Like father, like son Marty Haggard to headline Cal-Cam Fair

Published 11:19 am Saturday, October 9, 2021

He looks like Merle Haggard, the legendary country singer. He sounds like him, too. And it will be his father’s hits Marty Haggard will be singing at the Cal-Cam Fair today at the West Cal Arena in Sulphur.

Haggard will perform after the Ultimate Bull Fight, which is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Haggard is the headliner, but the musical entertainment starts earlier in the day.

For the first time in a long time, fairgoers can enjoy Gospel music beginning at 2 p.m. Alfred Gibson, Jordan and Amanda Mothershed, Jody Barrileaux, The Pentecostal Church of Sulphur and The Pentecostal Church of De-Quincy will perform.

Local Elvis impersonator Dennis Soileau would not reveal what he’ll be wearing when he begins his routine at 5:30 p.m., but he did say his moves these days are more in line with Presley’s later, white jumpsuit days. He’s entered in the Memphis lookalike contest through the years, placing in the top-five in one of those contests. He developed the act after a visit to a nursing home with John Murray. Murray will perform the first two numbers with Soileau at the fair.

“I grabbed a lady’s hand – later I found out her name was Ms. Betty – and started singing ‘I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You’, and she began tearing up and singing along with me,” he said. “I saw the staff exchanging looks.

“When I finished, I asked them if I had done something wrong. They told me that was the first time they had ever heard Ms. Betty’s voice. She hadn’t spoken a word to anyone since being placed in the nursing home.”

Soileau likes to introduce the crowd to Elvis songs and trivia with which they may not be familiar.

“A lot of people don’t know he had 711 songs and no matter how much you love The King, you can grow tired of ‘Suspicious Minds’,” he said. “For instance, I’ll be performing ‘It’s Midnight’.”

Marty Haggard has a totally different approach. He’ll make sure the crowd gets to hear what the crowd wants: Merle Haggard hits that are received with as much enthusiasm today as when they were released. Haggard had 600 songs under his belt when he died. He wrote more than 250 of those. Hits include “Okie from Muskogee”, “Mama Tried”, “The Fightin’ Side of Me”, “If We Make It Through December” and “Workin’ Man Blues”, just to name a few.

“His music and me, we get along pretty good,” Marty Haggard said.

Marty Haggard has made a name for himself. He’s been in the industry 30 years and was nominated for Vocalist of the Year in 1987. He was in his father’s band in the ‘80s.

“Yeah, I sound like my dad and look like him,” he said during a phone interview from his home on 40 acres near Doylin. There’s a good reason for that. It’s in the genes and the older I get, the closer I get to death…I guess the more I feel like he did before he died.”

Marty Haggard is 63. He was born in Bakersville. He lived in Nashville. His wife is from North Louisiana. That’s why he lives there. He said that no one looks forward to dying, but his father had made peace with it, even predicting when he’d go.

“He knew it was coming quite a bit before it happened,” Marty Haggard said. “He told us, ‘I think I’m going to die on my birthday.’ It was June. His birthday was in April, a ways off. We thought maybe his mind was slipping.”

Merle Haggard died on his birthday, April 6, 2016. He was 79 years old.

“Like I said, no one looks forward to dying, but he had a strong faith in Jesus and the Bible,” Haggard said. “There is not fear in dying if you truly know where you’re going.”

Don’t go to thinking of Marty Haggard as some religious zealot who focuses on death. He plans to live until he dies, and not in fear.

“If you’re afraid of dying, you might want to find yourself a real life,” he said.

His father knew how he felt about Jesus, but perhaps not how he felt about religion.

“Religion is what happens when man gets his hand on the gospel and messes it up,” Marty Haggard said. “Dad was not a religious man, and people have asked me, ‘Did your dad ever get saved?’ What makes you think he didn’t? Because he sang in bars, because he sang “The Bottle Let Me Down?” Are you so religious that you’re that stupid?”

Marty Haggard shared what he called a bit of Biblical trivia. The publicans that Jesus hung out with, according to him, were something like a bar manager would be today.

“Jesus loved night club folks,” he said. “They’re a lot more fun to be around. He didn’t come to judge. He didn’t come to condemn but to save.”

He called his father “a gifted dude” who “never made a bad hit. He never hit a wrong note.”

“Anything worth admiring is a gift from heaven,” he said. “We talked about that.” Don’t make a God out of man. He wasn’t God, and he’s got a headstone to prove it.”

Marty Haggard wouldn’t name his all-time favorite Merle Haggard song because he said that would be like naming a favorite child. Every song drums up a memory for him. It’s like looking at a picture album. He talked about fishing for bass with his dad one day. His father’s lips were moving silently. Marty knew he was song writing and which song that came out of that trip. When he hears it, he sees him and his dad during that fishing trip.

“He never had a song in 40 years that didn’t go top ten or better. For every hit single, there were ten on the album just as good. He was so stinking good, that voice, his writing. Kris Kristofferson described his writing as the master of simplicity.”

As a father, Merle Haggard was not much of a disciplinarian, according to his son. He wasn’t a bad man. He either didn’t react or over-reacted. There were times when his father was angry with him and he was angry with his father.

“We came together in the end. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not, but parenting doesn’t come with a manual. It’s learn as you go and it’s the hardest job you’ll ever have. I think he did his best considering what he had. I think I understand him more every day.”

Marty has two girls in their 30s and a boy in his 20s.

“When we’re younger, we all have a tendency to be a little selfish, never satisfied with where we are. That’s a blessing about being older. Today I am concentrating on where I am, not where I’m not. I wish I would have understood him better when I was younger. Life has a way of teaching you these things and we’re quick to see the faults in others, but not so much in ourselves.”

Country, blues, rock, pop, big band, western swing, all have influenced Marty Haggard. His favorite singer is whoever he is listening to at the moment.

“By the way, Dad told me I was in his top three favorites,” he said. “I thought he was being nice and he told me real fast, ‘I didn’t say you were No. 1. Don’t get a big head.’ Dad wasn’t big on compliments, but apparently he was a big fan of my singing.”

Marty Haggard has a small band and performing with him on electric guitar will be Dwayne Barrilleaux of Sulphur.