This space is dedicated to the proposition that we need to know the history of the struggles on the left and of earlier progressive movements here and world-wide. If we can learn from the mistakes made in the past (as well as what went right) we can move forward in the future to create a more just and equitable society. We will be reviewing books, CDs, and movies we believe everyone needs to read, hear and look at as well as making commentary from time to time. Greg Green, site manager
Mickey Mouse Ruled The Night-The Trials And Tribulations Of Sand-Bagger
to no one in particular as the golf foursome in the van heading down to
Mickey’s land, down to the old-time Orlando Disney courses, Palm and Magnolia
(he forgot the order in which they would be played just then in any case one in
the morning and one in the afternoon since he was hot on the trail of memory
lane), he mentioned that he had had dream that night about a Mouse-ateer, a
girl not Annette something, the dark haired one [Jerry Jeff the driver of the
van on this six rounds in four days tour of Central Florida, okay, okay Central
Orlando if there is such a place shouted out “Fuinicello.”] “Yeah, that’s
right. Not her though the skinny kind of still a stick one with brown hair Melody,
Melody Darling I think.” Roger the Dodger sitting in the front seat passenger
side acting as navigator for the tour since he was the only one with a
Smartphone wit GPS connectivity chortled out “Melody Dowling, you might have
been thinking she was your darling in that silly dream but tell us about it,
tell us about your chaste childhood desire to get into her pants if you ever
found yourself in Mickey’s world. I had a crush on her too since I figured I
had no chance with Annette and this Melody was really a stick until a couple of
years later she filled out, filled out quite nicely. You know she wound up
doing a few porn films when she got older, before she feel off the radar, you
know giving guys a blow job on screen trading in on her Mickey days when she
and the guys got older and could articulate why the female Mouse-eteers were
distracting us so when we tuned in to the Walt Disney Hour every Sunday night
show. Had quite a following including me when she went porn, probably
somebody’s nice old grandmother now.”
at six in the morning I don’t want to hear about girl crushes, porno queens or
kindly grandmothers, just keep quiet until we get to the clubhouse so I can get
a few minutes shut-eye” murmured Earl the Pearl, the last up, last out guy in
the group. “Hell I grew up in L.A. and went down to Anaheim to check things out
and the average Mouse-eteer girl usher was hotter than any of those bimbos you
saw on television and ready to go too if you approached them right but let me
sleep and I will fill you in some other time”
getting a chance to have his say Sand-Bagger said “Hey, I don’t want to hear
about what happened to Melody later, half of the child stars in Hollywood wound
up worse than being porno stars and I don’t want to hear about hot tour guides
either. What I had my dream about, after fixating on Melody for a bit was how
much the Disney shows, and others like them helped create our little world when
we were say ten to twelve, maybe thirteen the times when we were clueless about
why we had all these funny feelings about girls which we hadn’t had before and
which gave us a little knot every time we saw Annette, Melody all those girls
that we wanted to be our girlfriends especially after Elvis came along and we
didn’t mean a thing to the real girls that we had to deal with (or not deal
with which is perhaps a better way to put it).”
longed for Sunday night to come by and avoid the dread of Monday morning for an
hour, hour and one half with our little secret television pleasures. You know
somebody could, maybe already has, write a book about that particular time,
that “golden age” time when things were tough, tough around our house [Roger:
ours’ too.] but come Sunday night, poverty, shyness, physical discomfort, acne,
lack of coolness, all that stuff we worried about the rest of the long week
kind of took a holiday, and you know I don’t think since that time I can’t
remember having that cocoon around me like that when I needed it, had to face
the world straight up ever since. I’ll bet I could…..”
then Jerry Jeff stopped the van in front of the security outpost to “sign in” in
Disney world. Everybody catch the irony when Sand-Bagger morosely stated, “See
what I mean signing into a damn gold course down in Mickeys’ land. Was that
Walt’s ultimate dream for us.”
enough of philosophizing for we need to get to Casey’s summary before he too
begs for a few minutes of quiet to nod off. Palm course results (meaning
morning round results-meaning better of the two course that day results): Earl
apparently after having had that quiet time to nod off took the vaunted putting
honors-three bucks. Swept Roger front, back and all-six bucks, took Jerry Jeff
front and all, two buck. A “winning day” but Sand-Bagger now fully recovered
from the shock of Melody’s fate wondered, wondered to himself, what she looked
like with her clothes off back then in her porn days when she “played the
flute” as the guys in the old neighborhood used to call giving a guy oral sex.
******Will The Circle Be Unbroken-The Music Of The Carter Family (First Generation)
From The Pen Of Bart Webber
You know it took a long time for Sam Eaton to figure out why he was drawn, seemingly out of nowhere, to the mountain music most famously brought to public, Northern public, attention by the likes of the Carter Family, Jimmy Rodgers, Etta Baker, The Seegers and the Lomaxes back a couple of generations ago. The Carter Family famously arrived via a record contract in Bristol, Tennessee in the days when radio and record companies were looking for music, authentic American music to fill the air and their catalogs. (Jimmy Rodgers, the great Texas yodeler was discovered at that same time and place. In fact what the record companies were doing to their profit was to send out agents to grab whatever they could. That is how guys like Son House and Skip James got their record debuts, “race record” debut but that is a story for another time although it will be told so don’t worry). The Seegers and Lomaxes went out into the sweated dusty fields, out to the Saturday night red barn dance the winds coming down the Appalachian hollows, I refuse to say hollas okay, out to the Sunday morning praise Jehovah gathered church brethren (and many sinners Saturday wine, women and song singers as well as your ordinary blasphemous bad thought sinners, out to the juke joint(ditto on the sinning but in high fiddle on Uncle Jack’s freshly “bonded” sour mash come Saturday absolution for sins is the last thing on the brethren’s minds), down to the mountain general store to grab whatever was available some of it pretty remarkable filled with fiddles, banjos and mandolins.
As a kid, as a very conscious Northern city boy, Sam could not abide that kind of music (and I know because if I tried to even mention something Johnny Cash who was really then a rock and roll stud he would turn seven shades of his patented fury) but later on he figured that was because he was so embroiled in the uprising jail-break music of his, our generation, rock and roll, that anything else faded, faded badly by comparison. (And I was with him the first night we heard Bill Haley and the Comets blasting Rock Around The Clock in the front end of a double feature of Blackboard Jungle at the Strand Theater when it was playing re-runs so you know I lived and died for the new sounds)
Later in high school, Lasalle High, when Brian Pirot would drive us down to Cambridge and after high school in college when Sam used to hang around Harvard Square to be around the burgeoning folk scene that was emerging for what he later would call the "folk minute of the early 1960s" he would let something like Gold Watch And Chain register a bit, registering a bit then meaning that he would find himself occasionally idly humming such a tune. (The version done by Alice Stuart at the time gleaned when he had heard her perform at the Club Nana in the Square one time when he had enough dough for two coffees, a shared pastry and money for the “basket” for a date, a cheap date.) The only Carter Family song that Sam consciously could claim he knew of theirs was Under the Weeping Willow although he may have unconsciously known others from seventh grade music class when Mr. Dasher would bury us with all kind of songs and genre from the American songbook so we would not get tied down to that heathen “rock and roll” that drove him crazy when we asked him to play some for us. (“Don’t be a masher, Mister Dasher,” the implications of which today would get him in plenty of hot water if anybody in authority heard such talk in an excess of caution but which simple had been used as one more rhyming scheme when that fad hit the junior high schools in the 1960s and whose origins probably came from the song Monster Mash not the old-fashioned sense of a lady-killer) But again more urban, more protest-oriented folk music was what caught Sam’s attention when the folk minute was at high tide in the early 1960s.
