Even though Haggard didn’t have much to say, plenty of other artists praised him effusively. Billy Bob Thornton revealed that Haggard will be atop the CMT All-Time Top 40, a countdown of the most influential musicians of all time, among all genres, voted on by country artists.
After a reel focusing on Haggard’s magnificent career, Thornton introduced a musical tribute by Eric Church, Ashley Monroe and producer T Bone Burnett, who submitted a rousing rendition of “Workin’ Man Blues,” a No. 1 single for Haggard in 1969.
At the end of the music, Thornton – who is an Oscar-winning screenwriter – decided to go off-script.
“I’d just like to add something to what they’ve got here,” Thornton told the audience, “which is that I wouldn’t only include Merle Haggard in the greatest songwriters of all time. But I would put him up there alongside people like Tennessee Williams and William Faulker, Erskine Caldwell and John Steinbeck because he is truly a storyteller. That’s something that has been lost over the years, and I’m glad to see that it is coming back a little bit. And Merle Haggard personifies the storyteller.”