Merle Haggard never failed to wow an audience, but his performance of “Big City” with his friend Kris Kristofferson in 2011 was something truly special. Haggard released “Big City” nearly 40 years ago, but the timeless classic still resonates today.
In this performance, the added backing vocals of Kris Kristofferson are a great addition to the song. The performers’ joyful smiles are infectious, even when watching them on a screen.
‘Big City’: Surprising Origin Story
Merle Haggard wrote “Big City” about the frustrations of blue-collar workers. His inspiration for the song, however, came from a surprising source. In July of 1981, Haggard was in Los Angeles for an intensive two days of song recording. When the band was finally done, Merle Haggard went outside to speak with his long-time friend and bus driver, Dean Holloway.
Haggard had known Holloway since they were 13, and they shared a close bond. On that night, Haggard asked Holloway how he was doing. Holloway expressed, “I hate this place. I’m tired of this dirty old city,” he said, according to The Wall Street Journal. Merle Haggard immediately got on the bus with Dean Holloway and started writing the lyrics to “Big City.”
Afterward, Haggard wasted no time. He hopped off the bus and rushed into the recording studio. In spite of the fact that Merle Haggard and his band had been working for two days straight, they immediately recorded “Big City” in a single take.
Merle Haggard and the Legacy of ‘Big City’
“Big City” became Merle Haggard’s 27th number one hit. Haggard made the song his second single as well as his album’s title track. Haggard credited Holloway as a writer on the song, entitling him to half of the royalties. Holloway wound up earning $500,000 because of that credit. “Big City” was a fan favorite, and though Merle Haggard had an extensive catalog of songs, he performed “Big City” up until the end of his music career.
Haggard wrote, composed, and performed his iconic songs for over six decades. He had 38 number 1 throughout his career. His songs often focused on the plight of the working class, the heartbroken, and the lost. He toured with and befriended many artists in his time, including Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan. He also won multiple awards throughout his career including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 2006.
Described as outspoken, larger than life, and authentic, Haggard toured for his entire career, only to be stopped by Pneumonia. Haggard passed away in 2016 on his 79th birthday. He left a lasting legacy in the hearts of many and in the music industry as a whole.