Photo and Article Michael W. Herdon, DD
I lost my good friend Merle Haggard the other day. I only knew him for a little over 15 years but that was enough to watch his kids become adults and to develop a close personal and unique relationship with him. I was fortunate to meet him, he was fortunate to meet me, we both knew that and we talked about it many times. This was the foundation of our friendship.
Merle had been a victim of mediocrity in dentistry. He was referred to me for correction of this circumstance and in the process I was able to give him his instrument back: His voice. Airflow and the position of teeth is an important aspect of pronunciation in voice but particularly in singing and recording where flaws really stand out. Although I don’t believe it, he often told people that I saved his career. He could hear the deterioration in his vocals and figured his time was limited. The inspiration of a musician is intimately tied to the quality of the sound and if the sound is not crisp, clean, and correct, inspiration suffers.
One of my professors at the University of Pennsylvania was Dr. Leonard Abrams and he had a keen interest in how airflow over palate and teeth affected pronunciation. During the process of helping Merle we went between the dental office and the recording studio to gain the improvements we made for him. When I first met him I told him I could make him sound better but I also told him that we would be friends for life. Indeed we were.
We played music together, swapped songs, recorded together, sang together, and laughed together. He was both serious and downright hilarious. The guy had the best one-liners I have ever heard and you could never predict what he was going to say.
He told me once, when talking about his life, “Michael, I just got lucky.” No, Merle, you were one of a kind. You were honest. You told your stories without compromise. You were blessed with a magical voice like no other. You were a master of your craft. You had integrity and you told it exactly as you saw it. And you never forgot the people that helped you. You were a jewel shining brightly with kindness and honesty. To phrase it your way, “It just don’t get better than that.”