I’m not a fan of today’s country music — or today’s pop, rap, rock or R&B, for that matter — but I love some old-school country. So I was among the many sad to hear of the passing of the legendary Merle Haggard today on his 79th birthday.

I saw Merle Haggard and the Strangers perform live 22 years ago at the perfect venue for such a show — the massive Silver Moon, a huge honky-tonk a few miles south of Buena Vista, Georgia. It truly was the middle of nowhere, but it hosted some big country music acts during its few years of existence. I even hung out with motorcycle daredevil Robbie Knievel there when he jumped a whole bunch of cars behind the Silver Moon.

Merle looked about 79 back then but put on a great show and sang a ton of hits, including my favorite Haggard song, “Big City.” As far as I’m concerned, any town bigger than Buena Vista, Georgia, makes me wanna sing, “Hey, big city, turn me loose and set me free.

Merle’s music was simple and raw, unlike today’s pop-ish country. I think the 1970s was the greatest time for country music, especially with outlaws like Merle, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. We’ve already lost Johnny Cash, Waylon and, now, Merle. Thank goodness we’ve still got Willie. When he goes, we might have to declare a National Day of Mourning — not just for Willie, but for real country music.

Rest in peace, Merle, and enjoy your pick-n-grin tonight with Waylon and Johnny.

Rolling Stone published this great piece on Merle Haggard.

Here’s Merle performing my favorite song of his (although there are many, many others I love almost as much) live at Billy Bob’s in Texas in 1983 — the place reminds me a lot of the Silver Moon: