And today, we’re digging into the Merle Haggard vault for another awesome Hag story, this time outta 2009.
According to CMT, Merle Haggard was accepting a career achievement award from Country Radio Broadcasters back in 2009 when an Emmylou Harris tribute performance of “Kern River” brought back a memory from his days on Epic Records.
When Merle took the stage, he recalled a certain label executive that hated the song.
“I want to say that there was this other guy … I can’t remember his name, he was head of CBS, and he made fun of my song. He said, ’Who in the hell knows where Kern River is at?’”
At that moment, someone in the audience yelled out “Rick Blackburn,” who was the head of Columbia Records from 1980 to 1987 (Epic was a subsidiary of Columbia). Blackburn also was the guy that dropped Johnny Cash from Columbia Records in 1986, shortly after “Kern River” was released in 1985.
Haggard continued, detailing another instance when Blackburn told him he didn’t like the song. And in true Merle Haggard fashion, he let him have it.
The conversation went a little something like this:
Blackburn: “I’d like to tell you one more time. I don’t like ’Kern River.'”
Merle: “That’s about the third time you’ve told me that.”
Blackburn: “It’s more like five times.”
Merle: “Well, I’m about five times short of telling you to go to hell.”
He continued on:
Merle: “Who do you think you are? You’re the son of a bitch that sat at that desk over there and fired Johnny Cash. Let it go down in history that you’re the dumbest son of a bitch I’ve ever met.”
Needless to say, the crowd was roaring at this point. And remember, this is 2009, we’re 23 years removed from when this conversation actually went down.
Blackburn, upon hearing about Merle’s speech, told CMT:
“He’ll get more pleasure out of that than I’ll get grief.”
23 years later and Merle still wasn’t about to let that go. And something tells me Blackburn wasn’t much of a Merle fan back then either.
At the time of this awards presentation, Merle was also battling lung cancer and dealing with pneumonia, but he still managed to tell that vivid story, one that had the crowd howling in their seats.