Merle Haggard took one last look at his time in Bakersfield, California during the late 1970s through the song “Kern River Blues.”
Before Haggard’s tragic passing on April 6, 2019, the country legend spent a good chunk of his energy battling pneumonia in the hospital for several months. However, during that time, Haggard was still doing what he does best – writing songs. Soon after, while he was resting at home, Haggard recorded what would be his final one.
Merle Haggard Showed His Still Feisty Until The Last End
According to Merle Haggard’s website, this final piece of his musical legacy was recorded on February 9, 2016, at the comfort of his home studio. The song features his son Ben Haggard on the electric guitar as the country legend denounced the city’s massive growth during that time.
The feisty country legend reminisced about the old Kern River running deep and wide until somebody stole the water and the politicians just turned a blind eye about it.
The Kern River, which is both the longest river and biggest watershed in the Sierra Nevada, is a vital part of Bakersfield’s identity. Over time, the abundantly flowing river has been split up into irrigation systems and canals. This song only proves that Haggard never lost his flair for weaving opinions on social change into his music until his late life.
The final verse of “Kern River Blues” is eerily prescient too. “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,” it goes.
The Haggard family chose the song to be his first posthumous single as a way to thank everyone.
“The family received a tremendous outpouring of love and prayers for Merle from his fans and is forever grateful,” Merle Haggard estate said. “They were searching for a way of thanking everyone and decided to release this song.” Moreover, ten percent of all gross proceeds from its sale have been donated to homeless charities.
And for some good news, “Kern River Blues” may be the final song Merle Haggard ever recorded, but it will perhaps not be the last new music country fans will hear from the legendary singer. During an interview about a year before Haggard’s heartbreaking death, he revealed that his family got access to “probably 300, 400 songs that I haven’t released that I’ve collected over the years.”
“We call it ‘the archive,’ and we haven’t released anything from that,” the singer explained. “When I get unable to record or sing anymore or get killed or something, well, they’ll probably put it out.”
Well, let’s hope and see. But before that, make sure to listen to “Kern River Blues” in the video below; the spirit of the Hag will forever be alive in this country ballad.