PEI

Country music great Merle Haggard remembered

More than just a tribute act, Marty Haggard knew his father's music inside out, being there when it was made, and joining him on the road. Now he does a show in honour of his late father Merle.

Late country singer's son pays tribute in show playing Summerside

Country singer Marty Haggard has enjoyed his own career since the 1980's, but currently is concentrating on his tribute show to his father, Merle. (martyhaggard.com)

Tribute acts are nothing new, and there are plenty of them, from Elvis to the Beatles, who give you a good approximation of the sound and the look of your favourite artist.

But very few tributes can let you know about the real person as well.

That's the idea behind the show A Tribute To Merle Haggard: "My Dad", which was at Summerside's Harbourfront Theatre Tuesday night.

It featured the country star's son, Marty Haggard, who told CBC Mainstreet's Kerry Campbell that he began touring this show way before his father died in April of this year.

"I've been doing it for five years now, I started in Branson, Missouri, doing a show there, a little tribute to dad," said Haggard. "I've had my own career for 35 - 40 years, but here recently, long before dad got sick, I made the decision to do a little tribute to him.

Marty Haggard's parents, Merle and Leona, in 1956, the year they married. (martyhaggard.com)
"I'm his oldest son, I'm the one who has all the inside knowledge on everything he ever did, I was there when he cut everything, wrote everything. He drove me out on the road with him all my life, and unlike the other kids I just have a little more insight on these songs of his that are so great."

That's a reference to shows two of Haggard's younger sons do in tribute now, half-brothers of Marty from a later marriage.

 'If you don't like his music, you're deaf.'- Marty Haggard, son of country legend Merle

​Marty Haggard had joined his father's band back in 1983, and also scored a series of chart hits of his own.

But he actually went on the tours starting when he was much younger.

"For me, it wasn't about nothing except spending time with my dad," he said. "My memories of my dad and I are really as much about us out in the bass boat fishing and things like that. The road itself was just one aspect of our lives, it wasn't by no means the majority of it, or even the most important part, it was just one part. He took me to work with him, that's all."

A son's perspective

While he plays his father's songs, Marty Haggard also tells stories about what the star was like off-stage.

"If you look at the way this thing is being marketed, it's A Tribute to Merle Haggard, "My Dad," in quotations," he said. "It's about my dad, it' s not about Merle Haggard."

Famously, Haggard was in St. Quentin Prison when his son was young, but turned his life around in a rags-to-riches story.

"He was released from prison in 1960, and in 1970 he and our whole family was sitting in the White House by invitation of the President of the United States. That's a pretty good feat to go from the jail house to the White House in 10 years, but he did it."

Merle Haggard asked his son Marty to join his band as lead guitar player in 1983. (martyhaggard.com)
He said it's much different performing the show since his father has passed away.

"For me doing these songs, it's almost like looking at a photo album of the family, and it just takes you back to different periods of your life," Haggard said. "And initially after his death, it was kind of difficult, I guess when you go through that mourning period. The hardest thing I'm having to get used to is talking about him in the past tense, he's only been gone a short period of time." 

Haggard is going to start working some of his own material back into his concerts at some point, but he thinks he'll always keep a bit of his father's music in the show now.

"I just love my dad, good grief, and if you don't like his music, you're deaf," he said.

With files from CBC's Mainstreet

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