On April 6 2016, it was the one-year anniversary of Merle Haggard’s death. The country music legend would have been 80 years old. In a tribute show to honor the late musician, many of the today’s best country music artists took the stage to perform, including Keith Richards, Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, John Mellencamp, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, and many more.
The number of incredible artists who played in his tribute show, titled Sing Me Back Home, is an example of how beloved Haggard was. He was a true country outlaw through and through. Similarly to Johnny Cash, Haggard played songs that were about and were inspired by the working class. He had a very troubled youth and had many run-ins with the law. At age 14, he ran away from home and hitchhiked by freight train. Haggard attempted robbery multiple times and tried to escape from jail on multiple occasions as well. It wasn’t until he was transferred to San Quentin and started playing for the prison’s country music band that he decided to straighten out his life.
Haggard went on to write some of country music’s greatest songs, inspiring different artists across many different genres. His sound was raw and honest, playing with both guitar and fiddle. He helped create a more rock n’ roll country sound, known as the Bakersfield sound, with his band, The Strangers. He blended the Nashville country sound that was popular in the 1950s with a more edgy electric guitar sound. Between the 1960s and 1980s, Haggard had 38 number-one hits on the US country music charts and had several singles make the Billboard all-genre charts. Many artists continue to cover his beloved songs. His song “Today I Started Loving You” has been covered by over 400 different artists. Haggard was a true artist, and continued recording late into his life until his unfortunate death from pneumonia on his 79th birthday, April 6 2016.
The three-hour tribute concert was a beautiful event, featuring the greatest country and rock singers covering many of Haggard’s most famous songs. Kenny Chesney subbed in and played with Willie Nelson on Nelson’s old duet with Haggard, “Pancho & Lefty.” Keith Richards performed “Sing Me Back Home” and Miranda Lambert sang “Misery and Gin.” Many more covers were performed in a sentimental night full of sadness, celebration, and appreciation. The entire concert was recorded and is set to air on TV at a later date. Check out some of the great covers from the concert below.