Merle Haggard can't sleep well at night knowing what's become of his beloved country music. Every time Kenny Chesney sashays across a stage, ol' "Hag" has to want to dig out a revolver and make it all go away. Can you blame him, though? This is the guy who finished what Buck Owens started, who made the Bakersfield scene a watershed moment in country history. His electric-instrumented songs, like "Mama Said" and "Tulare Dust," aimed for the hearts of the working man and often offered perspectives on the male identity. Today, more than 40 years after his first hit, Hag represents the definitive bridge between Hank Williams and the Velveeta pop fest Nashville has become. It's ironic, then, that Hag-influenced artists like Randy Travis and Clint Black helped cause country's shift from the personal to songs mass-produced with the same homogenous insincerity as boy-band singles. Put the revolver down, Hag. Then again, there are plenty of folks you could point it at.
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