Marty Haggard, eldest son, at 60, to country legend Merle Haggard, provided an amazing treat to concert attendees in Wimberley, Texas, on January 27. Part of an ongoing tour with four more stops on tap for February, “A Tribute to My Dad, Merle Haggard” included classic and new songs as well as entertaining and illuminating stories from a bygone era of country music.
“This is not an impersonation,” Marty told the audience, “but if I sound a little, and look a little like Merle, well, he was my dad.” Marty grew up listening to his father’s music, often serving as a sounding board for songs his father had just penned. In the ’70s and ’80s, Marty toured with his own band, then with his dad, playing guitar and singing harmony. His 1986 hit, “Trains Make Me Lonesome,” earned him a nomination as best new male vocalist.
Marty preceded many of the songs he sang with stories about their origin or their meaning in his or his dad’s life. He also included some new songs of his own creation.
One of these, “I Love Jesus, Yes, I Do,” was particularly touching, as he explained that he wrote it in only two days, before his grandmother’s funeral. His grandmother had requested that he be the only one to sing at her funeral. “I looked for songs but none of them seemed right for her,” he explained. “So, I wrote a song full of things that she would say. I’m about to sing this, but the words belong to her.”
Other songs Marty sang included “Mama Tried,” “Working Man Blues,” “Daddy Frank,” and “Big City.” He saved “Okie from Muskogee” and “Fightin’ Side of Me” until the very end of the concert. The audience particularly enjoyed and responded to those last two. For me, it brought back memories of my college days when I would play these two songs extremely loud to annoy my hippie and war protestor neighbors.
I’ve attended several concerts where performers talked too much, and I wanted them to just “shut up and sing.” This was not the case with the stories that Marty shared. He was just a teenager when he began to get to hang around with Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Lefty Frizzell, Willie Nelson, and Marty Robbins.
One of the stories involved Robbins and one of his father’s most famous songs. “My dad woke up in the middle of the night one time,” Marty explained, “and just started scribbling this song. He wrote almost the whole thing in one inspiration.” Merle wanted his good friend Mr. Robbins to record the song. (The friendship is why Marty Haggard has that first name.) “My dad and I were living in Bakersfield,” he explained, “and Marty Robbins was in Nashville. We tried to get in touch with him, but this was back before cell phones and we just couldn’t find him.
“Eventually, my dad just decided to record it himself and ‘Today I Started Loving You Again’ became an all-time country classic. They stayed friends,” Marty Haggard explained, “but, Marty never forgave him for not giving him that song.”
If you are a Merle Haggard fan, you won’t forgive yourself if you miss Marty Haggard’s tribute to his dad. He has taken it on the road throughout the USA, Canada, and the British Isles. Currently he is focusing on Texas, but info on future concert locations will be available on the Marty Haggard website where you can sign up for updates.