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As one of the honored recipients of the 2010 Kennedy Center Honors on Dec. 5, 2010, Merle Haggard found himself mingling with heads of state, legendary singers, composers and TV and film celebrities. It was a three-day gala for the Hag, beginning with a State Department Dinner, hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a meeting with President Obama and the First Lady in the White House the night before the event, and of course, the star-studded gala performance in Washington, D.C.

At one point, Merle found himself holed up in a most interesting conversation with old buddies Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. As they dined together, the subject of the album Merle and Willie had planned on making together came up. But before they even put their forks down, the three men triple-sized the plan.

"We got to eat a little something together -- we didn't know what the hell this food was, but we thought it was funny," Merle tells Rolling Stone. "We talked about doing that together, but with the presence of Kris, we talked about the three of us doing it. I'm sure if we're healthy and live to do it, we'll do it. We thought about the title: the Musketeers. You know, because there's the three of us. We'll come up with some little way of describing ourselves I guess, and put it together into a show."

Thankfully, the future looks healthy and bright for the beloved music icon, following his cancer-free diagnosis just days before the gala honors event.

"It took a long time to get over that surgery," the 73-year-old legend reflects. "It took the best part of two years and I'm just now feeling like I might be able to reach over and pick up a garbage can with the right arm.

"They removed an upper lobe of my right lung, and they had to go in underneath my arm. It's quite painful and irritating to have that. You know how tender that is underneath your arm. To have that heal up, it takes a couple of good years. I think I'm all right now. I went down and had a checkup just prior to going back for this little gig and I was clear. I didn't have anything, and that's an awful good sign."

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