Jimmy Belkin - fiddle; Merle Haggard - vocals, guitar; Dennis Hromek - bass; Don Markham - saxophone, trumpet; Roy Nichols - guitar; Bobby Wayne - guitar; Mark Yeary - piano
Johnny Cash may have been one of the first country artists to capitalize on his criminal record, but Merle Haggard was a true outlaw. Whereas the Man in Black only recorded a legendary album at San Quentin Prison, Haggard had actually been an inmate there.
The son of Dust Bowl refugees, Merle Haggard grew up at a time when his native Bakersfield was fast becoming a hot spot for Western swing and country music. He managed to stay out of reform school and jail just long enough to begin making a name for himself, and by the end of the '60s, he had become country's biggest star.
These two shows, recorded appropriately in Dallas, Texas, are full of the kind of hard livin', true life tales that made Merle famous. The performances are near flawless, with backing band The Strangers embellishing each song with tasteful pickin' and fiddlin.' Somehow, Haggard and his crew managed to arrive on the other side of the '70s completely unaffected by the awful trends that plagued Nashville for most of that decade. The sound is amped up, for sure, with electric instruments and an edgy attitude, but still firmly rooted in tradition.
Haggard seems able to tap into heartache and hangovers like none other; cowboys and rockers alike can't help but identify with these stories. This is true country - zero pretension and a whole lotta feeling, just like it was meant to be.