The loss of Merle Haggard last week left an incredible hole in the world of country music, and that’s just if you’re a fan. For musicians, many of whom built their original sound on the foundation that The Hag began laying in the 1960s, his death is even more profound.
Texas country has a particularly strong relationship to Haggard, in more ways than one. Like Haggard, Texas artists have long been Nashville outlaws. In the wake of the biggest loss in the country world since Johnny Cash, some of Texas country’s biggest acts pay their respect to the other Man in Black.
"The last song I sang my grandaddy before he died was 'Sing Me Back Home' by Merle Haggard. Like so many families, Merle's music will always have a special place in our hearts."
Mike Eli of Eli Young Band
"Every time I hear a Merle song, it brings me back to those summer road trips with my dad driving across the country in an 18 wheeler. He was an important piece of my musical history and upbringing. It's a sad day for country music and the music world in general. We lost one of the best artists of our time and there will never be another one like Merle. We were lucky enough to share the stage with him. It was a truly special night that I'll never forget. The Hag will be missed!"
"There will never be another Merle, just like there will never be another Elvis. Alongside guys like Glen Campbell and Willie Nelson, Merle was probably one of the first voices of country music that I ever heard. I'll miss him dearly, and I'll never hit another stage with my band again without thinking, 'What would Merle do?'
"The first year that my wife and I were married, we were very hard pressed for money. After a Christmas Eve at my parents house, we were down to our last $20 and were driving home when 'If We Make It Through December' came on the radio, and all we could do was cry. I said a prayer and continued home. When I checked the mail at the house, I had my first ASCAP songwriter checks waiting on me.... We 'made it' through December and I'll always remember that song for that reason."
"I remember playing with Merle a few years ago at Billy Bob's in Fort Worth. We played earlier in the day, but I brought along an old 33 1/3 LP to get signed. I got it signed after our show, then the band and I watched Merle's set from the side of the stage. I still remember how freaking good he and the band sounded. They played with remarkable high and low dynamics and at moments it was so quiet you could almost whisper over the stage volume. Merle was as good as it gets till the day he passed."
"I feel so blessed to have seen Merle live at Willie Nelson's 4th of July Picnic in Austin last year. He took the stage to a standing ovation. He had the crowd of thousands in the palm of his hand, hanging on every word. I'll never forget when he sang 'Mama Tried' then brought out Willie for an encore of 'Pancho and Lefty.' That's a piece of country music history I'll never forget."
“Merle is my go-to. When I'm nervous, when I'm lonely, when it's a big show, when I'm happy, sad, anxious, a party or a fight — a Hag song comes on and it's all OK. That's how it will always be.”
Mike Harmeier of Mike & the Moonpies
“Merle has always been my favorite country songwriter. Beyond that, he was the whole package: an amazing guitar player, fiddler and singer. He was the best at incorporating a lot of jazz chords into his songs and letting his melodies influence what chords he played on guitar. I always try to write songs with that in mind. Unfortunately, I never met Merle. My dad did, however, and had one of my guitars signed by him. I wrote the first Moonpies record on that guitar.”
“One time he called me by name and I almost pissed myself. I opened for him in 1998, I believe, and I was only 21 or 22. I was with another band at the time. Ragweed was together, but I was doing a little side project with this guy and we opened for him in McAlester, Oklahoma. He walked backstage, I was standing there, and he told the owner, 'No openers.' [The owner] pointed at me and said, 'Let the kid play. He loves your music.' Then Merle said, 'Ok, he can play.'
"Three years ago, I saw him and there was the opportunity to go smoke weed with him at Gruene Hall, and I live about two or three miles from there. I had my kids and they were little at the time, so I called my mother-in-law and asked if she could watch the kids so I could go hang with Merle. I saw him later that night and he said, 'Cody, you’re the boy who turned down smoking weed with me to stay with your kids.' He patted me on the stomach and said, 'You’re a good daddy.' Then he invited me to crawl through the Willie window at Gruene Hall.
"Merle Haggard is absolutely, positively the No. 1 influence on everything that I do. He was the first and the last, nobody will influence me again musically like he did. He was the one. We pulled off a 13-hour drinking day when he died, and just cried for hours. We pulled the kids out of school, sat in the backyard, and just enjoyed life that day.”