Then one day not all that many years ago as part of a final reconciliation with his family which Sam had been estranged from periodically since teenage-hood, going back to his own roots, making peace with his old growing up neighborhood, he started asking many questions about how things turned so sour back when he was young. More importantly asking questions that had stirred in his mind for a long time and formed part of the reason that he went for reconciliation. To find out what his roots were while somebody was around to explain the days before he could rightly remember the early days. And in that process he finally, finally figured out why the Carter Family and others began to “speak” to him.
The thing was simplicity itself. If
he had thought about and not let the years of animosity, of estrangement, hell
of denial that he even came from the town that he came from things had been
that bad toward the end although all those animosities, estrangements, denials
should not have been laid at the door of that simple, hard-working father who
never got a break, a break that he saw. Didn’t see that the break for his
father was his wife, didn’t see that whatever hardship that man faced it was
better than where he had from, all that wisdom came too late and a belated
public eulogy in front a whole crowd in town, that stingy back-biting Olde Saco
of a town, some who knew the Sheik (he was so alienated some stranger, stranger
to him, had to tell him that had been what his father’s moniker had been when
he was in the Marines and later when a few ladies in town thinking with his
dark good looks he was French-Canadian, one of them, had furtively set their
sights on him) and some who didn’t but it was the kind of town that set store
by memory glances of those who had lived and toiled in the hard-bitten bogs for
so long. Hell, in the end, also too late but only by a whisper he realized that
all those animosities, estrangements and denials should not have been laid at
the door of his mother either but no private sorrows eulogy at a class reunion
could put that wall back together.
Here is how the whole thing played
out. See his father hailed (nice word, a weather word, not a good weather word
and maybe that was a portent, another nice word for the troubles ahead) from
Kentucky, Hazard, Kentucky long noted in song and legend as hard coal country. A
place where the L&N stopped no more, where “which side are you on” was more
than a question but hard fighting words, maybe a little gunplay too, a place
where the hills and hollows had that “black gold,” that seamy dust settling
over every tar-papered roof and windowless cabin with a brood, another nice word
for the occasion for widower Father John and come Saturday night, rain dust,
gun play, railroad-less tracks down at Fred Dyer’s old dilapidated red barn Joe
Valance and the boys would play fiddle, guitar, mando, and Sweet Emma on mountain
harp all the swingy and sad tunes that drove their forbears to this desolate
land (so you can image what their prospects were in the old country to drive
them out. Nelson Algren wrote profusely about such driven-out people and what
it did to them over several generations so to wander aimlessly others to sit still
When World War II came along, not as
infamy, not as catastrophe, but like rain he left to join the Marines to get
the hell out of there. During his tour of duty he was stationed for a short
while at the Portsmouth Naval Base and during that stay attended a USO dance
held in Portland where he met Sam’s mother who had grown up in deep
French-Canadian Olde Saco. Needless to say he stayed in the North, for better
or worse, working the mills in Olde Saco until they closed or headed south, headed
south back close to his homeland in North Carolina and South Carolina too, to for cheaper labor and then worked at whatever
jobs he could find. All during Sam’s childhood though along with that popular music
that got many mothers and fathers through the war mountain music, although he
would not have called it that then filtered in the background on the family
living room record player.
But here is the real “discovery,” a
discovery that could only be disclosed by Sam’s parents, if he had asked and if
they had been willing to tell them like they did his older brother Prescott who
got along with them better when he was young and they were first born proud of
him and his looks. Early on in their marriage they had tried to go back to
Hazard to see if they could make a go of it there, so you know things were
dicey or getting dicey in Olde Saco if they were going to half-dying eastern coal
country mainly played out or being replaced by oils and gases. This was after Prescott
was born and while his mother was carrying him. Apparently they stayed for
several months in Hazard before they left to go back to Olde Saco a short time before
Sam was born since he had been born in Portland General Hospital, which is what
it said on his birth certificate when he had to go get a copy for his first
passport application. So see that damn mountain, that damn mountain music,
those many generations of back-breaking work in the old country before the work
ran out or they were run as vagabonds and thieves and that wandering and sitting
still in the murky hills and hollows coal enough to choke you but also remember
all those generations of Fred Dyer’s red barn Saturday fiddle, guitar, mando and
some vagrant Sweet Emma on mountain harp playing the swingy and sad tunes that go
back beyond Child ballad time, was in his DNA, was just harkening to him when
he got the bug. Funny, isn’t
*****This Land IS Your Land- With Folk Troubadour Woody Guthrie In Mind
By Bradley Fox
Back in 2014, the summer of 2014 Josh Breslin the now retired old-time alternative newspaper and small journal writer from Olde Saco, Maine was sitting with his friend Sam Lowell from Carver out in Concord in the field behind the Old Manse where the Greater Boston Folk Society was holding its annual tribute to folksinger Woody Guthrie he had thought about all the connections that he, they had to Woody Guthrie from back in the 1960s folk minute revival and before. He mentioned that to thought to Sam whom he queried on the subject, wanted to know his personal take on when he first heard Woody (and to Laura Perkins, Sam ‘s long-time companion sitting between them whom Josh had an on-going half flame going back who knows how far but who made it clear to Josh on more than one occasion that she was true blue to Sam although she had thanked him for the attention compliment. Sam was aware of Josh’s interest but also of Laura’s position and so he and Josh got along, had in any case been back and forth with some many collective wives and girlfriends that attracted both of them since they had similar tastes going back to ex-surfer girl Butterfly Swirl that they just took it in stride.) Here is what Sam had to say:
Some songs, no, let’s go a little wider, some music sticks with you from an early age which even fifty years later you can sing the words out chapter and verse. Like those church hymns that you were forced to sit through with your little Sunday best Robert Hall white suit complete with tie on or fi a girl your best frilly dress on when you would have rather been outside playing, or maybe doing anything else but sitting in that forlorn pew, before you got that good dose of religion drilled into by Sunday schoolteachers, parents, hell and brimstone reverends which made the hymns make sense.
Like as well the bits of music you picked up in school from silly children’s songs in elementary school (Farmer In The Dell, Old MacDonald, Ring Around Something) to that latter time in junior high school when you got your first dose of the survey of the American and world songbook once a week for the school year when you learned about Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven, classic guys, Stephen Foster and a lot on stuff by guys named Traditional and Anonymous. Or more pleasantly your coming of age music, maybe like me that 1950s classic age of rock and roll when a certain musician named Berry, first name Chuck, black as night out of Saint Lou with a golden guitar in hand and some kind of backbeat that made you two left feet you want to get up and dance, told Mr. Beethoven, you know the classical music guy, and his ilk, Mozart, Brahms, Liszt, to move on over there was a new sheriff in town, was certain songs were associated with certain rites of passage, mainly about boy-girl things.
