Toby Keith Saved One of Merle Haggard’s Last Shows Only Months Before His Death: Here’s What Happened

by Clayton Edwards

I’ve long said that the storytelling aspect of country music is what makes it so special. Sometimes an artist will sing a story and it’ll feel like they wrote it by watching your life. That’s something you don’t get in many other genres of music. The interconnectedness of the genre’s artists is another really interesting part of country music. These connections spawn a whole universe of epic tales that listeners may never hear. For instance, Toby Keith saved one of Merle Haggard’s final live shows. Here’s the story.

Months before his death, Merle Haggard was still playing shows. Literally two months before his death, Merle was set to play a show in Las Vegas. However, he wasn’t sure if he could play the entire set. At the same time, he couldn’t just cancel the show. He had to pay his band and crew. No one made money from a canceled show.

According to Taste of Country, Toby Keith stepped up to save the day. Keith and Haggard were close friends. In fact, Haggard was a mentor to Keith through the years. So, he initially didn’t show up in Vegas to take the stage with the country icon. Keith just wanted to go visit his buddy and catch up a little bit. One of the first things he noticed was that Merle was looking a little worse for wear. In an interview, later on, Keith said that his old friend looked frail.

The icon was in an ongoing battle with pneumonia and other respiratory issues. He probably should have been in a hospital bed on oxygen instead of being in Vegas on a stage.

Toby Keith Was Just Being a Good Friend

Merle Haggard hated asking anyone for anything. Hell, he cut a song about it called “Workin’ Man Blues.” He did, however, ask Toby Keith how many of his songs he knew. Because he was a fan before they were friends, Keith knew plenty of old Haggard tunes.

So, Toby Keith went to the show with Merle. Looking back on that night, he said that he told Haggard to let him know when he needed to come on. Until then, he watched the icon work from the side of the stage.

About eight songs into the set, Merle called Toby Keith to come join him. Keith played rhythm guitar and when the aging icon needed him to, he stepped up to the mic and sang. For all the world, they look like two old friends picking, grinning, and sharing a stage.

It was Toby Keith’s assistance that helped Merle Haggard finish what would be one of his final shows with the dignity he had earned. In March, Haggard canceled the rest of his shows on doctor’s orders. In April he passed away.

Not only did Toby Keith step up and save that Vegas show, but he was also able to play music and sing with his old friend and mentor.

Like I said, country music is full of great stories.