Merle Haggard, man.
The country music legend is known for being a cornerstone of the Bakersfield Sound and country music in general. Known as a bit of a country music outlaw, a reputation carried by his days in San Quentin prison, but here we have a much more heartfelt moment from The Hag.
Merle Haggard was jailed in Bakersfield, California for burglary and transferred to San Quentin failed escape attempt 1958. In San Quentin, he fell in love with country music after hearing a prison performance of Man In Black himself. Mr Johnny Cash.
His San Quentin days were the inspiration for many of his songs, including the song “Mama Tried” that we all know and love.
The lyrics in Mama Tried describe the hardships Merle’s mother went through trying to raise him and his siblings, and how his childhood of poverty led him to a life of crime.
“And I turned twenty-one in prison, living without parole.
No one could steer me right, but mama tried, mama tried
Mom tried to raise me better, but I refused her pleas
That leaves only me to blame because Mom tried to…”
This song earned Merle his fifth number one song on The billboard Hot Country Singles hit the charts in 1968 and eventually won the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999. It was even selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry for its “cultural, historical or artistic importance” on March 23, 2016, just 14 days before Haggard’s death.
For all the notoriety that “Mama Tried” brought Haggard, he couldn’t forget the one person who most influenced this song: Mama Haggard herself.
Here we see a tender moment between a mother and her son as Merle sings “Mama Tried” for the “Mom Who Tried Hardest”. With his mother sitting in the front row bursting with emotion while her son performs a song in her honor, you can only imagine how special this performance was for old Merle.
Eric Church tells the unbelievably true story of how Merle Haggard barely remembered recording Pancho And Lefty with Willie Nelson
Back in 2021, Eric Church was with Zane Lowe Podcast “Home”. to talk about his favorite music of all time and he shared the crazy story of how Merle and willy In the end he recorded the song in the first place.
Of course, Eric is a big fan of The Hag, to whom he dedicates an entire song on his first album sinners like me“Pledge Allegiance To The Hag”, to the greatness and legend of Merle Haggard.
He even said to Zane:
“I think Merle Haggard is the best country singer of all time.”
Which is due in large part to Merle’s authenticity…
“Do you know why you believe him? It’s true. everything he did That’s him. Merle’s death was a really tough day for me because Merle is the quintessential country singer.
At least of my generation, of my life. His interpretation of songs, the interpretation not of his own songs but of other people’s songs.
I mean, the ‘Yesterday’s Wine’ record between George Jones and Merle Haggard is the funniest record I’ve ever heard. You can tell they totally blew their minds and it’s great. It is great.”
And Eric has the best example you’ll ever hear about the legend of Merle Haggard:
“I heard Willie tell a story once. This will put it in the perspective of that era…
So “Pancho and Lefty” is a great song by Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. They’re partying, they’re in Willie’s studio, they’re at Willie’s house, and one night they go hard.
And Willie gets Merle to record this Townes Van Zandt song called ‘Pancho and Lefty’.”
Seems like the perfect time to record a hit country song if you ask me:
“Merle hears it, Merle loves it, Merle goes in and plays that final verse, which I think is a classic final verse of any Merle Haggard performance. Well, Merle walks to his bus parked at Willie’s studio, he passes out.
He gets up the next morning and goes in and says, “Hey Willie, what did we do last night? We recorded what was that thing?’
Willie says, “We recorded the song ‘Pancho and Lefty’ that Townes Van Zandt wrote.” Merle says, “I didn’t think I was in the right frame of mind to do that. I want to re-record it.’
And Willie says, ‘Hoss, that’s on its way to New York. It’ll be on the radio next week.’”
Knowing there would be regrets the next day for her wild night of drinking, Willie sent off the mix before Merle even woke up… and those kinds of stories are what make country music what it is.
Often the best music is raw and natural, unpolished and perfectly edited for radio:
“And I thought, that’s the purity of the music. Merle couldn’t even fix it, it was gone. It’s classic. Sounds fantastic.”
I love hearing stuff like this and it’s so cool to see Eric passing on his wisdom of the genre to all of us.
Hear Merle telling the story herself:
https://www.whiskeyriff.com/2023/01/19/merle-haggard-delivers-powerful-heartfelt-performance-of-mama-tried-for-his-mama-as-she-sits-front-row/ Merle Haggard delivers a powerful, heartfelt rendition of “Mama Tried” for his mama while she sits in the front row