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Joe Nichols Honors His Hero During Merle Mondays

"Merle taught me how to sing," he tells CMT.

Joe Nichols is giving us a reason to look forward to Mondays. In his new online series, Merle Mondays, he sings a different Merle Haggard tune every week, with a satisfying performance that's scaled back to just an acoustic guitar and that rich country baritone.

Enjoy the first four videos from Joe Nichols' Merle Mondays, which he films in his home, then read our interview below the player.

You started this Merle Mondays series with “You Take Me for Granted.” What is it about that song that makes it special to you?

I always listen to Merle Haggard music as a whole, not just the singles he released. Merle has such a deep catalog it is easy to find hidden gems. It was always one of the prettier songs to me.

People’s musical tastes can change as they get older, but for you, it seems like Merle’s music has been a steady presence over the decades. How would you describe the connection you feel to his music?

I always say that Merle taught me how to sing. I remember sitting alone singing to his music and always admired the grit in his voice. I admired the way he could tell stories and thought if I could tell stories like him, I would be in heaven.

Personally I am fond of Haggard’s ‘80s output on Epic Records, which I think is often overshadowed because his ‘60s and ‘70s songs were so important and brilliant. Do you have an era of Haggard’s career that especially grabs you?

It is hard to put Merle's eras side by side. I've always loved the '70s catalog followed by the '60s. I feel like he got his groove in the late '60s and early '70s, even with a few tribute albums. I love that about Merle Haggard, he always recognized great ones before him.

“What Have You Got Planned Tonight, Diana” is a lesser-known gem. Among his vast catalog, how do you choose which songs to do?

It was one that I have grown fond of over the years. After listening to so many of his albums, it seems like I come up with new favorites all the time. It tells a sad story from beginning to end. It sounds like something my grandparents would say to each other.

Along with his own songwriting, Haggard chose consistently excellent songs to record by other writers. As someone who records a lot of outside songs, do you think all those years of listening to Merle helped educate you, or guide you, on finding the best songs for you own career?

Absolutely. Guys like Haggard and George Strait always sang songs like they were their own and that fit their voice. It is hard to tell which ones are his and which ones are not because of how he consistently sings them.

For those fans awaiting new music, what lies ahead for you?

It seems like I am working on something new most days. Like always, I want something that is going to grab someone's attention and if it doesn't accomplish that then it is not the right time to put something out.

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