Willie Nelson Records Heartfelt Merle Haggard Tribute, ‘He Won’t Ever Be Gone’
SiriusXM's Music City Theatre in Nashville welcomed Wille Nelson on Tuesday (April 4) for a segment about his forthcoming album, God's Problem Child. In the segment, Nelson and God’s Problem Child producer Buddy Cannon speak about their favorite songs on the project, including the album’s closing track, "He Won’t Ever Be Gone."
A heartfelt tribute to Merle Haggard, the song wasn’t actually penned by Nelson — it was written by songwriter Gary Nicholson — but Nelson said he knew he had to record it once he heard it. A longtime friend of Haggard, Nelson recorded six compilations with the Hag, including 2016’s Django and Jimmie, also produced by Cannon.
“It was one of those really good friend things,” Nelson says. “Over the years, we just got together more and more and enjoyed it and decided we should do more music together. And next thing you know, we’re touring. I was really glad to see Merle out there at this stage in his career, really out there doing a great tour with him and his band and having a No. 1 album. … I was really proud of Merle.”
"He Won’t Ever Be Gone" is Nelson’s high-five to his long lost buddy, citing he’ll always be remembered because of the impact Haggard left on country music.
“Got the news this morning / Knew it’d be a tough day / Someone so much larger than life / Can’t believe he could pass away / When it comes to country music, he’s the world / And it wouldn’t be all it is without Merle / But he won’t ever be gone / His songs live on.”
According to Cannon, the song was written by Nicholson the morning Haggard passed away, and the recording features Haggard’s son, Ben, on guitar after Cannon called in the special request.
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“Ben plays that Bakersfield guitar thing just like Roy Nichols and those guys,” Cannon says. “I thought it’d be cool to have it on this cut, so I called him and asked him if he wanted to play on it and he said, heck yeah. … It turned out really nice.”
After a few more moments conversing about his deceased friends and other heavy content, Nelson opted for a light ending to the interview, saying, “Me and Buddy got a new gospel song we just wrote called ‘Heaven is Closed, Hell is Overcrowded, So I Think I’ll Just Stay Where I Am.'”
The full radio segment of Nelson and Cannon will air on Willie’s Roadhouse, channel 59, on SiriusXM near the end of April. God’s Problem Child will be released on April 28, the day before Nelson’s 84th birthday.
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