Prior to Merle Haggard’s final Monterey performance in 2015, the late Outlaw Country great reflected on the forces that brought Willie Nelson and him together to make music for more than 50 years.
“I think we have a deep respect for each other, we both appreciate the music that we write and it’s an enjoyable task to go record with Willie,” Haggard told the Weekly. “It’s a strange deal when we work together, because we also entertain each other; it’s a combination of a job and a concert.”
Haggard and Nelson met during a poker game in Nashville in the 1960s. They had remained tight ever since, and recorded several albums together.
“We admire each other’s talent and all that, but we’re also good friends,” Haggard said.
In 2016, the pair’s final work together, Django and Jimmie – inspired by a mutual adoration for gypsy-jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and country legend Jimmie Rodgers – resonated deeply with Haggard. And it really didn’t have to with the songs or the overall feel of the album. It was something much deeper.
“We’ve recorded four times together and I don’t listen to the other three [albums], but I’ve listened to Django and Jimmie 50 times,” Haggard said. “It’s not spectacular, but Willie sounds like he’s a teenager. He came in there singing so good, it inspired me.”
Haggard nailed it.
Nelson’s immense body of musical work features some of the greatest records ever released by a Texas native. The Library of Congress honored Nelson with a Gershwin Prize for Popular Song (the first country artist to receive the honor).
Following an album of newly recorded interpretations of Ray Price tunes, Came For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price, Nelson released God’s Problem Child in 2017, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Country charts.
Most recently, Nelson released My Way, a collection of Frank Sinatra standards performed like you’ve never heard them before, but Nelson’s masterful 2018 Last Man Standing – featuring all new original tracks – is the soulful work of a prolific troubadour looking mortality right in the eyes as he sees all his best buddies drop like flies around him:
“It’s getting hard to watch my pals check out/it cuts like a wore out knife/one thing I’ve learned about running the road/is forever don’t apply to life,” Nelson sings on the title track.
WILLIE NELSON & FAMILY 7pm Monday, Dec. 10 and Tuesday, Dec. 11. Sunset Center, San Carlos at Ninth, Carmel. Sold out. 620-2048, sunsetcenter.org