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Merle Haggard Says Modern Country ‘Isn’t Entertaining’

Merle Haggard
Ethan Miller, Getty Images

Merle Haggard‘s first single, ‘Sing a Sad Song,’ hit the Top 20 more than 50 years ago, in 1963. But while the California native has stayed busy — and popular — throughout the last five decades, he admits he doesn’t have much in common with the artists who are currently topping the charts.

“I’ve gotta be honest, I don’t really listen to the radio at all anymore,” Haggard confesses to North Carolina’s News Observer. “Once in a while, I’ll scan it, and I don’t understand what they’re doing. I can’t find the entertainment in it.

“I know these guys, occasionally play shows with them, and they’re all good people. But I wonder if that record they’re making is something they can actually do. Too much boogie boogie wham-bam and not enough substance,” he adds. “It’s all the same musicians, too, probably eight to 10 musicians play on every record you hear. For a musician hearing things that way, you can tell when a certain guitarist is playing. I know more about the musicians than the artists, actually.”

The Hag could undoubtedly teach the younger generation a couple things about keeping a crowd entertained. With more than 50 studio albums to his credit, Haggard has dozens and dozens of fan-favorite songs, and he says he’s prepared to play each of them on stage.

“We do an ad-lib show every night, no set list, trying to do what the crowd at present wants,” he says. “We have in our repertoire over 100 songs that we do on a regular basis, and I can’t imagine going out there and doing some song that does not fit at the moment. I like things to fit with the moment. Same thing with humor. If you say the same thing as last night, it won’t be funny to the band, and I want it to be funny to everybody in the room.”

But even the Country Music Hall of Fame member has his rough nights, which he freely admits.

“Once I was playing for a crowd of 2,500 sailors in San Diego, which is right on the border with Mexico,” he recalls. “I’d gone down there and bought a pair of loafers that were real slick on the bottom. So I came running out onstage and did something I never have again. I ran out, stopped at the mic, my feet went out from under me, and I landed flat on my back in front of 2,500 men. So I got up, kicked those loafers into the crowd and did the whole show in my stocking feet.”

The 77-year-old could easily retire and relax, but that couldn’t be further from his mind. Instead, he’s busier than ever, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We’ve got four different album projects that are all almost finished, and we’ll bring them out in continuity,” he reveals. “We’ve got a brand-new studio, and we’ve been recording right along all the way, although the lack of radio play for the new stuff makes it difficult. You know, if they put on a new song of mine, they’ve gotta take off ‘Mama Tried.’ So I’m kind of fighting myself on new releases.”

Haggard released the 45th anniversary edition of ‘Okie From Muskogee’ earlier this year. Order the album here.

NEXT: Is Traditional Country Music Dead?

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