Merle Haggard
American musician
Merle Haggard
Merle Ronald Haggard is an American country musicsongwriter, singer, guitarist, fiddler,and instrumentalist,. Along with Buck Owens, Haggard and his band The Strangers helped create the Bakersfield sound, which is characterized by the unique twang of Fender Telecaster guitars, vocal harmonies, and a rough edge not heard on the more polished Nashville Sound recordings of the same era.
Biography
Merle Haggard's personal information overview.
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News
News abour Merle Haggard from around the web
Grammys may have missed an opportunity to salute Leonard Cohen and Merle Haggard
LATimes - 12 days
Barley an hour after the conclusion of Sunday’s Grammy Awards, an email arrived from a friend expressing disappointment at the telecast making short shrift of the deaths of two of the greatest musical poets of the last century, Leonard Cohen and Merle Haggard. Both were name- and photo-checked...
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LATimes article
Dear 2016, I'd like a Refund
Huffington Post - about 2 months
What can be said about 2016? It was a year that began with the death of Ziggy Stardust and ended with the keys of the free world being handed over to a bright orange pus-spewing reality TV star. According to Chinese astrology 2016 was the year of the monkey. A cynic would tell you that 2016 was a comic existential farce. An optimist would try and comfort you by saying that at least 2016 wasn't the uneventful mediocrity that 2015 was. And if you asked a layman they would tell you that 2016 was the Year of the Suck It was the year that David Bowie, Prince, Lemmy Kilmister, Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard and Sharon Jones left us and Justin Bieber came back. It was a year where nobody was safe. Not Carol Brady, Radio Raheem or Willie Wonka. Not Harper Lee or Grizzly Adams. Not Muhammad Ali or Abe Vigoda. In 2016 the grim reaper ran as rampant as Jason Voorhees at a secluded summer camp ripe with oversexed teenagers. The Summer Olympics tried to tow us out of this big muddy o ...
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Huffington Post article
Watch Keith Urban's Incredible Tribute To The Artists We Lost In 2016
Huffington Post - about 2 months
Watch @KeithUrban’s New Year’s Eve tribute to the many great musicians we lost in 2016 https://t.co/rEfVsRYaY2 https://t.co/gaSwYME8bZ — CNN (@CNN) January 1, 2017 The world of music lost some of its greatest voices in 2016.  In the final moments of the year, country music star Keith Urban paid tribute to some of those legendary entertainers with a medley of songs from Leonard Cohen, Glenn Frey, David Bowie, Merle Haggard and Prince.  He was joined onstage by his wife, actress Nicole Kidman, during the event, which was broadcast on CNN. Check out his emotional tribute above.  -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.
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Why George Michael's Music Will Always Make Us Feel Like Teenagers
Huffington Post - 2 months
George Michael was only 53 years old when he left us, but for Generation X, his music recalls the Cold War-era sounds of our youth. The soulful Wham singer hit the top of the charts in the mid-1980s by singing about the jitterbug and filming a video at the Great Wall of China. Yet, in the latter part of his career he became a nuanced and complex, if sometimes misunderstood, writer and interpreter of songs. “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go,” “Careless Whisper,” and “Last Christmas” gave way to the more direct “I Want Your Sex” and later “Jesus to a Child.” As he advanced to more mature subjects, so did his audience. George Michael dominated the pop charts when Baby Boomers controlled the record labels and the rest of us were coming of age. His “Freedom 90” video captured the zeitgeist of the supermodel phenomenon with the lyric, “sometimes the clothes do not make the man.” The line was tongue-in-cheek but also begged for us to take him seriously. What an incredible voice he possessed; his 2 ...
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Huffington Post article
Nick Offerman Explains Why Ron Swanson Would Hate Both Candidates
Huffington Post - 4 months
If you’re planning on casting your vote based on the political affiliations of your favorite TV characters this election, then Ron Swanson of “Parks and Recreation” has a bitter pill for you to swallow. He’s reluctant to vote for either candidate.  Nick Offerman, who brought Swanson and his moustache to life for seven seasons on the NBC sitcom, has finally weighed in on whether the anti-government, bacon-loving furniture maker would vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.  “I am frequently asked how Ron Swanson would weigh in on this election,” he wrote on Twitter Friday afternoon. “I was able to contact a source close to Ron and here is the result.” I am frequently asked how Ron Swanson would weigh in on this election. I was able to contact a source close to Ron and here is the result: pic.twitter.com/2A0JWEgpgu — Nick Offerman (@Nick_Offerman) October 14, 2016 Swanson’s biggest grievances against Trump are how the former reality host consistently ...
