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Review and photos by Mary AndrewsI remember one day in 1977, my old compadre, Sammi Smith, said, "Let's go see Merle Haggard. Sammi Smith had the original hit record, "Help Me Make It Through the Night." I grabbed my camera and a couple of rolls of film, really not knowing what to expect. The next thing I remember was climbing the steps of Merle's custom tour bus and entering the "twilight zone" for the rest of the day and evening. I was a tour bus "virgin" then. The inside was like someone's elaborate, decked out home. Merle laid sprawled on the couch grinning. It was obvious they were old compadres too. The rest of the afternoon and early evening they spent competing with each other on who could tell the funniest story and who could laugh the loudest. I think I won the laughing contest. The evening culminated when we took the stage with Merle, me with my camera and Sammi with her voice. I go back to see Merle perform every chance I get so I can remember that day and my old departed friend.
Merle is considered a legend now. He moves a little slower now, wears a hat that disguises thinner and lighter hair and the lines are set deeper in his face. Merle's golden voice and the outpouring of love from the fans who have come to see their working class hero have not changed over the years!
This is the second year that Merle has played a sold out house at the Fox Theatre in Tucson. He offered a good dose of Western swing along with ballads, blues, bluegrass and old time country music. The Strangers have played with Merle since the '60s. I remember Norman Hamlet, pedal steel guitar, from the old days. Merle has rotated his family though the band over the years. This time his youngest son, Ben, was playing guitar. Merle pulled out his fiddle to give us some of his fiddlin' swag! The band is probably one of the best, tightest bands in country music today!
The show is fast paced with little space between songs. Merle still injects a little of that sense of humor, but there was not a lot of banter overall. Merle seems to typically start the show with "Big City" and ends with "Okie From Muskogee'." All the songs in between vary from show to show. Merle graced us with 21 songs on this night.
It was pure country from beginning to the end. That included his opening act, Taylor Malpass of the Malpass Brothers. Taylor is a young man who is going to keep traditional country music alive. His vocals are very reminiscent of Merle's style and timbre.
Merle is one of the most resilient singers in country music. His turbulent life and health issues have only made him a stronger, more authentic performer in the business today!
Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Star
I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink
Going Where the Lonely Go
That's the Way Love Goes
Working Man Blues
The Way I Am
Tearing the Labor Camps Down
The Bottle Let Me Down
Pancho and Lefty
Kick the Footlights Out Again
Fightin' Side Of Me
Working in Tennessee
Take Me Back to Tulsa
Okie From Muskogee
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