What kind of birthday present do you get for the guy who has everything? If it's Ronnie Dunn, anything Merle Haggard-related would be perfect. The singer-songwriter remembers one recent birthday when his wife gave him a Haggard Telecaster guitar, signed by the Hag himself. And back in the late '90s, the head of Sony ATV Publishing flew Merle to Nashville to perform at Ronnie's birthday party. Those were two gifts he'll never forget. So for Merle's 76th birthday tomorrow (April 6), Ronnie is returning the favor.

"Hey Haggard" is a tribute song the powerhouse vocalist has been working on for two years, ever since his musical hero helped end Brooks & Dunn's farewell tour with a bang. "Hag came out and did the last four shows of the Brooks & Dunn tour," Ronnie tells The Boot. "I've always been a fanatical Haggard fan."

Watch the exclusive world premiere of Ronnie Dunn's "Hey Haggard" lyric video below, and try to count how many Merle Haggard songs are namechecked in the tune. "His lawyers will probably do that!" Ronnie laughs. "I tried to come up with every song title that I could."

Watch Ronnie Dunn's 'Hey Haggard' Lyric Video


"Hey Haggard" will be featured on Ronnie's next album, which he describes as having influences ranging from Merle to Metallica. "As an artist, you need to stretch as much as you can, or you'll become stagnant. I've listened to Metallica a lot over the years, and all kinds of music. You can always push your luck and go too far, but you'll always be in country music as long as you keep one boot, metaphorically, in Texas. [laughs] 'Hey Haggard' is one of those songs on the record that's hardcore country."

Ronnie is headed into the recording studio next week, with 13 more tunes in his pocket for the project, which doesn't yet have a record label backing it. That's not something that this 30-year veteran of the business is worried about. For him, it's more of a labor of love.

"You're talking to someone who came out of one of the most commercial runs around," Ronnie reflects of his Brooks & Dunn days. "A big portion of our efforts was trying to adhere to radio standards and the label stuff, which are one and the same. That's not the case with this project. I don't mean any disrespect to radio at all, but this is for me."

Hear what Ronnie calls one of the upcoming album's "more edgy" songs, "Country This," here.

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