Ed. Note: Merle Haggard died today, on his birthday, at the age of 79. Haggard was a country legend, woven into the fabric of the genre alongside the likes of Willy Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams, Jr. Haggard was from Bakersfield, California, and one of the founders of its rock-leaning country sound. He had a hell of a life, riding boxcars as an 11-year-old, serving five years in prison for armed robbery, and getting married five times. Throughout it all, his music shone like a beacon among the country community and beyond. From the hospital, Haggard had recently told Rolling Stone, “I’m still on top of things. I’m doing a lot of writing and I’m just proud to be alive and hope that people realize that.”
In honor of him, we’ve updated our country playlist from our trip through Wyoming last summer.
Music works its own harmonies into a road trip’s melodies. In Wyoming, we couldn’t escape the strains, no matter how deep we got off the beaten track. Townes van Zandt cracked jokes as we climbed the Blackfoot Mountains and rolled down their backside; June Carter’s clear, harsh tone was debated for miles of flatland driving. Simple Stones and Arlo Guthrie tunes sufficed to let bears know we were coming in the backcountry of the Tetons; Josh Ritter crooned a lullaby to his native state, just over the pass from Jackson. We carried those tunes with us then, by choice or by fate — and now, they carry a little bit of the western air with them, memories and melodies intertwined.