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Fresh Air Remembers Country Music Legend Merle Haggard


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Feb 16, 2013
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Fresh Air Remembers Country Music Legend Merle Haggard

Fresh Air Remembers Country Music Legend Merle Haggard : NPR


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Country music songwriter and singer Merle Haggard died Wednesday on his 79th birthday. We’re going to listen back to my 1995 interview with him. In today’s New York Times, Jon Caramanica described Haggard as, quote, “the country music titan who most resists easy categorization. He was a wildly versatile singer, songwriter and performer with an affinity for a variety of styles – outlaw country, ballads, the Bakersfield sound, western swing, jazz and more,” un-quote. But when Haggard was young, he hardly seemed destined for success, spending time in and out of reform school and in prison. Haggard's best-known songs include "Mama Tried," "Okie From Muskogee," "Today I Started Loving You Again” and "The Bottle Let Me Down."


MERLE HAGGARD: (Singing) Each night I leave the bar room when it's over, not feeling any pain at closing time. But tonight your memory found me much too sober, couldn't drink enough to keep you off my mind. Tonight, the bottle let me down and let your memory come around. The one true friend I thought I'd found, tonight, the bottle let me down.

GROSS: Merle Haggard was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994. I spoke with him the following year, the week before he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys. He told me how he started hopping trains as a kid.


HAGGARD: I lived in an oil community called Oildale and there was a daily train that went into the oil fields, and it was a steam train back in those days. And I actually grew up every evening, you know, kind of looking forward to seeing that old train pull out of there with about 40 or 50 oil tankers, back during the war, you know?

And my dad worked for the Santa Fe Railroad. I was 9 when he passed away. But I think probably the first time I ever jumped on that old oil tanker was probably - I was about 5 years old. My mother would've died if she had known I'd been up there. We used to put pennies on the track, you know, and we'd hop that old train, ride a block or two, and jump off. So it was something we learned to do young. And we'd watch the brakemen and the trainmen do it. You know, it wasn't really all that hard.

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