“He was my brother. My friend. I will miss him.” That was the short but sweet statement from Willie Nelson, via his publicist, regarding the news that Merle Haggard died on Wednesday, his 79th birthday.
Longtime friends, Nelson and Haggard had spent quite a bit of time together in the past couple of years. Haggard’s next-to-last last Austin performance came at Willie’s July Fourth Picnic at the Austin 360 Amphitheater last year. Haggard’s final Austin show was at Nutty Brown Amphitheater last November. Nelson and Haggard had been booked for shows this month at Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels, but Haggard’s name recently was removed from the bill amid reports he was too ill to perform. (Ryan Bingham was added for April 15-16, with Jamey Johnson and Shakey Graves on April 17.)
Last year’s appearance at Willie’s Picnic came shortly after the release of “Django and Jimmie,” a Haggard/Nelson collaborative album that topped the country charts upon its release in June 2015. While recording the album in the fall of 2014 at Austin’s Arlyn Studios, the two also taped an as-yet unaired pilot episode of the prospective new TV show “Inside Arlyn.”
Earlier in the day, Austin guitarist Redd Volkaert, who played guitar with Haggard for many years, had posted a video birthday greeting to Haggard via Vintage Guitar magazine’s Facebook page.