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Merle Haggard Looks Back in New Documentary

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Your albums still sound great and you're still performing to big crowds. Why do you want to retire?
Well, I don't. I'll go as long as I can go because there are so many things that could edge me off. I could have a stroke in a minute. I'm at that age. I could have a massive heart attack and nobody would do an autopsy. But I feel pretty good, so I'm going to do it as long as I can.

In recent years, you've recorded in-the-moment material about the state of the country like "What Happened" and "America First." Do you read the news a lot?
News is really interesting to me. I stay pretty much up with it. I watch a lot of television. I try to separate the different approaches in giving the news. It's quite different on each channel. I don't know how much truth you can get out of it. I know, for example, that the oil spill is 10 miles from where they are showing it on television. They've got some special video effects they're showing us, and the real disaster is 10 miles away and they can't even get close to it. Did you know that?

I didn't know that, but I know they are trying to keep the media away from the oil spill.
On Coast-to-Coast AM they said that the benzene in the air from that spill is like 1,200 times what they're admitting it to be. It's absolutely terminal for the people that breathe it. They'll die with cancer. If that be so, we are really setting back and taking a whole lot of horseshit from BP.

Do you think Obama has done all he can?
Let's move on to another subject.

Keith Richards is a big character in the documentary. Are you a Stones fan?
Oh yeah. I'm a rock & roller. I'm a country guy because of my raisin', but I'm a Chuck Berry man. I love Fats Domino just as much as I like Hank Williams and Lefty Frizell.

I read you and Willie might be working on an album together.
It hasn't gotten very far, but Willie called me about six months ago and said he'd like to do an album and I said I would too. So we're trying to get our trains to cross somewhere and get that material. We both agree that we need to do an album, but it needs to be first class with new material. Not something with old songs in it.

You guys will put out an album of all new songs?
I think it needs to be. Otherwise it's just another album. We need to have something in the category of "Pancho and Lefty." It needs to be that good.

Do you plan to reprise 2007's Last of the Breed tour with Willie and Ray Price?
I sure hope so. The thing that's bad about it is the kind of buildings we play don't produce enough money for the three of us. Either two of us could go in and make a little money. The three of us just kind of screws the deal.

Did you have a favorite part of the documentary?
Well, you know, there were some things that Gandulf left on the editing floor that I had seen periodically over the time he was filming the documentary. A couple of things that I guess for time reasons didn't make it. I was kind of disappointed those particular things were not there.

Like what?
Certain people he interviewed. I know there was more time with Duvall and there was more time with my manager, Fuzzy. If I have a chance I'm gonna talk to him about it. I think Gandulf did real good. He's really a sincere fellow. I got to give him an A-.

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Song Stories

“San Francisco Mabel Joy”

Mickey Newbury | 1969

A country-folk song of epic proportions, "San Francisco Mabel Joy" tells the tale of a poor Georgia farmboy who wound up in prison after a move to the Bay Area found love turning into tragedy. First released by Mickey Newbury in 1969, it might be more familiar through covers by Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Kenny Rogers. "It was a five-minute song written in a two-minute world," Newbury said. "I was told it would never be cut by any artist ... I was told you could not use the term 'redneck' in a song and get it recorded."

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