One such song from my youth, and maybe yours too, was Woody Guthrie surrogate “national anthem,” This Land is Your Land. (Surrogate in response to Irving Berlin’s God Bless America in the throes of the Great Depression that came through America, came through his Oklahoma like a blazing dust ball wind). Although I had immersed myself in the folk minute scene of the early 1960s as it passed through the coffeehouses and clubs of Harvard Square that is not where I first heard or learned the song (and where the song had gotten full program play complete with folk DJs on the radio telling you the genesis of a lot of the music if you had the luck to find them when you flipped the dial on your transistor radio or the air was just right some vagabond Sunday night and for a time on television, after the scene had been established in the underground and some producer learned about it from his grandkids, via the Hootenanny show, which indicated by that time like with the just previous “beat” scene that you were close to the death-knell of the folk moment).
No, for that one song the time and place was in seventh grade in junior high school, down at Myles Standish in Carver where I grew up, when Mr. Dasher would each week in Music Appreciation class teach us a song and then the next week expect us to be able to sing it without looking at a paper. He was kind of a nut for this kind of thing, for making us learn songs from difference genres (except the loathed, his loathed, our to die for, rock and roll which he thought, erroneously and wastefully he could wean us from with this wholesome twaddle) like Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific, Stephen Foster’s My Old Kentucky Home, or Irving Berlin’s Easter Parade and stuff like that. So that is where I learned it.
Mr. Dasher might have mentioned some information about the songwriter or other details on these things but I did not really pick up on Woody Guthrie’s importance to the American songbook until I got to that folk minute I mentioned where everybody revered him (including most prominently Bob Dylan who sat at his knee, literally, Pete Seeger, the transmission belt from the old interest in roots music to the then new interest, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott who as an acolyte made a nice career out of continued worshipping at that shrine) not so much for that song but for the million other songs that he produced seemingly at the drop of a hat before the dreaded Huntington’s disease got the better of him. He spoke of dust bowl refugees of course, being one himself, talked of outlaws and legends of outlaws being a man of the West growing up on such tales right around the time Oklahoma was heading toward tranquil statehood and oil gushers, talked of the sorrow-filled deportees and refugees working under the hot sun for some gringo Mister, spoke of the whole fellahin world if it came right down to it. Spoke, for pay, of the great man-made marvels of the West and how those marvels tamed the wilds. Spoke too of peace and war (that tempered by his support for the American communists, and their line which came to depend more and more on the machinations of Joe Stalin and his Commissariat of Foreign Affairs), and great battles in the Jarama Valley in Spain where it counted. Hell, wrote kids’ stuff too just like that Old MacDonald stuff we learned in school.
The important thing though is that almost everybody covered Woody then, wrote poems and songs about him (Dylan a classic Song to Woody well worth reading and hearing on one of his earliest records), affected his easy ah shucks mannerisms, sat at his feet in order to learn the simple way, three chords mostly, recycled the same melody on many songs so it was not that aspect of the song that grabbed you but the sentiment, that he gave to entertain the people, that vast fellahin world mentioned previously (although in the 1960s folk minute Second Coming it was not the downtrodden and afflicted who found solace but the young, mainly college students in big tent cities and sheltered college campuses who were looking for authenticity, for roots).
It was not until sometime later that I began to understand the drift of his early life, the life of a nomadic troubadour singing and writing his way across the land for nickels and dimes and for the pure hell of it (although not all of the iterant hobo legend holds up since he had a brother who ran a radio station in California and that platform gave him a very helpful leg up which singing in the Okie/Arkie “from hunger” migrant stoop labor camps never could have done). That laconic style is what the serious folk singers were trying to emulate, that “keep on moving” rolling stone gathers no moss thing that Woody perfected as he headed out of the played-out dustbowl Oklahoma night, wrote plenty of good dustbowl ballads about that too, evoking the ghost of Tom Joad in John Steinbeck’s’ The Grapes Of Wrath as he went along. Yeah, you could almost see old Tom, beaten down in the dustbowl looking for a new start out in the frontier’s end Pacific, mixing it up with braceros-drivers, straw bosses, railroad “bulls,” in Woody and making quick work of it too.
Yeah, Woody wrote of the hard life of the generations drifting West to scratch out some kind of existence on the land, tame that West a bit. Wrote too of political things going on, the need for working people to unionize, the need to take care of the desperate Mexico braceros brought in to bring in the harvest and then abused and left hanging, spoke too of truth to power about some men robbing you with a gun others with a fountain pen, about the beauty of America if only the robber barons, the greedy, the spirit-destroyers would let it be. Wrote too about the wide continent from New York Harbor to the painted deserts, to the fruitful orchards, all the way to the California line, no further if you did not have the do-re-mi called America and how this land was ours, the whole fellahin bunch of us, if we knew how to keep it. No wonder I remembered that song chapter and verse.
*****Out In The 1960s Corner Boy Be-Bop Night-With Jersey Boys In Mind
From The Pen Of Sam Lowell
Frank Jackman’s old friend Jack Dawson, his old friend from corner boy days starting in the fifth grade down in back of the Myles Standish Elementary School in Carver about thirty miles south of Boston in the 1950s, had a while back written a short review about seeing the film Jersey Boys. With the wizardry of modern technology Frank had had the review placed in a blog dedicated to all things retro 1950s and 1960s (two slightly different retros but guys like Frank and Jack squeeze both eras.)Prior toJack’s viewing the film with his lovely wife, Anna, Frank had told him a summary of the plot-line (and the song playlist) one night when they were having one of their periodic “watering hole” get- togethers to cut up old touches at the Sunnyville Grille in Boston when Frank was in town for a conference. Based on that exchange Jack was determined to see the film. A few days later after seeing the film, seeing how a bunch of “from hunger” working class kids from Jersey (but given the plot-line it could have been lots of places including the “projects” down in Carver where he had come of age), how they made it big, made their fifteen minutes of fame and then some Jack started to think about those old days. About the days when chance had caused him to meet Frank at Myles Standish after his family had moved from Clintonville a few miles away in the summer before fifth grade and the two of them along with a couple of other corner boys, Red Radley and Jimmy Jenkins, in sixth grade created their own (imitative) doo-wop group in an attempt to break out of their youthful jails and gain their own fame (although their standard had not been fifteen minutes but infinity, or when the girls started gathering around, whichever came first).
