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November 17

How Influential Merle Haggard is to Mo Pitney

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Born in Rockford Illinois, Mo Pitney began playing drums at age 6 and guitar at age 12. While adulting, he played in a bluegrass band with his brother and a friend. Pitney moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he signed to Curb Records and began working with record producer Tony Brown.

In 2014, Pitney released his first single “Country”. This is a song he co-wrote with Bobby Tomberlin and Bill Anderson, a legendary Hall of Famer. The tune was just one indication that the young writer-performer has been paying strict attention since he first began studying the genre’s masters.

“I looked and tried to find all the great music and figured out what moved me and why it moved me”, Pitney tells Rolling Stone Country. “I looked up to writers because I wanted to craft great songs. I’m an old soul and I always lean towards the older artists: Ray Price, Buck Owens, Roger Miller, Merle Haggard. Not only just saying I like Merle Haggard but studying his music”.

In Pitney’s exuberant acoustic performance of “I Met Merle Haggard Today”, his high regard for “the Hag” was fully showcased. Taking a page from his personal journals, Pitney notes the date and exact time of day the profound title event took place. Then, he sets it to a Haggard-inspired melody.

The Story and The Song

On February 4th, 2013, Pitney and pal attend The Marty Stuart Show taping at NorthStar Studios—north of downtown Nashville. At 4:45 p.m., Pitney met his idol. However, no photographic evidence of the confab exists. This is in the lines: What was I thinking? Shoulda took a picture with my phone, or at least record him sayin’, ‘Pleasure to meet you, Mo”.

One of your favorite stories to tell while playing is how you met Merle Haggard. How has his passing affected you?

I look back on his music, and I can really tell how much he’s influenced my music. I have his records forever to listen to — we all do — and there’s a lot of country music meat there. I know there will be a lot of young kids and people that aren’t even born yet who will pull from that well, that heart and soul he’s put into his records.

But to see someone I idolized so much while I was growing up pass away — music is a great way to leave a legacy, but his passing has affected me in a way that caused me to do a lot of deep thinking. That music may not be the only thing I leave for people to know me by. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about being an artist and what I want my overall message to be throughout my career. I’m deepening in thought on that and it’s been really good for me.

His music has always influenced me to go deeper with my music and write things with real meaning. That is to put my heart into my music and not just be ‘surface ditties’ but actual things that might change people’s lives.


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