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Huffington Post article
The best pop music of 2016 (so far)
LATimes - 8 months
So much about the first few months of pop in 2016 has been about mourning. David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Merle Haggard, Paul Kantner, George Martin, Prince, Scotty Moore, Maurice White, Bernie Worrell and the just-starting-out Christina Grimmie are among those who have left us. But while the music community...
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LATimes article
The King Of Zydeco, The Supremes, Merle Haggard Among Recordings Joining Library Of Congress
NPR - 9 months
Each year the Library of Congress adds certain sound recordings as national treasures. Curator of Recorded Sound Matthew Barton explains the cultural significance of this year's selections.
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NPR article
A Cowboy Poet Gets Real at Sideman Jamboree
Huffington Post - 9 months
His name was Lon and his hands were trembling as he looked down at the words written on the crinkled piece of faded yellow college ruled notebook paper that he was tightly gripping. "I've never read this poem in public," he quietly said, his voice shaking. Lon Hall is a cowboy poet from Montana. He's a real cowboy, and a real poet. A few months ago we were standing in front of the main stage in a barn built in the middle of the Arizona desert at a very secluded RV park located on a tiny road named Music Road. It was a couple hours before show time at the 32nd annual Sideman Jamboree music festival. Our conversation was pretty surreal, given my dog Yoda and I first stumbled on this remote RV park five years ago, in February, 2011, during my five month road trip around the United States in search of shama, which is Sanskrit for inner-peace. I was a weary road-tripper back then, and was surprised to encounter a group of octogenarian musicians at this desert oasis who had g ...
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Merle Haggard's final recording 'Kern River Blues' premieres
LATimes - 10 months
While still recuperating from double pneumonia in February, Merle Haggard returned to the studio for what turned out to be the final time to record a new song, “Kern River Blues,” which premieres at 2 p.m. Thursday on SiriusXM satellite radio. The song, to be unveiled on Willie’s Roadhouse on Channel...
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LATimes article
Merle Haggard (1937-2016): Brilliance Born in a Boxcar
Wall Street Journal - 10 months
Merle Haggard was a musical pioneer, foreshadowing outlaw country and country rock.
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Wall Street Journal article
Popcast: Popcast: Country Music Agitators
NYTimes - 11 months
New York Times music critics discuss Sturgill Simpson and Merle Haggard’s creative energy.
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NYTimes article
Merle Haggard, Country's Outlaw With A Heartfelt Message
NPR - 11 months
NPR's Scott Simon spent some time with the country legend aboard his tour bus in 2001. Simon remembers a man who'd come a long way since his imprisonment at San Quentin, where he did time for robbery.
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NPR article
Timeline
Learn about memorable moments in the evolution of Merle Haggard
    LATE_ADULTHOOD
  • 2016
    Age 78
    He died on April 6, 2016 — his 79th birthday — at his ranch in Northern California, having recently suffered from double pneumonia.
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    Haggard was laid to rest in a private funeral at his ranch on April 9, 2016; longtime friend Marty Stuart officiated.
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    In March 2016, Haggard was once again hospitalized.
    More Details Hide Details His concerts for April were canceled due to his ongoing double pneumonia.
    This record was released on May 12, 2016, marking the end of Haggard's music career.
    More Details Hide Details Haggard's parents, Flossie Mae (née Harp) and James Francis Haggard, moved to California from their home in Checotah, Oklahoma, during the Great Depression, after their barn burned in 1934. They settled with their two elder children, Lowell and Lillian, in an apartment in Bakersfield, while James started working for the Santa Fe Railroad. A woman who owned a boxcar which was placed in Oildale, a nearby town, asked Haggard's father about the possibility of converting it into a house.
    The song was recorded February 9, 2016, and features his son Ben on guitar.
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  • 2015
    Age 77
    On December 5, 2015, Haggard was treated at an undisclosed hospital in California for pneumonia.
