Remembering Merle Haggard: His Music Meant a Lot to a Lot of People

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Dallas music critic Michael Granberry reflects on the passing of country music great Merle Haggard.

By MICHAEL GRANBERRY

Back in 2008, I traveled to Linden in the Piney Woods of deep East Texas to check out one of my favorite music venues -- Music City Texas Theater. I have gone there to see Jackson Browne and Don Henley, who grew up in Linden before becoming co-founder of the Eagles.

Since the concert was in 2008, I no longer have a live link to the story I wrote for The Dallas Morning News, but I looked it up and offer this up-close-and-personal remembrance for your pleasure.

It was a great opportunity to hear and see a living legend up close and personal.

I offer it as my tribute to the late, great Merle Haggard, who passed away April 6, 2016, 79 years to the day after his birth.

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Merle Haggard. Twitter photo

Haggard visited with Henley and Henley's high school buddy Richard Bowden for hours after the show. Bowden and Henley grew up loving Merle's music while performing in a string of bands together dating back to their days high school days.

They were in the Four Speeds, Felicity and Shiloh, the name of the band they took to L.A. before Henley left to join the Eagles and Bowden became a guitarist for Linda Ronstadt.

The 2008 meeting turned out to be a fortunate circumstance, from which more great music flowed. It no doubt laid the groundwork for Haggard sharing a duet with Henley on a 2015 album, "Cass County," on which the pair sang "The Cost of Living." It is, for me, my favorite cut on "Cass County."

Here's my story, published August 4, 2008

LINDEN, Texas -- Since it opened in 2003, tiny Music City Texas Theater has distinguished itself by drawing concertgoers from thousands of miles away.

Take, for instance, the man who spent Saturday night in Canada, arrived in Boston at 2 a.m. Sunday, then flew to Dallas and drove 150 miles to Linden just to hear his longtime musical idol, Merle Haggard.

"That's how much I wanted to see Merle Haggard," the man said.

The comment, not to mention the travel, meant a lot since the man who came 3,000 miles to see Mr. Haggard is a pretty good musician himself: His name is Don Henley. He's a native son of Linden (pop. 2,256) and co-founder of the Eagles.

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Don Henley. Photo by ew.com

Mr. Henley, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was seeing Mr. Haggard, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, perform in person for the first time. He didn't want to miss it even if it meant flying in from a foreign country to brave the heat in his very hot hometown deep in the Piney Woods.

"I loved it," Mr. Henley said of Sunday's show, in which Mr. Haggard, 71, sang 18 songs - including "Mama Tried" and "Silver Wings" but, sadly, no "Okie from Muskogee" -- before doffing his trademark black cap and walking offstage.

It was the Linden concert hall's third biggest show since 2003, the others being Mr. Henley and Jackson Browne in 2004. Like those, this one sold out almost as soon as tickets went on sale.

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Haggard in concert, 2013

"This was a huge thing for us, because Merle Haggard is a living legend," said Pat Roberson, 51, a shipper for Alcor Aluminum who serves on the board of Music City Texas. "It's like Stonehenge has come to Linden."

As Mr. Henley said, "That guy's music has meant a lot to me."

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