What got Jack thinking along those lines was something Frank’s long-time companion, Laura, whom he had seen the film with, had told Frank. She said to him that she had had trouble “getting into” the story line at the beginning because as Frank told Jack before he gave him the details of the film the scenes were far too removed from her own strait-laced middle-class upbringing in Manhattan. Laura did said that she assumed that part of the film’s story line, the part about the furious growing up “from hunger” strivings of the guys who would become the Four Seasons out in the 1950s New Jersey night, had dovetailed with Frank’s experiences in his own youth and as well with the kind of things he have been writing about from that period of late. The kind of things that Frank wrote about after Jack and he discussed various incidents in growing up absurd in the 1950s at their “watering hole” sessions which they initiated after they had then recently rekindled their friendship after many years of going their own ways. Laura had been right about that part, about going back to the mist of time and grabbing some thoughts about how those days had formed Frank, for better or worse, no question. And that feeling got through to Jack as well.
Frank’s had told Jack when he asked why he was writing some many sketches about the past, also placed in retro blogs dedicated to such reflections, that his purpose in writing about the old days had not been to put paid to some ghosts of the past as a lot of guys they knew were interested in doing by physically revisiting growing up hometowns like Josh Breslin going back up to Olde Saco in Maine and getting the wits scared out of him that somebody might recognize him at every turn he made, like brawny Bart Webber going back to Carver to re-flame old sport’s dreams by attending the home football games with other old geezers from his high school, or like one of their other pals, Jimmy Jenkins, who had gone to his (their) fiftieth class reunion at Carver High and came away more depressed than anything since all the old gang, those still walking, talked about was various medical conditions and their grandchildren which left him cold. No, that part was done with this late in the game and the fates had called their shots on that saga already. Moreover Frank said he certainly had not intended to evaluate, Jesus, not to always evaluate, how this or that thing that happened back then turned the great Mandela wheel any particular way but merely to put together some interesting tidbits for Jack, Jimmy, and a couple of other of his later acquaintances Josh and Phil Larkin who were also from the same era when everybody got together at the Sunnyville, or at the Kennebunk Pub up in Maine where Josh lived when they all tired of the city and needed to be washed clean by the ocean spray off the fearsome blue-green Atlantic Ocean.
Of course lately Jack had begun, feeding off Frank’s tidbits as well as that film, writing sketches about his own musical coming of age time in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the time frame that the Four Seasons had blossomed. Strangely both Frank and Jack agreed that except for the classic doo wop be-bop song, Sherri, they were not fans of the Four Seasons although unlike other groups and singers of the time Jack did not hate their sound. What had perked Jack’s big interest in this film had been the almost chemically pure corner boy aspect, Jersey corner boy aspect, which was not at all unlike his (and Frank’s) Carver corner boy growing up saga.
In fact at certain points the early story of the guys who formed the core of the original group, Frankie, Tommy and Nick was so very, very similar to parts of Jack’s corner boy experiences that he had to laugh. The options for corner boys, guys who grew up “from hunger” in the working class neighborhoods, usually “the projects,” around the country had those same options mentioned early in the film once they came of age, the Army one way or another many times under some judge’s “trying to make a man out you” threat of the Army or jail, for those who rap sheets were too long to warrant options then just jail or for a guy they knew, Slammer Johnson, who was as tough as they come at age twelve and even older guys, serious corner boys who knew a thing or two about whipsaw chains and brass knuckles, the reformatory, or become famous. Jack knew that part, knew that “wanting habits” hunger that all the young guys in Carver were trying break from, break from when they saw Elvis or Jerry Lee burning stages up and so he and the boys had tried the latter, the fame game, at one point.
It all started in the summer before sixth grade when doo wop was all the craze after Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers had asked the magic question-why do fools fall in love- and drove the song by the same name to the top of the charts. There were other guys groups (doo wop girls’ groups too who were cruising to the top the charts but the Carver guys really weren’t interested in them because there was no way they could get anything to help them break-out from paying attention to girl groups, yeah, foolish guys) that hit it big, the Five Satins, The Dubs, The Chasers, The Be-Bop Boys and a bunch of others, mostly black guys (and an occasional girl mixed in) which they knew were hitting it big from watching American Bandstand in the afternoons after school. Dick Clark and that Bandstand was in elementary school anyway, in elementary school at the time when they were getting hipped to music was mandatory to see who was who in the teenage song firmament, see what guys were wearing, see what dances guys were expected to know how to do, sweaty palms and two left feet not withstanding, and, and what chicks looked cool on the show. That last maybe the biggest draw of all as everybody rushed home after school to catch the show.
Funny the black group thing was not a big deal, or Jack and the others didn’t think much about it since the only time they saw black people was on television. Jack would never really since a live black person until years later when he ran track and would run against black guys in the big meets up in Boston Garden. Other than grabbing tips, like having the lead singer off to the side, everybody having the same outfit, the harmony guys snapping their fingers to the beat, and staying on beat with the lead singer they had no racial options about the music and they, meaning mainly Jack at first, figured their niche would be as white guy doo-woppers so they would be working a different street. (Jack and Frank, later in high school, when the civil rights movement was on the television every night practically would get a very rude awaking both within their families and among their fellow students and neighbors when they expressed the slightest sympathy for the black liberation struggle but back in sixth grade there was nothing to it) That niche was not all thought out in such a refined manner as Jack was now recalling in retrospect but what was thought out was that fame part, thought out big time.
That summer before sixth grade right after school got out for the summer was when the Myles Standish corner boys’ natural leader, Red Radley, driven to distraction by the notion of fame, got them together around their corner every night to practice. Since there had not been any stores to stand in front of holding up the wall in the “projects” where they lived like in the pictures they had seen on music magazines they looked through up in the main library up in Carver Square their corner had been in back of the Myles Standish Elementary School. On hot summer nights the back was all lit up brightly since the night basketball leagues would be holding forth across the field from the gym entrance where they hung out. So under “the street lights” just like those New York City and Philly street corner guys they sang. Sang the doo-wop craze stuff which Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers had started and which Red following Jack’s lead about the white boy doo-wop niche figured they could cash in on.
For a couple of weeks they practiced like crazy each night, no paying much attention to much else except exchanging fantasies about what kind of suits they would by, how to act when the crush of the crowds came on, what to do with swooning girls, kids’ stuff dream stuff. But mainly the practiced, trying like hell to work a smooth harmonious sound on the material they covered, covered by Frank copying down the lyrics each time a song they wanted to cover came on WMEX the local rock station (fortunately the big hits got played endlessly each cycle so Frank mainly got the words but on few he missed a couple and so they just incorporated what was there) with Red in the lead. Red really did have the best voice, really could project his voice, and Jack thinking back thought Red with some work and breaks could have made a nice career maybe as a lounge act out of his talent.
That doo wop practice worked, well, worked for what their other purpose was, gathering interesting girls around them. See, a lot of this doo wop jail break out had to do with sexual stirrings, with this cohort of corner boys finally noticing that those shapeless girls from fifth grade class like Cindy, Linda, Bessie, Rosalind (Jack’s favorite), some of them, were starting to get shapes and who the year before had been noting but nuisances but now were, well, interesting. So each night all through that summer as day turned to night Red and the Roosters (nice name, right) crooned, kept working on their timing, and talking about their look, their niche.