    More Details Hide Details He made a recovery, but postponed several concerts.
    In 2015, Haggard was featured as a guest vocalist on Don Henley's song "The Cost of Living" on the album Cass County.
    More Details Hide Details Haggard endorsed Fender guitars and had a Custom Artist signature model Telecaster. The guitar is a modified Telecaster Thinline with laminated top of figured maple, set neck with deep carved heel, birdseye maple fingerboard with 22 jumbo frets, ivoroid pickguard and binding, gold hardware, abalone Tuff Dog Tele peghead inlay, 2-Colour Sunburst finish, and a pair of Fender Texas Special Tele single-coil pickups with custom-wired 4-way pickup switching. He also played six-string acoustic models. In 2001, C. F. Martin & Company introduced a limited edition Merle Haggard Signature Edition 000-28SMH acoustic guitar available with or without factory-installed electronics.
    In 2015, Haggard and Nelson recorded a video, "It's All Going to Pot", where both are seen singing in a recording studio while smoking joints and also recorded another duet album Django and Jimmie.
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  • 2014
    Age 76
    On January 26, 2014, Haggard performed his 1969 song "Okie from Muskogee" at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards along with Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Blake Shelton.
    More Details Hide Details Haggard's guitar playing and voice gave his country songs a hard-edged, blues-like style in many cuts. Although he was outspoken in his dislike for modern country music, he praised George Strait, Toby Keith, and Alan Jackson. Keith has singled out Haggard as a major influence on his career. As noted by a Washington Post article published upon Haggard's death, "Respect for the Hag Haggard as an icon, both for his musical status and his personal views, is a common theme" in country music. Many country music acts have paid tribute to Haggard by mentioning him in their songs (a fact aided by his first name rhyming with "girl," a common theme in country songs). These include: In the 1970s, several rock acts responded in their own songs to Haggard's criticism of hippie counterculture in "Okie from Muskogee" and "The Fightin' Side of Me". The Youngbloods answered "Okie from Muskogee" with "Hippie from Olema", in which, in one repetition of the chorus, they change the line "We still take in strangers if they're ragged" to "We still take in strangers if they're haggard". Nick Gravenites, of Big Brother and the Holding Company, paid Haggard a tongue-in-cheek tribute with the song, "I'll Change Your Flat Tire, Merle", later covered by other artists including Pure Prairie League. Despite these critiques, the Grateful Dead performed "Mama Tried" over 300 times, and "Sing Me Back Home" approximately 40 times.
  • 2010
    Age 72
    In April 2010, Haggard released a new album, I Am What I Am, to strong reviews, and he performed the title song on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in February 2011.
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  • 2008
    Age 70
    In 2008, Haggard was going to perform at Riverfest in Little Rock, Arkansas, but the concert was canceled because he was ailing, and three other concerts were canceled, as well; however, he was back on the road in June and successfully completed a tour that ended on October 19, 2008.
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  • 2007
    Age 69
    Haggard released a bluegrass album, The Bluegrass Sessions, on October 2, 2007.
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  • 2006
    Age 68
    In 2006, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and was also honored as a BMI Icon at the 54th annual BMI Pop Awards that same year.
    More Details Hide Details During his songwriting career up to that time, Haggard had earned 48 BMI Country Awards, nine BMI Pop Awards, a BMI R&B Award, and 16 BMI "Million-Air" awards, all from a catalog of songs that added up to over 25 million performances. Haggard accepted a Kennedy Center Honor on December 4, 2010, from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in recognition of his lifetime achievement and "outstanding contribution to American culture". The following day, he was honored at a gala in Washington, DC, with musical performances by Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Vince Gill, Jamey Johnson, Kid Rock, Miranda Lambert, and Brad Paisley; this tribute was featured on the December 28, 2010, CBS telecast of the Kennedy Center Honors. In July 2007, a 3 1/2 mile stretch of 7th Standard Road in Oildale, California, where Haggard grew up, was renamed Merle Haggard Drive in his honor. It stretches from North Chester Avenue west to U.S. Route 99 and provides access to the William M. Thomas airport terminal at Meadows Field Airport. Haggard played two shows to raise money to pay for the changes in road signage. In 2015, the converted boxcar in which the Haggard family lived in Oildale was moved to the Kern County Museum for historic preservation and restoration.
