Thursday, April 21, 2016

Merle Haggard and Prince

So I'm not really good at waxing philosophical or sentimental or any of that, so this is probably going to be a disjointed mess (but isn't life, usually?).  Actually, I'm not even going to attempt to get deep right now.  I had two paragraphs about the frailty of life and a loving God who has a plan for us, but now isn't the time for that post, so I deleted them.  Now is the time to celebrate two of my musical heroes.

I've cried twice in my life because of the death of a celebrity.  Both of those times were this month.

On April 6, the last great country singer died.  Merle Haggard was my favorite singer/songwriter/guitarist.  If you were to ask me put together a playlist of what country music should be, I would just list his albums.  His music was country music.  He wrote songs for the common man, the working man, the incarcerated, the heartbroken, the love-struck, the fun-loving.  His voice was thick and smooth like molasses.  He could pick the fire out of a guitar.

I went to my first concert when I was in third grade (so 1989, maybe?).  It was in Biloxi at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum.  I got to see three country legends, all of whom have since passed on: Conway Twitty, George Jones, and Merle Haggard.  My first Father's Day gift after having my son was a ticket to see Merle Haggard at Champions Square outside the Super Dome in New Orleans.  At 76 years old he could still go.

Mainstream country music is a hot mess right now.  There aren't many gatekeepers left.  These new "artists" are just flat out terrible and don't care the least for country music.  If we're not careful, country will be lost to the masses.  Merle stood up for real country music.

The older he got, the better he sounded.  Here he is singing as good as ever and playing a beautiful, smooth guitar solo.




Today, we lost the most talented musician to ever sing/write/record/perform/breathe/exist.  Prince could do it all.  If you heard an instrument on one of his albums, chances are he played it.  You've heard the phrase "jack of all trades, master of none."  That didn't apply to Prince.  He was the master of all.

My favorite song to play is "Purple Rain."  Prince changed the way I think about guitar.  When I was learning to play I listened to a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Lynyrd Skynyrd.  My grandpa taught me to play with songs by Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and Creedence Clearwater Revival.  All of those artists (and especially my grandpa) had an influence on my style.  But Prince changed things.  There's something about his playing...it's so effortless, yet he put everything he had into it.  He milked the notes for all they're worth, but was so fast his fingers were like lightning.  I strive to be just a tenth as melodic as he was.  (I had to go back and change those last few sentences to make them past tense.  I'm still not okay with him being gone...)  This weekend when I play "Purple Rain" I hope I can do it justice.

Here's an early version of "Purple Rain."  It's so raw and...I don't know.  It's just good.  I don't know how long this video will be up on YouTube, so watch it while you can.



Here's a bonus clip from when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Prince owned all that night.




2016 has been cruel to entertainment so far.  Here's hoping she's finished.