Keith Richards honored Merle Haggard with a grandiose version of "Sing Me Back Home" on Thursday, during a Nashville tribute concert for the late country legend. "It's good to be here – good to be anywhere," the Rolling Stones guitarist said during his intro. "We're here to celebrate Merle Haggard. This is his first birthday."
Richards strummed a weepy acoustic guitar and crooned a creaky approximation of Haggard's signature twang. The psalm-like arrangement swelled with steel guitar, fiddle, piano and backing vocals from gospel group the McCrary Sisters. After performing the 1969 track, Richards joined Willie Nelson for a duet version of "Reasons to Quit," which Haggard and Nelson recorded for their collaborative 1983 LP, Pancho & Lefty, The Tennessean reports.
The tribute show, "Sing Me Back Home: The Music of Merle Haggard," held on what would have been Haggard's 80th birthday, also featured performances from Sheryl Crow, John Mellencamp, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley, Loretta Lynn, Toby Keith, Hank Williams, Jr. and Kacey Musgraves, Lynyrd Skynyrd, John Anderson, Bobby Bare, the Avett Brothers, Alison Krauss, Jamey Johnson, Ronnie Dunn, Alabama, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, Warren Haynes, Lucinda Williams and Connie Smith.
Last year, after Haggard's death, Richards reflected on the country icon's distinctive music and image in an interview with Rolling Stone. "When Merle broke through, he was akin to Johnny Cash in the starkness of the sound," he said. "But it was more melodic. You felt like this guy knew shit. There was a wisdom in it. I still sing and play 'Sing Me Back Home' on the piano. That's my party piece, baby. It's just so real, so touching. There's a guy on death row. You know when this song finishes, it's all over. That's it, pal."
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