    He is also featured singing a verse on Eric Church's 2006 song "Pledge Allegiance to the Hag".
    More Details Hide Details In 2005, Haggard was featured as a guest vocalist on Blaine Larsen's song "If Merle Would Sing My Song".
  • 2003
    Age 65
    This follows from his 2003 release "Haggard Like Never Before" in which he includes a song, "That's The News".
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    Haggard's number-one hit single "Mama Tried" is featured in the 2003 film Radio with Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Ed Harris, as well as in Bryan Bertino's "The Strangers" with Liv Tyler.
    More Details Hide Details Merle was a real westerner. Like one of those lizards that thrives in arid heat. He was a California guy, but not the California you see on television with Palm Trees. The album contained an anti-Iraq war song titled "America First", in which he laments the nation's economy and faltering infrastructure, applauds its soldiers, and sings, "Let's get out of Iraq, and get back on track."
    When political opponents were attacking the Dixie Chicks for criticizing President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, Haggard spoke up for the band on July 25, 2003, saying:
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  • 2001
    Age 63
    He followed it in 2001 with Roots, vol. 1, a collection of Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams, and Hank Thompson covers, along with three Haggard originals.
    More Details Hide Details The album, recorded in Haggard's living room with no overdubs, featured Haggard's longtime bandmates, the Strangers, as well as Frizzell's original lead guitarist, Norman Stephens. In December 2004, Haggard spoke at length on Larry King Live about his incarceration as a young man and said it was "hell" and "the scariest experience of my life".
  • 2000
    Age 62
    In 2000, Haggard made a comeback of sorts, signing with the independent record label Anti and releasing the spare If I Could Only Fly to critical acclaim.
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  • FIFTIES
  • 1993
    Age 55
    He married his fifth wife, Theresa Ann Lane, on September 11, 1993.
    More Details Hide Details They had two children, Jenessa and Ben.
  • 1989
    Age 51
    In 1989, Haggard recorded a song, "Me and Crippled Soldiers Give a Damn", in response to the Supreme Court's decision to allow flag burning under the First Amendment.
    More Details Hide Details After CBS Records Nashville avoided releasing the song, Haggard bought his way out of the contract and signed with Curb Records, which was willing to release the song. Haggard commented about the situation, "I've never been a guy that can do what people told me It's always been my nature to fight the system."
  • 1988
    Age 50
    Haggard's last number-one hit was "Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star" from his smash album Chill Factor in 1988.
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  • FORTIES
  • 1985
    Age 47
    In 1985 Haggard married Debbie Parret; they divorced in 1991.
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  • 1984
    Age 46
    Despite these issues, he won a Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance for his 1984 remake of "That's The Way Love Goes."
    More Details Hide Details Haggard was hampered by financial woes well into the 1990s, as his presence on the charts diminished in favor of newer country singers, such as George Strait and Randy Travis.
  • 1983
    Age 45
    In 1983, Haggard and his third wife Leona Williams divorced after five stormy years of marriage.
    More Details Hide Details The split served as a license to party for Haggard, who spent much of the next decade becoming mired in alcohol and drug problems. Haggard has stated that he was in the stages of his own mid-life crisis, or "male menopause", around this time. He said in an interview from this period: "Things that you've enjoyed for years don't seem nearly as important, and you're at war with yourself as to what's happening. 'Why don't I like that anymore? Why do I like this now?' And finally, I think you actually go through a biological change, you just, you become another Your body is getting ready to die and your mind doesn't agree." He was briefly a heavy user of cocaine, but managed to kick the habit.
  • 1981
    Age 43
    Between 1981 and 1985, Haggard scored 12 more top-10 country hits, with nine of them reaching number one, including "My Favorite Memory", "Going Where the Lonely Go", "Someday When Things Are Good", and "Natural High".
    More Details Hide Details In addition, Haggard recorded two chart-topping duets with George Jones ("Yesterdays' Wine" in 1982) and Willie Nelson ("Pancho and Lefty" in 1983). Nelson believed the 1983 Academy Award-winning film Tender Mercies, about the life of fictional singer Mac Sledge, was based on the life of Merle Haggard. Actor Robert Duvall and other filmmakers denied this and claimed the character was based on nobody in particular. Duvall, however, said he was a big fan of Haggard.
