Merle Haggard, ‘Kern River Blues’ [Listen]
Merle Haggard's voice strains but remains resilient as he sings his final song, "Kern River Blues." The spirit of the Hag is still alive in this country ballad.
"Kern River Blues" is a letter to his hometown, and not a love letter. The feisty country legend shows his knack for weaving opinions on social change into song did not leave him late in life. The arrangement is simple. A few guitars and a few horns provided a slow but reliable beat for Haggard to ride along. The focus is on his message, and his voice.
Any anger Haggard had for Bakersfield isn't found here. It's replaced with sadness, and a touch of contempt. Give credit to his production team for not trying to "protect" a singer past his prime with a lot of unnecessary noise. With "Kern River Blues," some will hear a heartbreaking swan song, while others will hear just another Haggard song. Both are fine interpretations, as even though Haggard is gone, it's important that his music never truly stops.
Did You Know?: Haggard is said to have written and recorded many songs during his final months. "Kern River Blues" was recorded on Feb. 9.
Listen to Merle Haggard, “Kern River Blues”
Watch: The Story of "Kern River Blues"
Merle Haggard, “Kern River Blues” Lyrics:
"I’m leavin’ town tomorrow / Get my breakfast in the sky / Well, I’m leavin’ in the early morning / Eat my breakfast in the sky."
"Be a donut on a paper / Drink my coffee on the fly / I’m flying out on a jet plane / Gonna leave this town behind."
"I’m flying out on a jet plane / Gonna leave this town behind / They’ve done moved the city limits / Out by the county line / Put my head up to the window / Watch the city fade away / Put my head close to the window / Watch Oildale fade away / The blues back in the ‘30s / Just like the blues today."
"There used to be a river here / Runnin’ deep and wide / Well, they used to have Kern River / Runnin’ deep and wide / Then somebody stole the water / Another politician lied."
"When you closed down all the honky tonks / The city died at night / When you closed down all the honky tonks / The city died at night / When it hurt somebody’s feelings / Well, a wrong ain’t never right."
"Well, I’m leaving town forever / Kiss an old boxcar goodbye / Well, I’m leaving town forever / Kiss an old boxcar goodbye / I dug my blues down in the river / But the old Kern River is dry."
See Merle Haggard Through the Years