At 77 years old, Merle Haggard is still the running kind — running from show to show at an age when most men might happily stick closer to home. The Country Music Hall of Famer, who plays Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium this week and is also doing press for a Buddy Holly tribute album to which he has contributed, is five decades into his storied career, with hundreds of legendary songs to chose from to perform. The poet of the common man, responsible for such classics as “Workin’ Man Blues,” Okie From Muskogee” and “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” remains just as dedicated to performing, too.
“If I ever retired, I wouldn’t be doing much,” he tells Raleigh, North Carolina’s News & Observer. “I’ve just been off for six weeks and I was about bored to death. I’ve fished all my life and I play golf, but that don’t substitute for the road and playing shows and the high points of all we’ve accomplished in 50 years.”
A prolific tunesmith, Haggard has no shortage of project for which he’s penning new songs. In fact, he has enough material for four different albums, which he reports are in the works right now.
“We’ve got a brand-new studio and we’ve been recording right along all the way,” he says, “although the lack of radio play for the new stuff makes it difficult. If they put on a new song of mine, they’ve gotta take off ‘Mama Tried.’ So I’m kind of fighting myself on new releases.”
Haggard also notes that he doesn’t listen much to the radio these days, saying, “Once in a while, I’ll scan it and I don’t understand what they’re doing. I can’t find the entertainment in it. I know these guys, occasionally play shows with them and they’re all good people. But I wonder if that record they’re making is something they can actually do. Too much boogie boogie wham-bam and not enough substance.”