    Haggard also changed record labels again in 1981, moving to Epic and releasing one of his most critically acclaimed albums, Big City.
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    In 1981, Haggard published an autobiography, Sing Me Back Home.
    More Details Hide Details The same year, he alternately spoke and sang the ballad "The Man in the Mask". Written by Dean Pitchford (whose other work includes "Fame", "Footloose", "Sing", "Solid Gold", and the musical Carrie), this was the combined narration and theme for the movie The Legend of the Lone Ranger, a box-office flop.
  • 1980
    Age 42
    He also scored a number-one hit in 1980 with "Bar Room Buddies", a duet with actor Clint Eastwood that appeared on the Bronco Billy soundtrack.
    More Details Hide Details Haggard appeared in an episode of The Waltons entitled "The Comeback", season five, episode three, original air-date October 10, 1976. He played a band leader named Red, who had been depressed since the death of his son (Ron Howard).
    Haggard sang a duet cover of Billy Burnette's "What's A Little Love Between Friends" with Lynda Carter in her 1980 television music special, Lynda Carter: Encore!
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  • 1978
    Age 40
    In 1978, Haggard married Leona Williams; they divorced in 1983.
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    Haggard and Owens divorced in 1978, but remained close friends as Owens continued as his backing vocalist until her death in 2006.
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    The album reached number four on the country charts, and Haggard and Owens recorded a number of additional duets before their divorce in 1978.
    More Details Hide Details Haggard went on to record duets with George Jones, Willie Nelson, and Clint Eastwood, among others. In 1970, Haggard released A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (or, My Salute to Bob Wills), rounding up six of the remaining members of the Texas Playboys to record the tribute: Johnnie Lee Wills, Eldon Shamblin, Tiny Moore, Joe Holley, Johnny Gimble, and Alex Brashear. Merle's band the Strangers were also present during the recording, but Wills suffered a massive stroke after the first day of recording. Merle arrived on the second day, devastated that he would not get to record with him; the album helped return Wills to public consciousness, and set off a Western swing revival. Haggard did other tribute albums to Bob Wills over the next 40 years. In 1973 he appeared on For the Last Time: Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. In 1994, Haggard collaborated with Asleep at the Wheel and many other artists influenced by the music of Bob Wills on an album entitled A Tribute To The Music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. A Tribute was re-released on CD on the Koch label in 1995.
  • THIRTIES
  • 1977
    Age 39
    In 1977, he switched to MCA Records and began exploring the themes of depression, alcoholism, and middle age on albums such as Serving 190 Proof and The Way I Am.
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  • 1975
    Age 37
    He also wrote and performed the theme song to the television series Movin' On, which in 1975 gave him another number-one country hit.
    More Details Hide Details During the early to mid-1970s, Haggard's country chart domination continued with songs such as "Someday We'll Look Back", "Grandma Harp", "Always Wanting You", and "The Roots of My Raising". Between 1973 and 1976, he scored nine consecutive number-one country hits.
  • 1974
    Age 36
    Haggard appeared on the cover of TIME on May 6, 1974.
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  • 1973
    Age 35
    The 1973 recession anthem, "If We Make It Through December", furthered Haggard's status as a champion of the working class. "If We Make It Through December" turned out to be Haggard's last crossover pop hit.
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  • 1972
    Age 34
    In 1972, Let Me Tell You about A Song, the first TV special starring Haggard, was nationally syndicated by Capital Cities TV Productions.
    More Details Hide Details It was a semiautobiographical musical profile of Haggard, akin to the contemporary Behind The Music, produced and directed by Michael Davis.
  • 1970
    Age 32
    On his next single, "The Fightin' Side of Me" (released in 1970 over Haggard's objections by his record company), Haggard's lyrics stated that he did not mind the counterculture "switchin' sides and standin' up for what they believe in", but resolutely declared, "If you don't love it, leave it!" In May 1970, Haggard explained to John Grissom of Rolling Stone, "I don't like their views on life, their filth, their visible self-disrespect, y'know.