At first they were left all by themselves, maybe the older serious basketball players would chuckle as they left the courts, but then one night a couple of girls, girls they knew from class were standing maybe fifty yards away up against a fence not hiding or anything but just kind of listening and swaying back and forth to the songs. (Jack thought the song they were working on was Little Antony and the Imperials Tears On My Pillows, although he would not swear to that. In any case that was the song that got him a dance with Rosalind so maybe he was confusing the two situations.)
A few nights later there would be several girls, including sixth grade girls and one from the other fifth grade class, Lorna who they called Lorna Doone for no particular reason but who was hot, standing at that fence. Jack thought that night if they did a song that all the girls could join in on they might come closer. So they switched up and did the Tune-Weavers’ tear-jerker Happy Birthday Baby everybody knew and was easy to sing. Sang it several times. The girls came running on the excuse that they thought it was somebody’s birthday, somebody who needed consoling. Yeah, it was like that in the innocence boy-girl thing then, probably still is. The summer passed that way with the boy-girl thing working its virginal way through the old neighborhood just like since Adam and Eve time, maybe before. Jack never got to Rosalind then only later after school started and then she moved to another town and that ended his first serious love affair. Frank even with his two left feet got a date for the movies with Bessie, and Jack thought Red (with that mass of red hair), the best looking guy of the bunch from what the girls said but maybe that was just because they wanted get near the lead singer, as always, had gone “steady” with Lorna for a while until Red kind of went off by himself.
See here is where things broke down. Sure Red and the Roosters could draw the local girls in, girls who, well, had sexual stirrings too but here is what had happened. Their problem was, unlike Frankie and the Four Seasons from the get-go, they really did not have any serious raw musical talent (except Red) and did not as Frankie and his guys did really have a new angle on the music of the times. Moreover Frank’s voice changed about mid-way through sixth and threw everything off (later Jack’s and then Jimmy’s did too but that was after the group broke up). So, sadly, this edition of the corner boys broke up in the summer before junior high. Red was bitter since he more than the rest of them was staking his life, his break-out from the ‘from hungers,” on musical fame.
Red would a little later after they moved on to junior high turn against any musical aspirations, get himself into a new career path, the life of crime, which had Jack and to a lesser extent Frank in its thrall for a while, remember they were from hunger too, before they backed off but it was a close thing, very close. Both of them had been “look-outs” when Red began his “clip” five-fingers discount rampage of the various stores up in Carver Center and Jack had worked with Red one night when they jack-rolled a drunk for fifty bucks. Frank and Jack soon moved away from that business though once they realized it was too much work and they felt too much anguish over what they were doing to make a career out of that life.
Red would go on to form another corner boy crowd with some older tougher boys who hung around Jimmy Jack’s Diner based on midnight creeps and some of those corner boys later wound up in the Army, a couple dead in Vietnam for their troubles names now etched in black marble down in Washington and on a granite monument on Carver Commons, or in jail (including Billy later who did a nickel’s worth for an armed robbery after he failed to make a half-hearted one more chance career singing alone and who in the end wound up on the short end of a shoot-out with the cops trying to rob a two-bit White Hen down in some godforsaken town in North Carolina after a second nickel stretch for another armed robbery).
Jack as he thought about Red as he had not done so in a long time, thought about those last parts of the Carver corner boy story, the parts about the fate of the Reds of the world as against the luck of the Four Seasons thought the difference was important because no matter how “from hunger” you are you need the talent and the quirky niche in order to survive in the musical world. Even then as Jack noted in that review he had written and as became apparent as the film unfolded fame is a very close thing. A couple of twists one way or another and the fifteen minutes of fame is up, gone. And fame as Frankie Valli and the boys found out the hard way despite their hard work doesn’t shield you from life’s woes as the break-up of the group, Frankie’s daughter’s death and the financial problems created by “from hunger” Tommy who thought the money would rain in their faces forever attest to. Not an unfamiliar fame story but one worth seeing once again. And telling the Carver corner boys story too.
[By the way as the film moved on to the performance parts the when the Four Seasons started getting some breaks, got a natural song-writer, and got tight and in synch both Laura and Anna said they did settle in and liked the rest of the film. And why wouldn’t they as children of that time as well the Carver corner boys when they were glued to their transistor radios up in some bedroom listening to the aforementioned Sherri, other like Dawn, Walk Like A Man,Rag Dog, Big Girls Don’t Cry and all the rest that drove the young girls wild back then.]
*****Out In The Be-Bop 1960s Night- When The Music’s Over-On The Anniversary Of Janis Joplin’s Death-Magical Realism 101
From The Pen Of Sam Lowell
Scene: Brought to mind by the cover art on some deep fogged memory producing, maybe acid-etched flashback memory at the time, accompanying CD booklet tossed aside on the coffee table by a guy from the old days, the old New York University days, Jeff Mackey, who had been visiting Sarah, Josh Breslin’s wife of the moment. Jeff had just placed the CD on the CD player, the intricacies of fine-tuned down-loading from YouTube beyond anybody’s stoned capacity just then and so the “primitive” technology (stoned as in “turned on,” doped up, high if you like just like in the old days as well although Josh had gone to State U not NYU but the times were such that such transactions were universal and the terms “pass the bong” and “don’t bogart that join” had passed without comment). Don’t take that “wife of the moment” too seriously either since that was a standing joke between Sarah and Josh (not Joshua, Joshua was dad, the late Joshua Breslin, Jr.) since in a long life they had managed five previous marriages (three by him, two by her) and scads of children and two scads of grandchildren (who had better not see this piece since grandma and grandpa have collectively expended many jaws-full hours of talkabout the danger of demon drugs, the devil’s work).
When Josh had picked up the tossed aside booklet he noticed awispy, blue-jeaned, blouse hanging off one shoulder, bare-foot, swirling mass of red hair, down home Janis Joplin-like female performer belting out some serious blues rock in the heat of the “Generation of ‘68” night. The woman maybe kin to Janis, maybe not, but certainly brethren who looked uncannily like his first ex-wife, Laura, who had taught him many little sex things learned from a trip to India and close attention to the Kama Sutra which he had passed to everybody thereafter including Sarah. And no again don’t take that wistful though about Laura as anything but regret since their civil wars had passed a long time before and beside Laura had not been heard from since the time she went down to Rio and was presumably shacked up with some dope king or diamond king or something probably still earning her keep with those little India tricks.
Still looking at the tantalizing artwork he thought of the time of our time, passed. Of wistful women belting out songs, band backed-up and boozed-up, probably Southern Comfort if the dough was tight and there had been ginger ale or ice to cut the sweet taste or if it was late and if the package store was short of some good cutting whiskey, but singing, no, better evoking, yes, evoking barrelhouse down-trodden black empresses and queens from somewhere beyond speaking troubled times, a no good man taking up with that no good best girlfriendof hers who drew a bee-line to him when that empress advertised his charms, no job, no prospect of a job and then having to go toe to toe with that damn rent collector man on that flattened damn mattress that kept springing holes, maybe no roof over a head and walking the streets picking up tricks to pass the time, no pocket dough, no prospects and a ton of busted dreams in some now forgotten barrelhouse, chittlin’ circuit bowling alley complete with barbecued ribs smoking out back or in a down town “colored” theater. Or the echo of that scene, okay. Jesus, maybe he had better kick that dope thing before he actually does start heading to Rio.
