Merle Haggard, April 6, 1937-2016

Merle Haggard at Memorial Hall for SFC25. Photo by Mark Perry Photography.

Merle Haggard at Memorial Hall for SFC25. Photo by Mark Perry Photography.

The world lost another giant today when Merle Haggard left this earth for honky-tonk heaven. The Southern Folklife Collection was privileged to welcome Mr. Haggard at our 25th anniversary celebration in 2014. Seeing him perform at UNC’s Memorial Hall is an experience that will not be forgotten. It was a spectacular performance and I was practically giddy when Haggard picked up the fiddle.

20001_pf2296_Merle Haggard_John Edwards Memorial Foundation Records_Southern Folklife Collection_UNC Chapel Hill

At the SFC, we would like nothing better to spend the foreseeable future exploring the collections for Merle Haggard content to geek out on and reminisce about the first time we heard one song or another, but, and I think Merle would agree, we have other work to do; other fiddle players to celebrate and mountains of music to share with the world. I discovered countless artists through Haggard, not the least of which was Bob Wills. Even though I come from Texas, it was Merle who introduced me to the “best damn fiddle player in the world.” But for today, I’ve got “Rainbow Stew” on the deck and I pulled out these pictures I have looked at many times from the John Edwards Memorial Foundation Records (20001) documenting the recording sessions for Bob Wills’s final album, For the Last Time. Sessions, produced by the legendary guitarist Tommy Allsup (another former Cricket like Bobby Durham), took place just outside of Dallas on December 3 and 4, 1973.

Haggard drove all night from Chicago to participate on the final day after begging permission from Wills to attend. Sadly, Wills was unable to complete the session after suffering a severe stroke on the night of December 3 and slipping into a coma the following day never to retain consciousness. Haggard and the band, the first reunion of the Texas Playboys since Wills disbanded the group in the 1960s, pressed on with noted successor of the Bob Wills sound Hoyle Nix stepping up into the boots of his hero to lead the group.

We are not positive, but we believe the photos above include Haggard, fiddlers Keith Coleman and Johnny Gimble, steel guitarist Leon McCauliffe, and the back of guitarist Eldon Shamblin’s head.

Rest easy, Merle. Hope the music is as good in the next place as you made it here.

NC Folklife Festival, 1974

FT3419_002Lovers of North Carolina folklore have a lot to celebrate this year. The Southern Folklife Collection celebrates our 25th Anniversary this year with numerous events August 21 through August 23. See our event website, SFC25, and follow Field Trip South for more information as we lead up to the event. Tickets are on sale now for Memorial Hall concerts featuring the Rebirth Brass Band, Tift Merritt and Merle Haggard. See more information from Carolina Performing Arts.

FT3419_001In other celebratory news, Our good friends at the North Carolina Folklife Institute are kicking off their 40th anniversary commemoration this weekend at the Festival For the Eno. The NCFI has been sharing fantastic photo documentation of the 1974, 1975, and 1976 festivals on their website and Facebook page, highly recommended viewing. They also encouraged us to look back into the SFC for sound recordings of the events, which we located and are in the process of digitizing. Performances from the 1974 festival, organized on the campus of Duke University by George Holt, are documented on open reel tapes FT3418 through FT3421. Performers included Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham, Elizabeth Cotton, The Golden Echoes, Willie Trice, Ernest East, The Blue Sky Boys, The Bluegrass Experience, and many more. We are excited to share some clips of these performances from FT3419 (pictured above) with you and encourage you to visit the NC Folklife Institute table at the Festival for the Eno this coming weekend. Happy Fourth of July!

Introduction from George Holt

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Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham

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Golden Echoes

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Willie Trice

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The Blue Sky Boys

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The Bluegrass Experience

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Photo of the Week: Merle Haggard and the Texas Playboys

P2998, from the John Edwards Memorial Foundation Collection (#20001), is but one of a series of photographs documenting the recording sessions for Bob Wills’s final album, For the Last Time. Sessions, produced by the legendary guitarist Tommy Allsup (another former Cricket like Bobby Durham), took place just outside of Dallas on December 3 and 4, 1973.

Haggard drove all night from Chicago to participate on the final day after begging permission from Wills to attend. Sadly, Wills was unable to complete the session after suffering a severe stroke on the night of December 3 and slipping into a coma the following day never to retain consciousness. Haggard and the band, the first reunion of the Texas Playboys since Wills disbanded the group in the 1960s, pressed on with noted successor of the Bob Wills sound Hoyle Nix stepping up into the boots of his hero to lead the group.

We are not positive, but we believe the photo above includes Haggard, fiddlers Keith Coleman and Johnny Gimble, steel guitarist Leon McCauliffe, and the back of guitarist Eldon Shamblin’s head.