Paso Robles remembers Merle Haggard
Country music legend dies at 79
–Merle Haggard, the chart topping country music legend whose deeply personal songs such as “Mama Tried” and “Workin’ Man Blues” reference his early years and working class American roots, died Wednesday at 79. He died on his birthday, April 6, after a series of recent health struggles, at his home in Northern California.
Haggard has a strong connection to Paso Robles and the North County having played at the California Mid-State Fair on the main grandstand in 1975 and 1987 and on the frontier stage numerous times with his last performance in 2000. He also played at the Pozo Saloon in Santa Margarita many times.
Amaya Rose, a local 15-year-old, singer/songwriter, fiddle player and real cowgirl, opened for Haggard and his band The Strangers at The Canyon Club just outside of Los Angeles to a sellout audience in December 2014.
California Mid-State Fair Foundation Interim Chief Executive Officer Patricia Kress said along with the rest of the country, the California Mid-State Fair mourns the passing of Merle Haggard. “We were blessed to host many of Haggard’s legendary live performances over the years. Haggard was a true country music legend who will surely be missed.”
Paso Robles local and friend of Haggard, Benford Standley, spoke to the family prior to Haggard’s death last night. Standley said Haggard was a true legend but also a friend and he had lost a great partner of some incredible projects they were working on together.
“Haggard was a musician and a historian,” Standley said. “We had recently been working on a Jimmie Rodgers documentary of which he was a producer,” he said. “Jimmie Rodgers was one of Merle’s biggest influences, the release of the documentary will be bitter sweet as he won’t be able to see it but I am so grateful he will be telling the story.”
“Some memorable moments include recently filming Merle and Kris Kristofferson in Los Angeles, touring with Merle and Willie Nelson and then a separate tour with Merle and Bob Dylan,” he said. “My favorite song is “Mama Tried” as it references his origins as a railway man and runaway youth and that is a subject we were both passionate, being both advocates for missing and exploited children.” “It will be a long time before someone exceeds Merle in country music, he was the voice of the working man and a common man’s poet.”
In true Paso Robles style Haggard and Standley dreamed up a Merle Haggard wine, with fruit to be sourced from Paso Robles, which they were going to call the Merleo. “Merle has been to Paso Robles enough times to know the Pine Street Saloon well and we were hoping to get him back there to play,” he said.
Pine Street Saloon Owner Ron French, worked as a mailman for the U.S. Post Office in the 1980s and delivered mail to Flossy Haggard, Haggard’s mom and his sister Lilian in Grover Beach. French has signed pictures by Haggard in the Pine Street Saloon and had a birthday tribute at the bar last year.
Benford Standley’s the Jimmie Rodger’s Saga narrated by Merle Haggard will be released in the fall with a screening to be held at the Pine Street Saloon.