Merle HaggardAfter undergoing surgery to treat lung cancer last year, Merle Haggard could easily have called it a day on his legendary career. But this 72-year-old legend owns a fighting spirit that would never let him buckle. Ever. So instead, Merle hit the stage two months post-surgery, at Bakersfield's Crystal Palace, the dinner club and country music museum built by the late Buck Owens.

"I'm doing well ... I was real lucky," Merle tells the Sacramento Bee. "I went back and did a performance two months after surgery, just so the public knew I was determined to get back. And believe it or not, (singing) is a little easier than it was before the surgery, because I don't have that obstruction."

That obstruction was a tumor, suspended from the upper lobe of his right lung, according to Merle. But thankfully, it wasn't touching the wall, so he didn't need to go through chemotherapy.

"It was a serious deal, and it was a miracle, the way they did it," he notes. "They didn't even put sutures in me. Just a glue thing. It's only been 10 months, and I am 95 percent back."

And Merle is thankful that he went in for that preventitive check-up.

"I get to thinking, if I hadn't had a little checkup – and I don't like checkups [laughs] -- if I had not done that, I probably would be dead right now. So I gotta be happy about that," he says.

Merle is also happy about some of what is coming out of Nashville today.

"Brad Paisley is playing guitar anywhere he can possibly play it, and he sings real good. And he has a sense of humor, and he keeps abreast of current affairs. Music has always been a musical way of getting your point across for a country boy -- or country girl! [laughs] I think they go hand in hand."

Which begs the question -- what about the Dixie Chicks, who caused a firestorm when commenting on current affairs?

"You'll get your finger burned once in a while," says Merle. "And I had to speak up in behalf of the Chicks, you know. They (addressed) the fact that Grandma doesn't like war. So what's new about that?"