(CSC) 1. Great catching up with you out here on the Merle and Willie tour! How are the shows going and what’s new in your world?
The shows have been pretty good so far, no mishaps that I’m aware of. (Laughs) Not that much new in my world yet. Actually I’d say that the Willie tour has been new to me. We’ve done different songs with Willie being out there in the show and just having to do something different, you know? But it’s been great!
(CSC) 2. For those who might not be familiar with you just yet, what would you like to share about yourself with our readers?
I'm twenty-two. I'm the youngest from the last litter (Laughs). I play lead guitar for my dad Merle Haggard, if you haven't got that by now! What else is there? That’s about it right now!
(CSC) 3. As a new and rising star, when do you plan to release your debut album? Are you working on one presently?
The only thing I'm waiting on right now is probably the songs. I've pretty much come to a conclusion that I'm going to have to write them if I can find anything that will fit my voice. You know I'm going to have to write it. So that’s the only thing that’s really holding me back right now as far as an album.
(CSC) 4. I know you had an opportunity to go to Starstruck Studios. Were you there for yourself or was that for your father?
No that was just my dad. We had a few days off there so we just kind of popped into the studio to see what came out of it you know.
(CSC) 5. Tell us about your recent surprise trip to the Grand Ole Opry with your father and his entire band!
That was the first time that I had been there and the first time, according to my dad, that he had been there with The Strangers, since 1966. So it was kind of a cool night. You know the vibe in the air was different because he hadn't been there in so long and nobody knew that he was there.
We were walking into the building like "Hey, where's catering at?" And they're like "Who are you with?" "Merle Haggard..." And they're like "He's here?" (Laughs) You know so it was a surreal experience. Then Connie Smith, she brought him on stage and you know she's like "He kind of wished he was here talking to the crowd, don't you guys?" and she's like "Well here he is!" He walks right out on stage. It was cool! A really good vibe there that night.
(CSC) 6. Have you started writing songs and if so, what do you enjoy most about the creative process of that?
You know I seem to get to the bridge, then I jump off. (Laughs) The bridge is kind of the halfway point for me. You know I just kind of get there and I got good ideas for songs. I think I know what a good song would be growing up with a guy that wrote the best in history and I have a taste for them, but I almost need a co-writer in some aspects you know, to get past that bridge.
I've got ideas. You know if I really knuckled down and did it and just focused on writing only, I would. You know it's just like any form of music, you’ve got to get good at playing guitar, you’ve got to get good at singing and you’ve got to get good at writing; so it's just another form of talent you got to put the sweat in.
(CSC) 7. Being the lead guitarist in your father’s band since age 15, “The Strangers,” in what way has that opportunity taught you to develop your own style of stage presence and performing?
It's taught me to be more confident in myself up there. Naturally when I started I was as scared as anybody's ever been. I wouldn't stand up when I was 15 because I was so scared; my legs would be shaking. It's definitely helped that part of me to become more myself on stage. It’s helped me in a lot of different ways. If I can get over the singing aspect of things then I'll be home free.
(CSC) 8. What are some of your favorite/memorable moments of the show when you’re on stage with the entire band?
Just the connection that
happens between everybody. You know there's an unspoken connection with
everybody that develops when you get locked in on song. Sometimes it's so
locked in that everybody can't break away. It's almost like speaking a separate
language to each one of us because we all relate to what we're doing in some
aspect. If that makes sense. That’s probably the coolest thing that happens to
Enjoy Part II of our interview with Ben Haggard!
(CSC) 9. Tell me about your special contribution of songs to “Working Man’s Poet- A Tribute to Merle Haggard” which was released in 2014!
I didn't really get to pick the songs. They had pretty much all taken them up; you know the guys that were singing on it, so it was like "Hey you want to sing these two songs?" and I said "Sure, you know I'd love to!” Singing them kind of gave me a new respect for them because they weren't really like my top pick. They were some of the most famous songs, you know, but they weren't my top pick.
I get really in depth with my father's music and I go way back to the 60's and stuff like that you know where a lot of people don't hear some of the stuff he's done. It gave me a new respect for those songs, I don't know why. I guess singing them and trying to connect with them and kind of getting to know them in a different way I guess.
(CSC) 10. What songs of his would you like to have done are the songs that resonate with you?
"The Way I Am" I like that song a lot. "Reasons to Quit" that’s a really great song. "I Can't be Myself When I'm with You" that’s way back in the 60's when he did that on Capitol. You know they were really trying to pay tribute to the big hits like "Mama Tried" you know some of the biggest names that he's had so I'm perfectly fine with doing what I had to do.
(CSC) 11. Were you nervous/anxious at first thought of recording two of your father’s mega hits (“Mama Tried” and “Sing Me Back Home”) and trying to record them in your own personal style?
Yeah. You know the people are always going to say, they’re always going to compare and they're going to say especially being a second generation you know like a Hank Jr. or something like that, they’re going to say hey, “that doesn't sound like his dad” or something like that you know, well I don't want to sound like my dad! Or he sounds too much like him. You know I can't help that I sound like him. I'm kind of a part of him (laughs) you know in some ways but, yeah.
(CSC) 12. What were some of the emotions/feelings that went through your mind while you were recording the songs in the studio?
They cut the tracks and sent them out to me to sing on. Emotion wise it was neat. You know I'd just go up in the studio from our house and go up there and sing the songs. It was emotional in a kind of a way you know ‘cause it's like paying tribute to somebody that’s been your father all your life. You know it’s different for me than the other guys that are on the record you know. It meant a little more to me.
(CSC) 13. On a personal note, what are some of your fondest memories of your father growing up and father/son activities you enjoyed together?
We went fishing a lot. We had this special place we'd go up on called Cow Creek. It's pretty much a Cow Creek now. There's no water out there. Well we'd go up in there and go smallmouth fishing. We'd just clean the whole creek out you know. He's a big time smallmouth fisherman or he used to be. He doesn’t go out that much to fish anymore; he's 78. He gets around good for his age still. That’s probably some of my fondest memories of my dad you know.
(CSC) 14. Which artists have influenced you growing up in both country music and non-country?
I am probably the biggest John Mayer fan you'll ever meet. I absolutely love his stuff. John Mayer, Sturgill Simpson he's newer country. But outside of country it doesn't go too far because I can't find anything that really speaks to me like my father's music because it's so different. It stands out more than a lot of people's for some reason to me. But the creativity wise, John Mayer is right there.
(CSC) 15. In closing, what are some valuable pieces of advice that your dad has passed on to you about being in the business and performing?
Well you know, it pretty much goes back to one key thing that stuck with me through basically since I was 4 years old. We were sitting there kind of like we are here and he was watching T.V. and I said "You know dad you're a pretty famous guy right?" He said "I guess you could say that son." "Well am I a famous kid?" "No, no you're not. Not really." I said "I want to be famous." He said "You got to create your own thunder." I don't know why but that has just kind of always replayed in my head you know I've got to create my own thing. That's right! I can't ride his coattails. I don't want to ride his coattails. I want to create my own storm.