(I originally wrote this profile article on 7/28/2012 but had no way to publish it. It is one I am very proud of and wanted to share it~ Michelle “Meiguogirl” Turner)
At first glances, it would seem that Ben is just like any other 19 year old boy. He loves to wake up around 4:30am and drop a line in California’s Lake Shasta. He has a great relationship with his IPhone- emailing, tweeting, and Instagraming with ease. His Facebook page is littered with silly pictures of him with his whole family, cutesy pictures with his girlfriend, and an album of his graduation photos. You will even find the occasional baby picture of him with his dad and his sister from a childhood that he himself describes as “pretty normal.” So, why would anyone make the assumption that his life would be any different than that of any other teenager?
Well, Ben has a very unique job. He doesn’t deliver pizza or work at the local Wal-Mart. You won’t find him bagging your groceries at the local supermarket. In fact, you won’t find him at any of the part time jobs most teenagers have. While most kids are fantasizing about leaving their small towns and enjoying the freedom of the “open road” Ben is doing just that. Although at times, Ben confesses the road can get lonely and you start to miss home, he also finds himself shocked by the celebrities he gets to meet; celebrities such as Cher and the Rolling Stones. How would that be possible? Well, Ben has the distinct title of being the lead guitarist for a music legend. He might be one of the youngest in history to do so. In fact, from around the time he was 16, he has been touring the country, living on the road, playing guitar for Country Music Hall-of-Famer, Kennedy Center Honoree, and American Legend Merle Haggard.
A 2008 article from a local news affiliate in Bakersfield, California- Merle’s hometown- reported on “Merle Haggard Day” and that the city was naming a road after the country music native and hometown boy. In fact, Ben describes Merle as “bigger than Justin Bieber ever thought of being.” He also admitted, “Till this day I’m still learning just how much of a legend he is.” That same “Merle Haggard Day” ceremony marked the approximate debut of Ben as Merle’s lead guitarist- with Ben starting only a couple of weeks earlier according to the article. And, that is just the beginning.
The man who is bigger than Justin Bieber, the man who has his own day in Bakersfield and has a road named after him, Ben’s employer, also happens to be Ben’s father. Ben Haggard, or “Baby Boy Ben” as Merle refers to him, is the youngest offspring of Merle Haggard. While Ben and his dad share many similar physical characteristics, the family resemblance is unmistakable once the two step on stage. The synergy that the two share musically cannot be denied. In an April article from “The Tennessean”, it was said that “father and son split several solos to great effect…” The looks of admiration that are shared between them when they perform are a strong testament to their musical bond. And, when one considers the seemingly brief timeline in which Ben got acquainted with his Telecaster guitar, you can’t help but feel that the musical roots of Ben’s raising run deep.
When asked about the first time he fell in love with a guitar, Ben shared, “I remember, I was 6 and I had found an old telecaster that really caught my eye and I picked it up and fell in love!” He confessed that he “went back to being a kid” and didn’t get “really serious about playing” until he was 13 years old. So, in just a matter of a couple of years, he went from “being a kid” to “delivering the bulk of Fender Telecaster heroics” (as described by The Tennessean) on stage at The Ryman – country music’s most historic venue. On previous occasions Merle has confirmed, “He’s here because he’s good. Not because he’s my son.” Ben and his guitar are the real deal in a list of celebrated lead guitarists for Merle’s band “The Strangers” – some of which Ben lists as his musical influences; a list that is as unique as the band in which Ben is a part of.
To understand his musical influences, or what you would find on Ben’s Ipod, you would have to understand how he truly is the epitome of country music’s ability to cross-generations and the unique cross-generational world he lives in. Other than his father, he lists musicians and artists such as Roy Nichols, Reggie Young, Brent Mason, Marty Stuart, Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, Keith Urban, and Hunter Hayes as some of his musical influences; or, as he puts it, “anyone that’s worth listening to.” On his Ipod you right now you will find Connie Smith’s “Ain’t you even gonna cry,” fellow guitarist John Mayer, and “a whole lot of Merle Haggard.” When considering those who have influenced him and his choices of downloads, it’s clear that Ben has a strong respect for where country music has been.
Does he intend on being part of where the music is going? According to Ben, when asked what his plans are when and if his Dad ever retires, he admitted, “well, whenever I get up enough nerve to sing on stage I’m gonna hopefully pursue a career of my own!” As of now, the only way you can hear Ben sing is on his YouTube channel where it’s only him, his guitar, and a camera. Any fan of traditional country music can only hope that young Ben will one day shake his stage shyness and confidently take the stage – knowing that his smooth baritone voice could help him “create his own thunder” while simultaneously caring on the rich, musical tradition his Dad has been a part of for over forty years and counting.
In a life that is a unique combination of being a traveling country music musician, a 19 year old teenager missing his family and friends, country music fan, and the son of country music royalty, Ben Haggard has managed to stay in touch with himself and the world around him- so much so, he even agreed to be e-interviewed by this random writing student from Florida that he has never even met before.