Country Throwback: Merle Haggard Sings Moving Live ‘Silver Wings’ Duet with Jewel

by Matthew Wilson

Merle Haggard and Jewel may not seem like natural duet partners. But the two came together to perform this classic Haggard song “Silver Wings.”

The duet was spell-bounding and magical, tugging at viewers’ heartstrings after all these years. Haggard’s gruff, twangy voice matched well with Jewel’s more melodic approach. Together they took “Silver Wings” to even greater heights as the music swelled around them.

It’s almost a shame that Haggard and Jewel didn’t perform more songs together. But by 1999, the country singer was entering the later stages of his career, the twilight era so to speak. Meanwhile, Jewel had just taken the industry by storm, starting in 1993. They were of two different eras and sounds of music. But they came together to produce something beautiful.

So how did their collaboration come about? In 1999, Haggard got the idea for a greatest hits compilation of all his songs. But he didn’t just want to re-record many of his classics. Instead, he wanted to duet the songs with some of his fellow singers. For the album “For the Record: 43 Legendary Hits,” Haggard handpicked 43 of his tunes.

Artists that featured on the album include Haggard’s pal Willie Nelson, Brooks & Dunn, Alabama, and others. But for “Silver Wings,” Haggard reached out to Jewel, and she agreed to record the song with him. To promote the album, both singers took the stage together to perform a live rendition as well. And country music is better for it.

Behind the Merle Haggard Song

The inspiration for Haggard’s heartbreaking song occurred mundanely enough. Inspiration struck the songwriter while he was on a plane ride going to Los Angeles. He looked out the window of the plane and the song lyrics came to him.

“It was written on a plane – a 707 coming out of Phoenix, Arizona going to LA with Bonnie Owens,” Haggard said, according to Song Facts. “I looked out and those silver wings were just gleaming. I thought, ‘What a great premise for a song.'”

Haggard used a plane ride as symbolism for a couple breaking up and a significant other moving away. The tune quickly became one of his saddest when he released it in 1969. But Haggard was always known for his sad tunes.