Yesterday on Facebook, Charley Pride share memories of his decades long friendship with the great Merle Haggard.
Thanks Charley, for the great words.
My thoughts and prayers this week are with Merle Haggard, his family and his fans.
The first time I met Merle was at a big package show in 1966 at Olympia Stadium in Detroit. In addition to Merle, I remember that Buck Owens, Red Foley, Flatt & Scruggs and Dick Curless were on that show. Ralph Emery was there too. He was the MC. My song "Just Between You And Me" had just been released as a single and it was the first time I had ever performed in front of several thousand people. At the time, I was mostly playing small gigs in and around Montana.
Merle was one of the hottest new singers in the business. And since I was one of the opening acts who didn't have a band with me, he had agreed to let his band, The Strangers, back me up.
We were doing two shows that day. But his band never had a chance to rehearse with me before the first show. I had miscalculated how long it would take me to drive to Detroit and had made a few wrong turns along the way. So I showed up at the Olympia just a few minutes before I had to go on stage. Fortunately, I was only supposed to sing a few songs and Merle's band did a wonderful job of backing me up. We played my three singles and that was it. The audience responded well and I ended up signing a lot of autographs that day.
After that, Merle and I became friends. One time, while still living in Montana, Rozene and I drove to one of his nearby shows to visit with Merle and Bonnie Owens, who was with him at the time. And during the 1960s, Merle and I would occasionally hang out over at the old Flame hotel in Nashville to sit and pick and have a good time. Even our sons are friends. My son Dion and his son Marty often perform together.
I've always admired Merle because he had the total package. He wasn't just a great singer. He was also a great songwriter. And I consider myself fortunate to have recorded several of his songs over the years, including "A Shoulder To Cry On."
One of my biggest thrills in recent memory was to be formally inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame by Merle. He was a great artist, an amazing songwriter and a wonderful friend. And I will miss him greatly.