Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Guest Post | Will Oldham

Merle Haggard - "If I Could Only Fly"

Merle Haggard is a channeler who has paid ample tribute to those that came before him. He has demonstrated explicitly and implicitly his standing on the shoulders of Tommy Duncan/Bob Wills, Jimmie Rodgers, Floyd Tillman, Lefty Frizzell and many others.

There are songs in his catalogue that seep solidly into the headscape of Kentuckians who grew up when I did, and beyond through his vast influence on the George Straits, Dwight Yoakams, Alan Jacksons, John Andersons, Toby Keiths, and too many others. He is not the original, but he may be the most significant junction.

Beyond secondhand hearings, I got to know Merle's music and influence specifically through the live Phil Ochs record 'Gunfight at Carnegie Hall' and through my brother's copy of Merle's greatest hits. One of the first songs I ever played live was Haggard's 'It's Not Love (But It's Not Bad)' during an open mic at Uncle Pleasant's here in Louisville, KY.

One fantastic impression I have of Merle is that he comes up with his songs as a form of continuance; that he tries to create songs worthy of the space they occupy in the world; valuable to the tradition exemplified by those specific people that came before him and work parallel with him. It's my opinion that I see a humble reverence in his attention to this song 'If I Could Only Fly' by Blaze Foley.

He recorded it twice, once with Willie Nelson and once for a record that shared the title of the song. There are more than a couple of Merle's renditions of the song circulating out there that are not specifically associated with those records. He just seems to be in awe of that song.

There's a nice piece of writing by Nicholas Dawidoff about Merle Haggard that includes an episode of Merle playing the song over and over on his turntable at home (if I remember right). Anyway. Hag's done a lot of gospel, but Hag singing 'If I Could Only Fly' comes as close to a devotional as anything I have heard.

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Will Oldham will be writing from Louisville every Wednesday about loved and significant music.


  1. Blaze Foley was great. Thanks for this post by Will.

  2. on flying in song - check this out: