Bob Dylan is downplaying his comments about Merle Haggard from his MusiCares Person of the Year Award acceptance speech last week, saying he has “the highest regard for him, his songs, his talent.”
In his bold speech at the gala, Dylan gave thanks to those who had his back when he was starting out, and also made note of those who felt did not — including Haggard. But in a new interview with rock journalist Bill Flanagan on Dylan’s own website, the iconic musician said he had no hard feelings towards Haggard now.
“I wasn’t dissing Merle, not the Merle I know,” Dylan said. “What I was talking about happened a long time ago, maybe in the late sixties. Merle had that song out called ‘Fighting Side of Me’ and I’d seen an interview with him where he was going on about hippies and Dylan and the counter culture, and it kind of stuck in my mind and hurt, lumping me in with everything he didn’t like.”
He went on, “But of course times have changed and he’s changed too. If hippies were around today, he’d be on their side and he himself is part of the counter culture … so yeah, things change. I’ve toured with him and have the highest regard for him, his songs, his talent…. He’s also a bit of a philosopher. He’s serious and he’s funny. He’s a complete man and we’re friends these days. We have a lot in common.”
When accepting his award, Dylan grouped Haggard with a number of people he named who said didn’t like his songs when he was starting out. Dylan also named Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun and songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
“Merle Haggard didn’t even think much of my songs,” Dylan said. “I know he didn’t. He didn’t say that to me, but I know [inaudible]. Buck Owens did, and he recorded some of my early songs. Merle Haggard — ‘Mama Tried,’ ‘The Bottle Let Me Down,’ ‘I’m a Lonesome Fugitive.’ I can’t imagine Waylon Jennings singing ‘The Bottle Let Me Down.’
“‘Together Again’? That’s Buck Owens, and that trumps anything coming out of Bakersfield. Buck Owens and Merle Haggard? If you have to have somebody’s blessing — you figure it out.”
Haggard responded to Dylan with a Facebook post following, saying, “Bob Dylan I’ve admired your songs since 1964. “Don’t Think Twice” Bob, Willie and I just recorded it on our new album.”
Dylan continued in the interview to explain other parts of his speech, including his thoughts on critics, that bit about blues being a combination of Arabic violins and Strauss waltzes, and his criticisms of the broadly used term “rock and roll.” He also praised Bruce Springsteen‘s performance of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” at length.
Dylan said, “[Springsteen] did that song like the record, something I myself have never tried. I never even thought it was worth it. Maybe never had the manpower in one band to pull it off. I don’t know, but I never thought about it. To tell you the truth, I’d forgotten how the song ought to go. Bruce pulled all the power and spirituality and beauty out of it like no one has ever done. He was faithful, truly faithful to the version on the record, obviously the only one he has to go by. I’m not a nostalgic person, but for a second there it all came back, Peckinpah, Slim Pickens, Katy Jurado, James Coburn, the dusty lawless streets of Durango, my first wife, my kids when they were small. For a second it all came back … it was that powerful. Bruce is a deep conscientious cat and the evidence of that was in the performance. He can get to your heart, my heart anyway.”
Read the full interview here.