Josh Breslin (a. k. a. the Prince of Love, although some merry prankster yellow brick road bus wit made a joke of that moniker calling him the Prince of Lvov, some Podunk town in Poland, or someplace like that, maybe Russia he was not sure of the geography all he knew was that he had made a wag wiggle a little for his indiscretion) was weary, weary as hell, road- weary, drug-weary, Captain Crunch’s now Big Sur–based magical mystery tour, merry prankster, yellow brick road bus-weary, weary even of hanging out with his “papa,” “Far-Out” Phil Larkin who had gotten him through some pretty rough spots weary. Hell, he was girl-weary too, girl weary ever since his latest girlfriend, Gypsy Lady (nee Phyllis McBride), decided that she just had to go back to her junior year of college at Berkeley in order to finish up some paper on the zodiac signs and their meaning for the new age rising. Yeah, okay Gypsy, do what you have to do, the Prince mused to himself. Chuckled really, term paper stuff was just not his “thing” right then. Hell, he had dropped out of State U, dropped out of Laura Perkin’s life, dropped out of everything to chase the Western arroyo desert ocean washed dream that half his generation was pursuing just then.
Moreover this summer of 1968, June to be exact, after a year bouncing between summers of love, 1967 version to be exact, autumns of drugs, strange brews of hyper-colored experience drugs and high shamanic medicine man aztec druid flame throws, winters of Paseo Robles brown hills discontent, brown rolling hills until he sickened of rolling, the color brown, hills, slopes, plains, everything, and springs of political madness what with Johnson’s resignation, Robert Kennedy’s assassination piled on to that of Martin Luther King’s had taken a lot out of him, including his weight, weight loss that his already slim former high school runner’s frame could not afford.
Now the chickens had come home to roost. Before he had joined Captain Crunch’s merry prankster crew in San Francisco, got “on the bus,” in the youth nation tribal parlance, last summer he had assumed, after graduating from high school, that he would enter State U in the fall (University of Maine, the Prince is nothing but a Mainiac, Olde Saco section, for those who did not know). After a summer of love with Butterfly Swirl though before she went back to her golden-haired surfer boy back down in Carlsbad (his temperature rose even now every time he thought about her and her cute little tricks to get him going sexually) and then a keen interest in a couple of other young women before Gypsy Lady landed on him, some heavy drug experiences that he was still trying to figure out, his start–up friendship with Phil, and the hard fact that he just did not want to go home now that he had found “family” decided that he needed to “see the world” for a while instead. And he had, at least enough to weary him.
What he did not figure on, or what got blasted into the deep recesses of his brain just a couple of days ago, was a letter from his parents with a draft notice from his local board enclosed. Hell’s bells he had better get back, weary or not, and get some school stuff going real fast, right now fast. There was one thing for sure, one nineteen-year old Joshua Lawrence Breslin, Olde Saco, Maine High School Class of 1967, was not going with some other class of young men to ‘Nam to be shot at, or to shoot.
Funny, Josh thought, as he mentally prepared himself for the road back to Olde Saco, how the past couple of months had just kind of drifted by and that he really was ready to get serious. The only thing that had kind of perked him up lately was Ruby Red Lips (nee Sandra Kelly), who had just got “on the bus” from someplace down South like Georgia, or Alabama and who had a great collection of blues records that he was seriously getting into (as well as seriously into Miss Ruby, as he called her as a little bait, a little come on bait, playing on her somewhere south drawl, although she seemed slow, very slow, to get his message).
Josh, all throughout high school and even on the bus, was driven by rock ‘n’ roll. Period. Guys like Elvis, Chuck, Jerry Lee, even a gal like Wanda Jackson, when they were hungry, and that hunger not only carried them to the stars but slaked some weird post-World War II, red scare, cold war hunger in guys like Josh Breslin although he never, never in a million years would have articulated it that way back then. That was infernal Captain Crunch’s work (Captain is the “owner” of the “bus” and a story all his own but that is for another time) always trying to put things in historical perspective or the exact ranking in some mythical pantheon that he kept creating (and recreating especially after a “dip” of Kool-Aid, LSD for the squares, okay).
But back to Ruby love. He got a surprise one day when he heard Ruby playing Shake, Rattle, and Roll. He asked, “Is that Carl Perkins?” Ruby laughed, laughed a laugh that he found appealing and he felt was meant to be a little coquettish and said, “No silly, that's the king of be-bop blues, Big Joe Turner. Want to hear more stuff?” And that was that. Names like Skip James, Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, Son House, Muddy Waters and Little Walter started to fill his musical universe.
What got him really going though were the women singers, Sippie Wallace that someone, Bonnie Raitt or Maria Muldaur, had found in old age out in some boondock church social or something, mad Bessie Smith squeezed dry, freeze-dried by some no account Saint Louis man and left wailing, empty bed, gin house wailing ever after, a whole bunch of other barrelhouse blues-singers named Smith, Memphis Minnie, the queen of the double entendre, sex version, with her butcher, baker, candlestick-maker men, doing, well doing the do, okay, and the one that really, really got to him, “Big Mama” Thornton. The latter belting out a bluesy rendition of Hound Dog made just for her that made Elvis' seem kind of punk, and best of all a full-blast Piece Of My Heart.
Then one night Ruby took him to club over in Monterrey just up the road from the Big Sur merry prankster yellow bus camp, the Blue Note, a club for young blues talent, mainly, that was a stepping-stone to getting some work at the Monterrey Pop Festival held each year. There he heard, heard if you can believe this, some freckled, red-headed whiskey-drinking off the hip girl (or maybe some cheap gin or rotgut Southern Comfort, cheap and all the in between rage for those saving their dough for serious drugs).
Ya just a wisp of a girl, wearing spattered blue-jeans, some damn moth-eaten tee-shirt, haphazardly tie-dyed by someone on a terminal acid trip, barefoot, from Podunk, Texas, or maybe Oklahoma, (although he had seen a fair share of the breed in Fryeburg Fair Maine) who was singing Big Mama’s Piece of My Heart. And then Ball and Chain, Little School Girl, and Little Red Rooster.
Hell, she had the joint jumping until the early hours for just as long as guys kept putting drinks in front of her. And maybe some sweet sidle promise, who knows in that alcohol blaze around three in the morning. All Josh knew was this woman, almost girlish except for her sharp tongue and that eternal hardship voice, that no good man, no luck except bad luck voice, that spoke of a woman’s sorrow back to primordial times, had that certain something, that something hunger that he recognized in young Elvis and the guys. And that something Josh guessed would take them over the hump into that new day they were trying to create on the bus, and a thousand other buses like it. What a night, what a blues singer.
