Friday, April 20, 2007


If you're like me, and in many respects I certainly hope you are not, you have noticed that pretty much everything done by hardcore rap artists had already been covered by country singers of the mid-1960s. Half of Johnny Cash's oeuvre is more or less gangsta, the half not devoted to the Lord, culminating in his song "Cocaine Blues," in which he not only partakes of the title substance and shoots his woman down, but manages to call her an Imus-worthy epithet as well. And while many contemporary hip-hoppers have seen the inside of a prison, I am not aware of any that had the stones to actually record a live album there.

But for my money, the most gangsta single of the 1960s is Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried," which hits nearly every base of the hip-hop metier: big ups to his moms, a papa who went missing very early on, an incorrigible demeanor that lands the narrator in prison as a teenager. And just look at that album cover; it may be hard to see the little photo at the top, so just pull out your copy at home, because I know everyone reading this owns this album, or should. The Hag was 31 when that picture was taken, and making some assumptions about the reproductive habits of Okies making a new life for themselves in Bakersfield, we would expect his mama to have been no more than 25 when he was born. So the woman in that picture ought to be in her mid-fifties, yet she looks to be at least 70. No doubt about it: Raising Merle Haggard can take a lot out of a woman.


Kap said...

I don't know if it's true, but I read/heard once that Merle Haggard was in the audience when J.C. played Folsom or San Quentin.

T. Nawrocki said...

It's true that Haggard was at some shows Johnny Cash did at San Quentin, where the Hag did time for robbery. But these were earlier shows in the late 1950s, not the show that became Cash's live album from San Quentin, which wasn't recorded until February of 1969, by which time Haggard was already a big country star of his own.

Haggard also spent time at the Preston School of Industry, an infamous California juvie home that later lent its name to Spiral Stairs' post-Pavement band.