Watch: Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard Pay Tribute to Johnny Cash

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Tony Maples Photography


Among the many hobbies, interests, and even vices that get us through tough times, music has never failed to be a shining light among them. Attributed to Frank Ocean, the quote “When you’re happy you enjoy the music. But, when you’re sad, you understand the lyrics,” is something we all seem to be able to relate to, no matter the genre. In particular, the music of Willie Nelson never fails to carry its listeners through, in good times and bad. More than that, his fans identify with his body of work on a level few entertainers have achieved. In duets with his country music counterparts, he has also paid homage to those we have turned to in the past to soothe our souls and bring sense to our often-unruly surroundings. He did exactly that with a Merle Haggard duet, paying tribute to the impact that Johnny Cash had in the music industry.

The song “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash” was recorded for Nelson and Haggard’s “Django and Jimmie” collaboration album that was released in 2015. It would be their last studio album together, and it took only three days to record the entire project. On the song featured below, singer Bobby Bare also makes a guest appearance. Together, they reminisce about their close relationships with the country music star who made a name as “The Man in Black.”

Video: YouTube/Willie Nelson

Shared on the official Willie Nelson YouTube channel, the music video for “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash” has been viewed close to 2 million times. The song is a reflection of the outlaw country heroes and their life experiences with Cash. Having branded himself in Texas and made his mark as one of country music’s original outlaws, Nelson continues to pursue his own style and interests despite what mainstream markets argue is fashionable. In turn, Merle Haggard’s career modeled a similar direction, with some diversions along the way, including time spent in San Quentin, where he attributed the legendary performance by Johnny Cash at the prison as his main inspiration to join the penitentiary’s country band. He was released on parole in 1960 and given full pardon by then-governor of California, Ronald Reagan, in 1972.

Together the pair created an almost mythical release that country music fans could have only dreamed of prior to this. Enjoy this swan song in the form of the perfect blend of their talents and experiences, which could only come from two such as they were. In a review of the “Django and Jimmie” release, the Austin Chronicle gave the album four stars out of a five-star ranking system. In the write-up, the reviewer called the rasp in their voices “well seasoned,” and determined that the duo “deliver a master class on how country music is supposed to be done.” Well-said, by anyone’s standards.