Mark Jordan / The Commercial Appeal & John Gerome / Associated Press – 2006-04-28 11:45:59
Haggard’s Dismayed by Political Events
Mark Jordan / The Commercial Appeal
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (April 21, 2006) — Forty-six years into one of the most celebrated careers in country music, there is still a fightin’ side to Merle Haggard. Except these days it comes out in ways that people might not expect from the singer-songwriter who became a champion of traditional American values in the ’70s through such mom-and-apple-pie anthems as “Okie From Muskogee” and “Fightin’ Side of Me.”
“I am not happy with America right now,” says Haggard from his tour bus, sprinting along I-69 toward Oklahoma, his parent’s home state and the location of Muskogee. “In fact, I don’t think America has very much to be happy about. I think we’ve been sold out by the current administration. And I don’t think there’s any other way to look at it.”
Haggard, who’ll play the Orpheum in Downtown Memphis with Bob Dylan Monday and Tuesday nights, is dismayed by what he sees as the betrayal of the American public and military by the Bush administration and by what he perceives as a pervasive jingoism that silences anyone — including artists like the Dixie Chicks and Linda Ronstadt — who speaks out against the party line.
“I don’t understand the response that they got,” Haggard says of the backlash both Ronstadt and the Chicks received when they spoke out in concerts against the war in Iraq. “But it’s scary to say the least. I don’t think they’d get the same response today. But to have the whole country say, ‘We can’t have you making any statements about your beliefs. We got to have ya doing music only.'”
Except for the track “America First” off his 2005 CD Chicago Wind, an inoffensive plea to get out of Iraq and concentrate on fixing what’s wrong at home, these days Haggard mostly keeps his politics and his vocation separate, preferring to voice his opinions in interviews and on his Web site, where he has posted a vigorous defense of the Dixie Chicks. He’s learned a lot of hard lessons in his career, and besides, he says, times have changed since “Okie From Muskogee” and its like.
“Those records sold,” he explains. “They deleted what we’ll call my pop culture following. We were doing pretty good in the rock-and-roll pop market at that time. And it immediately categorized us as totally country.” Haggard laughs as he says this, still surprised that a hard-core honky-tonker like him could ever be considered anything but.
“It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do,” he adds. “But over the years most of the people who were against it have said you probably knew as much about it as we did. The Vietnam War, we find out now, we were lied to about that as well. . . . So what’s new?” As he is much of the year, Haggard is on the road, squeezing in a few solo dates before rejoining Dylan on their critically acclaimed tour. The two have been touring partners for a little over a year now, presenting a show that teams the greatest rock songwriter of the ’60s with the greatest country songwriter of the ’60s. But except for a few backstage encounters and Dylan’s occasional inclusion of “Sing Me Back Home” into his set, there has been little fraternizing between the two legends.
“It’s not like it used to be,” Haggard says, lamenting the days when artists like him and Buck Owens and Willie Nelson would hang out until all hours. “There’s not a lot of that goes on anymore. It’s one town after the next and I do my show and he does his and that’s about it. …” “[Dylan] did tell me the other day he was working on a song called ‘Working Man’s Blues, Number 2,'” he continues, referring to one of his own best-loved hits. “And I joked with him that I was working on ‘Blowin’ In The Wind, Number 2.'”
Haggard was born in 1937 in Southern California, the son of Dust Bowl emigres. After his father died when he was 9, Haggard embarked on the twin tracks that would dominate his young life: music and crime. In and out of juvenile facilities most of his adolescence, Haggard spent his free time learning the music of Bob Wills, Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams Sr.
Though as a young man he was beginning to make his mark in music, playing with Frizzell and a young Buck Owens among others, Haggard’s problems with the law followed him into adulthood, and eventually landed him in San Quentin Prison. Even there he was torn between crime and music, dabbling in gambling, home brewing, and escapes while playing in the prison band. He was in the audience when Johnny Cash played his famous concert at San Quentin.
After his release in 1960, Haggard set about putting his criminal past behind him and making a living as a musician. He moved back to Bakersfield, Calif., and in short order became part of a group of musicians — Owens, Wynn Stewart, Tommy Collins — who reinvigorated country music with a rocking honky tonk edge called the Bakersfield Sound.
Almost a half-century after he began his career in earnest, Haggard, who, as one half of the “Pancho & Lefty” duo with Willie Nelson, also found himself associated with the Outlaw country movement, now finds himself a treasured American institution. At February’s Grammy Awards he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy.