The next day Ruby Red Lips came over to him, kind of perky and kind of with that just slightly off-hand look in her eye that he was getting to catch on to when a girl was interested in him, and said, “Hey, Janis, that singer from the Blue Note, is going to be at Monterrey Pops next month with a band to back her up, want to go? And, do you want to go to the Blue Note with me tonight?” After answering, yes, yes, to both those questions the Prince of Love (and not some dinky Lvov either, whoever that dull-wit was) figured he could go back to old life Olde Saco by late August, sign up for State U., and still be okay but that he had better grab Ruby now while he could.
Frida Kahlo-Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky 1937
Like many paintings by Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky focuses on a particular event in the artist’s life. It commemorates the brief affair Kahlo had with the exiled Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky shortly after his arrival in Mexico in 1937. In this painting, she presents herself elegantly clothed in a long embroidered skirt, fringed shawl, and delicate gold jewelry. Flowers and coils of red yarn adorn her hair and adroitly applied makeup highlights her features. Poised and confident in her stage-like setting, Kahlo holds a bouquet of flowers and a letter of dedication to Trotsky that states, “with all my love.” Interestingly, Clare Boothe Luce, the American playwright, socialite, and U.S. Congresswoman, donated Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky to NMWA in 1988.
Kahlo, like many Mexican artists working after the Revolutionary decade that began in 1910, was influenced in her art and life by the nationalistic fervor known as Mexicanidad. The artists involved in this movement rejected European influences and favored a return to the country’s native roots and folk traditions. Kahlo often wore the distinctive clothing of the Tehuantepec women in southwest Mexico; she also looked to pre-Columbian art and Mexican folk art for forms and symbols in her paintings. The compositional elements of the stage and curtains, for example, draw upon Mexican vernacular paintings called retablos, devotional images of the Virgin or Christian saints painted on tin, which Kahlo collected.
[Updated, April 7, 8:55 a.m.]: The funeral service for Merle Haggard will be held at his home in Palo Cedro, California, on Saturday, April 9. Marty Stuart will officiate and sing, along with his wife, Connie Smith. [Previous story, April 6, 12:38 p.m.]:
America has lost one of its greatest song poets. Singer, songwriter, guitarist, fiddler, bandleader and music legend Merle Haggard died today on his 79th birthday, at his home outside of Redding, California. One of the most influential and revered artists in music, Haggard was a permanent fixture on the country charts for three decades. He is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. He is also the recipient of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a Kennedy Center honoree. Perhaps no other singer-songwriter in contemporary country music has assembled as large a body of practically unblemished work. He stands almost alone in terms of artistic consistency, musical integrity, purpose and vision. His songwriting achievements include such classics as “Mama Tried,” “Sing Me Back Home,” “Okie From Muskogee,” “Hungry Eyes,” “Workin’ Man Blues,” “If We Make It Through December,” “Big City” and “Today I Started Loving You Again,” among many, many others. His recorded legacy is vast and varied. He venerated blues, swing, pop, folk, gospel, honky-tonk, rockabilly and several other roots genres. Haggard respected country tradition and recorded tributes to Jimmie Rodgers (1969), Bob Wills (1970) and Elvis Presley (1977). He recorded with The Texas Playboys as well as with Mother Maybelle and The Carter Sisters, George Jones, Willie Nelson and Ernest Tubb. MusicRow Podcast Featuring The Legendary Merle Haggard “The Hag,” as he was known, placed 112 titles on the country charts, scored 71 top-10 hits and had 38 No. 1 successes. He recorded more than 90 albums. Few stars have biographies as dramatic as Merle Haggard’s. His parents were “Okie” migrants to California during the Great Depression. He was born Merle Ronald Haggard on April 6, 1937 and raised in a converted railroad boxcar in Oildale, near Bakersfield, CA. His father died of a stroke when Haggard was nine, and his mother went to work fulltime to support the family. Absent any parental supervision, Haggard became wild and rebellious as a youth, getting involved in petty theft, writing bad checks and riding the rails as a hobo. He was sent to juvenile-detention facilities and reform schools several times for shoplifting, truancy, robbery and other crimes, but this failed to curb his ways. An encounter with Lefty Frizzell led him to start performing music professionally. A school dropout, he also worked as a teenage farmhand, oil field worker, truck driver and short-order cook. Haggard was arrested in 1957 for attempted burglary and sent to San Quentin State Prison in California. He turned 21 in the penitentiary as convicted felon No. A-45200. In 1958, he attended a prison performance by Johnny Cash, which deepened his commitment to a country career. One of his best penitentiary friends was executed on Death Row, and Haggard spent time in solitary confinement. These events all led him to turn his life around. While locked away, Haggard took high-school equivalency courses. He also performed in the prison’s country band. He was paroled in 1960. For the rest of his life, he was haunted by memories and nightmares of his life in the penitentiary. Upon his release, he dug ditches and worked as an electrician’s assistant. But he was soon entertaining in Bakersfield nightclubs and was signed by the independent imprint Tally Records. He debuted on the charts on that label with his 1963 version of Wynn Stewart’s yearning “Sing a Sad Song.” He scored his first top-10 hit in 1965 with songwriter Liz Anderson’s “(All My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers.” The star named his award-winning band The Strangers as a salute to that hit in 1965. In that same year, Capitol Records picked up his recording contract. Capitol producer Ken Nelson took a “hands off” approach to Haggard and his musical vision, to the star’s lasting gratitude. Liz Anderson also wrote Haggard’s first No. 1 hit, the seemingly autobiographical “The Fugitive.” Ironically, at the time, she knew nothing of his prison past. By then, Merle Haggard was also making hits with his own songs. “Swinging Doors” (1966), “The Bottle Let Me Down” (1966), “I Threw Away the Rose” (1967), “Branded Man” (1967), the death-row ballad “Sing Me Back Home” (1967), “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde” (1968), the Grammy Hall of Fame winner “Mama Tried” (1968), “I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am” (1968), “Hungry Eyes” (1969) and the iconic “Workin’ Man Blues” (1969) were all top-10 hits written by Haggard in the 1960s. The California based Academy of Country Music (ACM) saluted him with nine awards in 1965-69. The ACM honored him four more times in the 1970s.
