Merle. I can't remember the first time I heard him sing - his voice was just always there. I grew up loving all his songs; I came to disagree with some of them later in life, but really, on the whole, this was a guy who could without irony appeal to both sides of the national screaming. Yeah, he wrote and performed The Fightin' Side of Me, but he also wrote and sang Irma Jackson:
He was probably the greatest country music songwriter who ever lived (and that's counting Hank Sr., at least in my humble opinion). I actually got to see him live a few times; I'm SO glad I did. I'm pleased to find after all these years at least one of my reviews of his shows is still up. I wish I could find the other one, too -- as far as I can tell, all my pictures predate all three of the computers I have (and all the memory chips from my digital cameras). At least back then when I was reviewing regularly, the Celebrity Theatre didn't enforce their "no camera" policy, and I took a LOT of great shots - I was in the front row the first show I went to, and in the second or third the next time, right on the ramp to the stage. I could have reached out and touched the man.
I have to go dig round in my film photos and see if I can find the old concert shots. I didn't remember it was that long ago!
Someone recently posted this video - it's terrific. I knew he could do a mean Buck Owens; had no idea he could do all these other impressions, too!
He was the epitome of country music.
(This was my favorite song, for years. My dad owned the album - I made off with it at some point, because I still own it.)
And of course, political controversy. "Fightin' Side" may push my buttons today, but the music is still amazing. "Okie from Muskogee" was written (by Merle's own admission) with tongue held firmly in cheek, because, as he said, "Muskogee's the only place I don't smoke it." He was an old-school conservative, a lefty with a right-wing leaning, openly contemptuous of the way politics are today and not shy about sharing his opinions.
Just before he died he finished recording a new album with Willie Nelson. They were already scheduled for the tour (a friend of mine said her father already had tickets!). Merle came from a generation who weren't interested in "retiring." Like Johnny Cash, he made music until the day he died.
RIP, Merle. We'll miss you.