The Associated Press reported today that country music legend Merle Haggard has died at age 79.
We’re sad to see the Hag go, and it reminded us that he once recorded an album at Sumet-Burnet Studios on Caruth.
It wasn’t a Merle Haggard album, though. It was western swing king Bob Wills’ postlude, “For the Last Time.”
In 1973, Bob Wills wasn’t well. He’d suffered a stroke about a year prior, and he needed round-the-clock care at his Fort Worth home. Wills couldn’t walk, and he had trouble talking. But his friends had the idea to record one last time, and Haggard requested to be on the album with his mentor and hero.
A bunch of Texas Playboys musicians gathered to record some of Wills’ greatest hits on Dec. 3-4, 1973. They included fiddler Johnny Gimble (who died last year at his home in Dripping Springs), pianist Al Stricklin, fiddler Keith Coleman, drummer Smokey Dacus, guitarist Eldon Shamblin and steel-guitar player Leon McAuliffe. Wills biographer Charles Townsend also was there, as well as Hoyle Nix and son Jody Nix, who sings on the album and wrote an oral history of the recording session.
Jody Nix wrote:
It wasn’t long after the first song that he called on me to do ‘When You Leave Amarillo.’ I will never forget that. The vocal mic was right by him, as I stood there, he was to my immediate left, watching me the whole time. I can see those jet black eyes to this day just gleaming. He put quite a few ah-ha’s and other words in my song and the feeling I had doing that is indescribable, knowing that the King of Western Swing was right there, and had ask me, to be a part of it.
At the end of the song, the line says ‘When You Leave Amarillo, Turn Out The Lights,’ and Bob said on the end, ‘Cut Out The Lights.’ That is the last recorded voice of Bob Wills.
Later that day, Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel showed up. And the next day, Haggard arrived.
I saw Merle Haggard’s bus when we got to the hotel … I opened the door and Merle was sitting on my bed. I thought, ‘Wow, that is Merle Haggard.’ They introduced me to him, another thrill. The stories and jokes were all around the room, Merle was thrilled to be there to be a part of the session. He absolutely love Bob Wills.
Unfortunately, Wills couldn’t come to the studio the day Haggard was there. According to Townsend’s biography on Wills, “San Antonio Rose,” when the old bandleader and his wife, Betty, arrived home, Wills told her, “Roll me down,” meaning “put me in bed,” and after that, he never spoke again. He died the following May.
Haggard sang “Texas Playboy Theme,” and according to Townsend, Betty Wills said, “Merle wanted to be a Texas Playboy for a day.”
Here’s the recording, via youtube, with Haggard singing and Hoyle Nix doing Wills’ part.