, folding them into nearly all his honky-tonk hits of the 1950s and ’60s. As for Mr. Nelson, a Texan, a country singer and an improviser, Wills is part of his light and air.

“Last of the Breed” came out last week on Lost Highway Records. The inevitable short and gentlemanly tour that followed.  Mr. Price is 81, Mr. Haggard 69, Mr. Nelson 73  would naturally be the live version of the record. Right? There are 22 songs on the album, from the repertory of their favorite 40s and 50s country songwriters. Wouldn’t it be enough to take that and round it off with some extras? Sure. But what happened at Radio City Music Hall on Thursday was infinitely better.

The beginning of the show was Mr. Price’s, and he played a half-hour set with his backup band, the Cherokee Cowboys. In a gray suit and red tie and moving with slow grace, he sang in his latter-day vocal style over his early-days music. The music was ironbound, honky-tonk shuffles with a steel guitar and twin fiddles; that vocal style was a crisp baritone that never bent notes, ennobling every phrase of “Crazy Arms” or”I Won’t Mention It Again” or “The Other Woman (in My Life), making the deadbeats and emotional anarchists in the songs like stand-up guys.

After a pause Mr. Haggard appeared, with the Western-swing band Asleep at the Wheel as his backup. He looked itchy and inscrutable. He picked up his fiddle, and things got deep very quickly. He ordered up “Take Me Back to Tulsa” singing in his relaxed, froggy voice, picking the order of soloists, and the band heated up in the out-chorus. They played an old public-domain blues, still warming up the fingers. Then began about 45 minutes of music that represented the best of what you can get, on the best of nights, from experienced, ornery types.

Song after song, with endless differences in the shadings and rhythms of his vocal phrasing, and with modest, clear-minded guitar solos, Mr. Haggard made copyright a dead issue. He used his restlessness to melt down his hits, to undo them and turn them back into process and possibility. He worked within the changing spaces of a flexible band; he sang the first verse of “Sing Me Back Home” by himself. He smuggled the line “Honey, don’t worry about what George Bush does” into the lyrics of “That’s the Way Love Goes”; he ordered solos in “Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink”; he engaged Mickey Raphael, the harmonica player from Mr. Nelson’s band, who played short solos and obbligatos as if he were another guitarist.

Mr. Nelson arrived, smiley but wearing a similar inscrutability, and together the two continued the weird work that Mr. Haggard had begun.

“Pancho and Lefty” was served in a businesslike way. But then came “Ramblin’ Fever” with a slashing solo from Mr. Nelson’s heavily distressed guitar, and the demonstration of both singers lethal, discussion-ending baritone voices. Cleaning off the table before dessert, Freddie Powers, an excellent soft-tenor Texas singer who has worked with both Mr. Nelson and Mr. Haggard, sang “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.”

Mr. Price reappeared for a few songs from the record, including two from the great ark of Wills (“Roly Poly” and “Please Don’t Leave Me Any More Darlin’ and a rising-to-the-occasion version of “Night Life” in which he and the band slowly surged to a thundering final chorus. This was a more orderly part of the show: elegant, old school, moving.

The evening finally turned into the hero-worship stage, with Mr. Nelson taking over. You probably know the coordinates: amiable-vagabond music (“Whiskey River” and “On the Road Again”) and a funny new song called “You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore.” It was all better than good. But that delicate, tenebrous, alchemical middle section of the concert: that was something else, something unknowable.

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, “Missing Ole Johnny Cash”

Friday, January 11th, 2019

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, “Don’t Think Twice (it’s all right)”

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

Merle Haggard – Willie Nelson – Johnny Paycheck – The Anaheim Stadium Concert (October 1980)

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard in Roanoke, VA (Oct. 19, 2018)

Friday, October 19th, 2018

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photo by:  Erica Yoon

On October 19, 2015, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard performed at the Berglund Center Coliseum.  Their album Django and Jimmie was No. 1 on the Billboard Country chart that year. The two last had a No. 1 album together in 1983 with Pancho & Lefty.

Willie Nelson, “He Won’t Ever Be Gone”

Thursday, September 6th, 2018

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photo:  Janis Tillerson

This day in Willie Nelson history, “Poncho and Lefty” is #1 (July 23, 1983)

Monday, July 23rd, 2018

On July 23, 1983, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s recording of “Pancho And Lefty” moved to number one on the Billboard country chart.

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard on the Fourth of July (2015)

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

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photos: Janis Tillerson

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Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

In the Studio w/ Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard ‘Django and Jimmie

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

Willie Nelson helps honor Merle Haggard (April 6, 2016)

Friday, April 6th, 2018

www.liveforlivemusic.com
by:  Andrew O’Brien

Two years ago today, on April 6th, 2016, outlaw country icon Merle Haggard passed away on his 79th birthday. Haggard spent a lifetime playing country music, becoming a pioneering face of “outlaw country” and enjoying the success throughout a career that spanned over 50 years. He wrote countless beloved songs like “Okie From Muskogee”, “I’m A Lonesome Fugitive”, “Sing Me Back Home,” “The Fightin’ Side Of Me,” “I Wonder If They Think of Me”, “Mama Tried”, and many more, and continued to work until his final days. Among his more recent (and popular) releases was Django and Jimmie, a 2015 album featuring Haggard and Willie Nelson. Watch the two lovable musical stoners record their track “It’s All Going To Pot” below:

Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard – “It’s All Going To Pot”

[Video: WillieNelsonVEVO]

In a Rolling Stone editorial published after Merle Haggard’s passing, Willie shared a few touching highlights from the two men’s decades-long friendship. He explained that while they had only recently released an album together, the two had been fast and fierce friends since meeting at a poker game in the early 60’s.

As Nelson recalled, “We always had a lot in common. We both hopped trains as kids. We both got our starts playing bass in other bands before stepping out on our own. We’d both been married for the last 20 years. We both had our sons playing guitar with us. Over the years, we played a lot of dates, a lot of poker. He was a great audience for my jokes. I told him recently, ‘You know what you call a guitar player without a girlfriend? Homeless,’ and he laughed.”

Nelson also talked about Haggard’s work ethic and dedication to his craft. “I always had a lot of admiration for him. He came onto the scene with a bang. He wrote more Number One songs than me, Kris [Kristofferson], anybody. He was a great one to follow. He was able to talk about his life in his songs intelligently and ingeniously, really.” Willie added that his favorite song by Haggard is “A Place to Fall Apart”.

 

 

Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, in concert (April 4, 2015)

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

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WILLIE NELSON, MERLE HAGGARD & KRIS KRISTOFFERSON
Sat Apr 4, 2015

WinStar World Casino and Resort

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, “It’s All Going to Pot”

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

Monday, December 4th, 2017

Willie and Merle

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

photo by Benjamin Wick.