More than half a century later, however, Haggard was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree by the university. And rightly so, as, fortunately, his time spent in the school of hard knocks led to one of the most important careers in the history of American music.
When Haggard performs at the Taft Theatre, he’ll do so as a survivor, who continues to show sharp musical chops. His voice is still strong and soulful, his latest original music is fun and revelatory and Haggard has never let his love for fun Western Swing out of the set list.
But he also comes to town with a bit of a heavy heart. Just two months ago, his buddy, Country music legend George Jones, died. His other long-time friend, Willie Nelson, just turned 80. The best of a generation is thinning out.
Here is another thing that might surprise you about Haggard. In the late ’60s, he recorded many an anti-hippie anthem, such as the “We don’t smoke marijuana in the South” song, “Okie From Muskogee.” On his latest album, Working in Tennessee, he sings a different tune on the song “Laugh it Off,” in which he suggests that one way you can cure the blues is to “just roll the dice and go on having fun, and get some Humboldt marijuana, guaranteed to make you cough and laugh it off."
The Hag is back in Cincy and still kicking. And, if you’re lucky, in honor of his musical heroes Lefty Frizzell, Bob Wills and his own father who sawed some strings, he just might kick up a shuffle with his fiddle.
“I’m just a regular guy,” Haggard told me a year ago. “I’m 75 years old and I’ve experienced all of the things that those people have experienced. I’m going to keep doing it as long as I’m able. As long as they want me, I’ll try to do it.”
MERLE HAGGARD plays Wednesday, June 26 at Taft Theatre downtown. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.