And with so many of his friends and fellow country superstars gone — Cash, who first encouraged Haggard to be open about his criminal past, and most recently his friend, former boss and business partner Owens, with whom Haggard shares an ex-wife (his longtime duet partner Bonnie Owens) and several godchildren — Haggard finds himself in the odd position of being one of country’s elder statesmen.
“It’s odd because I don’t have any opinion on country music today,” he says. “I don’t listen to it. I haven’t listened to it since Garth Brooks started. I think Garth is really a great artist, but I don’t care much about the smoke and the videos. If the song ain’t good enough without the video, it ain’t much of a song. I don’t like to watch music. I still like to listen to it.”
Dixie Chicks ‘Not Ready to Make Nice’
John Gerome / Associated Press
• Listen to ‘Not Ready to Make Nice’ at:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (March 24, 2006) — Country radio may be ready to make nice with the Dixie Chicks.
Many country stations have stopped playing the Dixie Chicks since their anti-Bush comment in 2003. The grudge dates back to 2003 when many country stations stopped playing the popular trio after lead singer Natalie Maines criticized President Bush.
But the Chicks’ new single, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” is now in rotation in several major markets, pushing it to No. 36 on Billboard’s country singles chart after its first full week of airplay. Other stations, however, have been slower to embrace it.
“I think a lot of people are in a wait-and-see mode,” said Wade Jessen, director of Billboard’s country charts. “The next couple of weeks are really going to tell the tale.” Maines told a London audience on the eve of the war in Iraq that the group was “ashamed” the president was from their home state of Texas.
Back in the US, their music was boycotted and the Chicks said they received death threats, leading them to install metal detectors at their shows. Maines later said she regretted the phrasing of her remark, but remained passionately against the war. In January she told Entertainment Weekly magazine that she was disappointed with country music and that she’s “pretty much done” with the genre.
In stores May 23, the new album, “Taking the Long Way,” is produced by Rick Rubin, primarily a rock and rap producer who also crafted Johnny Cash’s last albums. The record has been described as more rock-oriented, featuring musicians from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Tom Petty’s band, the Heartbreakers.
The first single, which starts with a lone acoustic guitar and then builds in intensity, was co-written by the trio – which also includes banjo and guitar player Emily Robison and fiddle and mandolin player Martie Maguire.
It addresses the controversy head on, with Maines singing in the chorus, “I’m not ready to make nice. I’m not ready to back down. I’m still mad as hell and I don’t have time to go round and round and round.” She also sings, “How in the world can the words that I said send somebody so over the edge,” and “I made my bed and I sleep like a baby.”
The group declined to comment for this story, but Robison said in a statement on their Web site that “the stakes were definitely higher on that song. We knew it was special because it was so autobiographical, and we had to get it right. And once we had that song done, it freed us up to do the rest of the album without that burden.”
Jessen said the song was played at least once on 41 of the 123 country stations Billboard monitors to compile the chart, with frequent airplay in Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, Minneapolis and Cleveland — large markets that can strongly influence chart position.
Neil Young Turns against Bush and Iraq War with New Album
Bruce Deachman / Ottawa Citizen / Vancouver Sun
OTTAWA (April 18, 2006) — With his upcoming album, Neil Young is set to add his voice to the ever-growing list of anti-Bush musicians, joining the likes of the Dixie Chicks, Rolling Stones, Lou Reed and Steve Earle.
In a posting on his official website, Young announced he has completed Living With War, a 10-track album recorded over three days earlier this month.
He describes the album as a “power trio with trumpet and 100 voices” and “a metal version of Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan.”
In an e-mail message to music magazine Harp, meanwhile, filmmaker Jonathan Demme, who recently produced the Neil Young documentary Heart of Gold, called Living With War a “brilliant electric assault, accompanied by a 100-voice choir, on Bush and the war in Iraq…. Truly mind-blowing.”
The Canadian rocker’s attack on US President George W. Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq may come as a surprise to those who recall his post-9/11 song, Let’s Roll, which honoured the United Airlines Flight 93 passengers, who apparently struggled with their hijackers, forcing their plane to crash in a Pennsylvania field rather than the White House. At the time, Young spoke in favour of the Patriot Act, telling a Hollywood awards banquet audience that “to protect our freedoms, it seems we’re going to have to relinquish some of our freedoms for a short period of time.”
Yet Young’s support of Bush’s administration was already faltering by 2003 when he released Greendale. In an interview then with Rolling Stone magazine, he said: “This is a time, I believe, of great inner turmoil for the majority of the American people. There is a new morality coming out of this administration — fundamentalist religious views; a holier-than-thou attitude towards the rest of the world — that is not classically American.”