Merle Haggard. Photo: Myriam Santos
Along with Buck Owens, Red Simpson and Wynn Stewart, Merle Haggard is regarded as a cornerstone figure of The Bakersfield Sound. Characterized by bright-sounding Telecaster electric guitar leads, aggressive production touches and a more edgy approach than contemporary Nashville Sound records, this style marked California country’s heyday. Another exponent was Bonnie Owens, the former wife of Buck who became Haggard’s duet partner, backup singer, co-writer and second wife. In 1970, Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee” was named Single of the Year by the CMA. The controversial, hippie-bashing song was the voice of the people President Nixon called “The Silent Majority.” Haggard followed it with the even more redneck “The Fightin’ Side of Me.” Still, many from the counterculture began to bring his works to the attention of left-leaning young people. The Grateful Dead, Joan Baez, The Byrds, The Everly Brothers, The Flying Burrito Brothers and others recorded his songs. Haggard, himself, added to his political ambiguity. He wanted to put out his interracial love song “Irma Jackson” as a single, but this was vetoed by Capitol. He was asked to endorse reactionary presidential candidate George Wallace, but refused. He returned to San Quentin to perform for the inmates in 1971. By this time, Merle Haggard was one of the most famous country singers on earth. He was honored with a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1969. The CMA named him its Male Vocalist and Entertainer of the Year for 1970. California Governor Ronald Reagan granted him a full pardon in 1972. Haggard entertained President Nixon at the White House the following year. The country icon appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1974. Between 1973 and 1976, he scored nine consecutive No. 1 hits. His Let Me Tell You About a Song was the CMA Album of the Year for 1972. He was featured in films such as 1968’s Killers Three, 1967’s Hillbillys in a Haunted House and 1969’s From Nashville With Music. He also had acting roles in the TV movies Huckleberry Finn (1975) and Centennial (1979), as well as several TV series. On disc, his early 1970s hit streak included a revival of Ernest Tubb’s “Soldier’s Last Letter” (1971), plus “Someday We’ll Look Back” (1971), “Daddy Frank” (1971), “Carolyn” (1972), Hank Cochran’s “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)” (1972), “I Wonder If They Ever Think of Me” (1973), the hard-luck recession anthem “If We Make It Through December” (1973), “Old Man From the Mountain” (1974), Dolly Parton’s “Kentucky Gambler” (1974), “Always Wanting You” (1975), the TV show theme song “Movin’ On” (1975), “The Roots of My Raising” (1976) and a remake of the Cindy Walker/Bob Wills western-swing favorite “Cherokee Maiden” (1976). His commitment to constant touring was renowned. Although he seldom spoke on stage, his musicianship made him a master showman. In addition, he did humorous imitations of such fellow country stars as Marty Robbins, Hank Snow, Buck Owens and Johnny Cash during his concerts. There were no set lists. Neither his band nor the audience knew which song would be next. Haggard’s vocal performances seemed to take on new depth and expressiveness after he began recording for MCA in 1976. During the next four years, Haggard released such timeless singles as “If We’re Not Back in Love By Monday” (1977), “Ramblin’ Fever” (1977), “I’m Always on a Mountain When I Fall” (1978), “My Own Kind of Hat” (1979), “The Way I Am” (1980), “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” (1980) and “Rainbow Stew” (1981). This era of his career found him continuing to champion the problems of blue-collar Americans and the common man. Journalists referred to him as a working-class hero. He also often addressed alcoholism, depression and middle age. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1977. His duet partners during this period included Clint Eastwood. The team had a No. 1 hit in 1980 with “Bar Room Buddies.” This appeared on the soundtrack of Eastwood’s movie Bronco Billy, as did Haggard’s No. 1 solo hit “Misery and Gin.” Haggard also recorded duets with singer-songwriter Leona Williams, his third wife. He signed with Epic Records in 1980, and his decade-long tenure at the label witnessed yet another creative flowering. He recorded hit duets with George Jones (1982’s “Yesterday’s Wine”) and Willie Nelson (1983’s “Pancho and Lefty,” which earned them a CMA Award). Haggard won a 1984 Grammy for his version of the Lefty Frizzell/Whitey Shafer standard “That’s the Way Love Goes.” His solo Epic hits also included such blockbusters as “My Favorite Memory” (1981), “Big City” (1982), “Are the Good Times Really Over” (1982), “Going Where the Lonely Go” (1982), “Someday When Things Are Good” (1984), “A Place to Fall Apart” (1984), “Natural High” (1985), “Kern River” (1985), “I Had a Beautiful Time” (1986), “Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star” (1987) and “A Better Love Next Time” (1989). He published his first autobiography, Sing Me Back Home, in 1981. A second one appeared in 1999, My House of Memories. Merle Haggard underwent financial, alcohol and drug difficulties during the 1990s. But he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994. He won a Living Legend honor at the Music City News Awards in 1990 and an Award of Merit at the 1991 American Music Awards. Two tribute albums to his music were released in 1994. Tulare Dust featured performances of his songs by Dwight Yoakam, Rosie Flores, Lucinda Williams and Billy Joe Shaver, among others. Mama’s Hungry Eyes co-starred Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Brooks & Dunn, Alabama, Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Pam Tillis and more. In 1997, TNN aired a tribute-concert TV special titled Workin’ Man, which included Tim McGraw, Trace Adkins, John Anderson, Mark Chesnutt and others. The emergence of the Americana music genre provided Merle Haggard with a career renaissance. Later-career albums earned him strongly positive reviews. These included 2000’s If I Could Only Fly, 2001’s Roots, 2002’s The Peer Sessions, 2003’s Like NeverBefore, 2004’s Unforgettable, 2005’s Chicago Wind, 2007’s The Bluegrass Sessions, 2007’s Working Man’s Journey, 2010’s I Am What I Am and 2011’s Working in Tennessee. He recorded for Curb, Epitaph, EMI, Audium, Vanguard and other imprints.
He was part of the all-star ensemble on the Grammy-winning “Same Old Train” record of 1998. He sang duets with Jewel (1999) and Gretchen Wilson (2005). He toured with Bob Dylan in 2005. He played Bonnaroo in 2009. In 2007, he and Willie Nelson recorded with Ray Price on the critically applauded CD Last of a Breed. His 2015 duet reunion album with Nelson was the equally acclaimed Django and Jimmie. Meanwhile, the Dixie Chicks, Eric Church, Brooks & Dunn, Colin Raye, Shooter Jennings and Lynyrd Skynyrd all saluted him in the lyrics of their songs. In 2006, Haggard was honored as a BMI Icon. He has, to date, 48 BMI Awards that add up to over 25 million performances. Also in 2006, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. The ACM gave him its Poet’s Award in 2008. Befitting his status as a legend, Merle Haggard was presented with a Kennedy Center Honor in 2010. California State University in Bakersfield gave him an honorary degree in 2013, a doctorate in fine arts. Always a rugged individualist who resisted political labels, Haggard remained an outspoken American patriot. He opposed the war in Iraq in 2003 and defended the Dixie Chicks’ free-speech rights. He endorsed Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations in 2007, then wrote a song expressing hope for Barak Obama’s inauguration. In recent years, he became interested in conservation and environmental issues. He did yoga, smoked pot, dabbled in herbal medicine and believed in UFO’s and extraterrestrial life. He had been having health issues since the 1990s. Haggard underwent an angioplasty in 1995 for clogged arteries and received two heart stents in 1997. He suffered herniated discs in his lower back in 2002. In 2008, he had lung-cancer surgery. He was hospitalized with pneumonia in 2012, 2015 and 2016. Merle Haggard married five times. He was wed to first wife Leona Hobbs from 1956 to 1964, and they had four children — Dana, Marty, Kelli and Noel. Marty and Noel became country singers. Singer-songwriter Bonnie Campbell Owens was Haggard’s wife between 1965 and 1978. She remained in his band after they divorced. Bonne Owens and Leona Hobbs both died in 2006. His union with singer-songwriter Leona Williams lasted from 1978 to 1983. He married Debbie Parret in 1985 and divorced her in 1991. He has been married to Theresa Ann Lane since 1993. They have two children, Janessa and Ben.