After blasting the Academy of Country Music in a viral Facebook post earlier this week over the creation of an award named after Merle Haggard, Sturgill Simpson and his remarks were met with both support and confusion from fellow artists.
Simpson took the Music Row establishment to task for cozying up with Haggard’s legacy, even though according to Simpson, it did little to honor the legend in his final years. He also criticized the modern-day country awards shows as being “formulaic cannon fodder bullshit” and “high school pageantry,” and suggested both the ACM and CMA should “start dedicating their programs to more actual Country Music.”
In a follow-up post, Simpson said he’d likely be blackballed from Nashville, but cited the Number One debut of his latest album A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, and Jason Isbell’s chart-topping Something More Than Free, as proof that he and artists like Isbell “don’t need them.” Afterward, Jason Isbell tweeted in part “I agree 100%” with Simpson, but at least one mainstream star has questioned Simpson’s assessment of the Haggard-ACM situation.
Speaking backstage at the Ryman Auditorium before the 10th ACM Honors – where the Merle Haggard Spirit Award would be presented to Miranda Lambert – Jason Aldean countered that even though musical tastes have shifted away from traditional country music, Haggard was very much appreciated in Nashville.
“I don’t know Sturgill, never met the guy, but I know he’s a great artist,” says Aldean, who performed and was honored as a Triple Crown winner at the ACM Honors. “The flip side of [his argument] is I feel like everybody in this town – every artist, every writer, every producer – we all are very much aware of the contribution [Haggard] had to this business. And if memory serves me correctly, Merle got recognized a ton over his career. The ACMs in particular, if I’m not mistaken, he’s one of the Triple Crown artists.”
That is true. Haggard won Most Promising Male Vocalist in 1965, Top Male Vocalist in 1966 (as well as five other times) and Entertainer of the Year in 1970, making him one of seven artists in history to receive the special Triple Crown title. In all, Haggard received 20 separate honors from the ACM, including three legacy awards late in his career – the Pioneer Award in 1995, the Poet’s Award in 2008 and the Crystal Milestone Award in 2013.
But more importantly, Aldean tells Rolling Stone Country, Haggard knew where the current generation of country artists stood.
“When he was alive he was very aware of how all the younger generation of artists felt about him,” he says. “We all went and cut a tribute record of his a couple years ago [2014’s Working Man’s Poet: A Tribute to Merle Haggard]. Myself, [Randy] Houser, Luke [Bryan], Dierks [Bentley], all of us. So he was very aware that the younger generation of artists had a ton of respect for him, and like I said, I think everybody in this town and in the business knows what he brought to the table and how much he influenced everybody. So I’m just not sure I really understand where all that was coming from.”