I couldn’t imagine country music without Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. That makes the line from the title track on Nelson and Haggard’s new CD, “Django and Jimmie,” a very profound statement. The two legends sing, “There might not have been a Merle or a Willie/ If not for Django and Jimmie.” The song serves as a reminder of the importance of influences. Django and Jimmy refers to Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers. While many fans of country music today may have never heard about Reinhardt and Rodgers, the impact the two men had on Nelson and Haggard is clear.
While “Django and Jimmie” isn’t necessarily intended to be a history lesson, it does provide a nice introduction to the two men for people who might be unfamiliar. The song encouraged me to look up information and learn more about Reinhardt and Rodgers. I hope more people do the same thing. The two influences seemed to be rather remarkable themselves. In “Django and Jimmie,” Haggard sings about Rodgers: “Through the 20s and 30s/ Jimmie sang his way to the top/ In spite of those old TB Blues.” This song isn’t the first time that Haggard has honored one of his major influences. He released a cover album of Rodgers songs called “Same Train, A Different Time: Merle Haggard Sings The Great Songs of Jimmie Rodgers” in 1969. Even before the release of that double album, Haggard had covered Rodgers’ songs on previous albums in the 1960s.
Reinhardt had two fingers injured in a fire and he developed a style of playing guitar with only two fingers. Nelson referenced this in a line of the song: “He burned up a guitar/ With just two good fingers to use.” Nelson has released Rinehardt’s song “Nuages” multiple times during his career, most recently on the “December Day: Willie’s Stash Vol. 1” CD, which was recorded with his sister, Bobbie.
Nelson, 82, and Haggard, 78, have had prolific careers and undoubtedly influenced people for decades. As long as their music and stories are passed down from generation to generation, the music of artists like Nelson and Haggard will live forever. Both artists have been honored by other artists. For example, both artists were referenced in George Jones’ classic, “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” In addition, Haggard was honored by Eric Church in his song “Pledge Allegiance To The Hag,” which he has performed throughout his career.
More modern country artists should follow in Nelson and Haggard’s footsteps and keep the music of their influences alive. Both Nelson and Haggard have done so much for the country music genre that it would be horrible if their legacy was forgotten. After all, many of us would not know about Reinhardt and Rodgers if not for the title track on the new album. As the first song on the CD, “Django and Jimmie” sets the tone of the CD. It has a definite nostalgic feel and contains a great collection of songs, which are worthy to be mentioned alongside the iconic songs recorded by these legends, both separately and together.
Most people probably are aware that Nelson and Haggard collaborated on the hit “Pancho and Lefty” on their 1983 album of the same name. People that have followed the careers of the two men know that they are much more than occasional duet partners. They have been friends for many years. It’s the context of that friendship that makes their second single, “Unfair Weather Friend,” more meaningful.
While people often use the word “friend” to describe someone they might spend time with sometimes, the word “friend” used in the lyrics of “Unfair Weather Friend” describes something much deeper. Nelson sings, “I might wind up stuck out on some old forgotten highway/ Somehow you’ll show up and sure enough be going my way.” Haggard adds, “You’re always there, right where you’ve always been/ My come whatever, unfair weather friend.”
I’m not sure that everyone finds a friendship like Nelson and Haggard have found in each other.
These two friends remember another country music legend they have been able to call a “friend” over the years in “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash.” Nelson sings, “He and I were both Highwaymen/ And that record became a smash/ I’m missing ol’ Johnny Cash.”
For fans that have followed Nelson and Haggard for a long time, there are some familiar tracks here. The “Django and Jimmie” CD contains “Family Bible,” a gospel song that both stars have recorded separately. The CD also contains two more Haggard songs, “Swinging Doors” and “Somewhere Between,” both of which were released in the 1960s.
One of my favorite tracks on the CD is “Live This Long,” a ballad that finds the two men singing, “But we would have taken better care of ourselves/ If we had known we was going to live this long.” However, that doesn’t mean that they would change anything. Nelson sings, “If we would’ve known we would live this long/ We might have changed things up a bit/ We still would’ve lived out every song/ Just maybe not quite as fast as we did.”