C&W was the soundtrack where I grew up. I resisted. Country was songs for squares, refrains for Republicans. Stations programmed a lot more sentimental slop than they did cheatin’ songs. But I still remember the moment I was paddling around the pool at Chico Hot Springs when the opening of a song hit me as hard as a Tiger shark:
Down every road there’s always one more city
I’m on the run, the highway is my home
Blam — that was it. The first time I heard “I’m the Lonesome Fugitive” the world disappeared and I was in the song like a movie running in my head. I had not yet grasped the essence of Hank Williams, but I knew what kind of country I liked — this fugitive guy’s. The first best-of on Capitol was either the earliest or one of the earliest C&W vinyls in my collection. (I stupidly sold it at the peak of my “no LP/CD duplicates” phase.)
The “Okie” dust-up annoyed me, but Hag was one of those instinctual nonconformists like Cash and Nelson who would never be an all-out reactionary force. So I forgave him and played Big Brother’s “I’ll Change Your Flat Tire, Merle” for whoever would listen.
I saw Hag and the Strangers perform at the Paradise in Boston when it was a fairly new club and that along with Willie Nelson on Boston Common were the most exhilarating, gratifying and life-affirming C&W shows I bet I’ll ever see.
Slowly, Haggard began to goof off — not get in any more trouble than he had to makin’ albums. I still tried to keep up with the good ‘uns that trusted ears recommended to me. (Working in Tennessee was indeed outstanding.) Now he’s up there and can listen to Johnny Cash in person, as fresh as that first time that changed his earthly life.
Here’s the LPs I retained because I treasured the terrific graphics and song selections:
Mama Tried (Capitol) (Mama insert on the cover is too much)
A Working Man Can’t Get Nowhere Today (Capitol) (The “HAG” lunch box is even more too much.)
Pride in What I Am (Capitol) (The contrast between the too-staged cover photo and the family-album stuff on the back is perfect.)
Serving 190 Proof (MCA) (Drinking his own brand of whiskey … wowsers.)
Rainbow Stew/Live at Anaheim Stadium (MCA) (I’m right with John Morthland — the finest live set.)
His Epic Hits/The First 11 (Epic)
LPs faded around this time and the CD box I reach for is
Down Every Road: 1962-1994
And for the hardcore who have decided that Capitol stuff is the sweetest straight shot out there, I highly recommend you shell out the small fortune for
Hag: Concepts, Live & the Strangers. Capitol Recordings 1968-1976 (Bear Family) (Talk about beautiful graphics. And those Strangers — Whoooo-eee!)