Country music legend Merle Haggard died Wednesday, on his 79th birthday. The singer had been battling Pneumonia for several months but, was still hoping to play several shows this spring: including a couple here in Austin.
From poverty and prison to international fame, Haggard touched the lives of many, including some Austin musicians. “It's very rare to get a writer of his caliber, into a singer of his caliber, into a musician of his caliber. So for me, he was the biggest influence. Because I want to write my own songs, I want to sing my own songs, and I like to play them,” said singer Dale Watson.
Haggard was scheduled for a show at the ACL Moody Theater in Austin in November, and one next week in New Braunfels with Willie Nelson. “He loved it; he just loved music you know? He's a poet’s poet really,” said Watson.
The music icon's lengthy career included 40 number 1 hits, countless awards, and an induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Willie Nelson released a statement saying of Haggard "He was my brother, my friend. I will miss him.”
Haggard not only touched the lives of fellow musicians but also many fans. Bill Jeffery works at Waterloo Records in Austin. “He's one of the most consistent A-listers. He never put out a really bad album. If there was a new Merle Haggard album, you knew it was going to be something good. He was a poet, a poet until the end,” he said.
Haggards youngest son posted to Facebook with a touching picture of him holding his dad’s hand saying “A week ago dad told us he was gonna pass on his birthday, and he wasn't wrong. An hour ago he took his last breath surrounded by family and friends. He loved everything about life and he loved that everyone of you gave him a chance with his music. He wasn't just a country singer.. He was the best country singer that ever lived.”
Watson pointed out that many other great writers also passed on their birthdays. “Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe both died on the same day that they came in the world. So he's in good company, Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe, and Merle Haggard…poets extraordinaire.”