    More Details Hide Details They don't give a shit what they look like or what they smell like What do they have to offer humanity?" In a 2003 interview with No Depression magazine, Haggard said, "I had different views in the '70s. As a human being, I've learned more. I have more culture now. I was dumb as a rock when I wrote 'Okie From Muskogee'. That's being honest with you at the moment, and a lot of things that I said then I sing with a different intention now. My views on marijuana have totally changed. I think we were brainwashed and I think anybody that doesn't know that needs to get up and read and look around, get their own information. It's a cooperative government project to make us think marijuana should be outlawed." Ironically, Haggard had wanted to follow "Okie from Muskogee" with "Irma Jackson", a song that dealt with an interracial romance between a white man and an African American woman. His producer, Ken Nelson, discouraged him from releasing it as a single. Jonathan Bernstein recounts, "Hoping to distance himself from the harshly right-wing image he had accrued in the wake of the hippie-bashing "Muskogee", Haggard wanted to take a different direction and release "Irma Jackson" as his next single... When the Bakersfield, California, native brought the song to his record label, executives were reportedly appalled. In the wake of "Okie", Capitol Records was not interested in complicating Haggard's conservative, blue-collar image."
  • 1969
    Age 31
    Haggard began performing the song in concert in 1969 and was astounded at the reaction it received:
    More Details Hide Details The studio version, which was mellower than the usually raucous live-concert versions, topped the country charts in 1969, where it remained for a month. It also hit number 41 on the Billboard all-genre singles chart, becoming Haggard's biggest hit up to that time (surpassed only by his 1973 crossover Christmas hit, "If We Make It Through December", which peaked at number 28) and signature song.
    In 1969, Haggard released "Okie From Muskogee", with lyrics ostensibly reflecting the singer's pride in being from Middle America where people are considered patriotic, do not smoke marijuana, take LSD, burn draft cards, or challenge authority.
    More Details Hide Details In the ensuing years, Haggard gave varying statements regarding whether he intended the song as a humorous satire or a serious political statement in support of conservative values. In a 2001 interview, Haggard called the song a "documentation of the uneducated that lived in America at the time". However, he made several other statements suggesting that he meant the song seriously. On the Bob Edwards Show, he said, "I wrote it when I recently got out of the joint. I knew what it was like to lose my freedom, and I was getting really mad at these protesters. They didn't know anything more about the war in Vietnam than I did. I thought how my dad, who was from Oklahoma, would have felt. I felt I knew how those boys fighting in Vietnam felt." In the country music documentary series Lost Highway, he elaborated: "My dad passed away when I was nine, and I don't know if you've ever thought about somebody you've lost and you say, 'I wonder what so-and-so would think about this?' I was drivin' on Interstate 40 and I saw a sign that said "19 Miles to Muskogee". Muskogee was always referred to in my childhood as 'back home'. So I saw that sign and my whole childhood flashed before my eyes and I thought, 'I wonder what dad would think about the youthful uprising that was occurring at the time, the Janis Joplins I understood 'em, I got along with it, but what if he was to come alive at this moment?
  • 1968
    Age 30
    A truck driver and part-time musician named Scott Haggard has said that he is Merle Haggard's son from a brief relationship in 1968.
    More Details Hide Details According to Scott Haggard, a DNA test confirmed the paternity, but Scott and Merle Haggard had no contact until 2004, when they met and talked after a concert. After that, they had sporadic contact. As of Merle Haggard's death, his family had not confirmed or denied Scott Haggard's paternity. Haggard said he started smoking marijuana when he was 41 years old. He admitted that in 1983, he bought "$2,000 (worth) of cocaine" and partied for five months afterward, when he said he finally realized his condition and quit for good. He quit smoking cigarettes in 1991, and stopped smoking marijuana in 1995. However, a Rolling Stone magazine interview in 2009 indicated that he had resumed regular marijuana smoking. Haggard underwent angioplasty in 1995 to unblock clogged arteries. On November 9, 2008, it was announced that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer in May and undergone surgery on November 3, during which part of his lung was removed. Haggard returned home on November 8. Less than two months after his cancer surgery, he played two shows on January 2 and 3, 2009, in Bakersfield at Buck Owens Crystal Palace, and continued to tour and record until shortly before his death.
    In the original Rolling Stone review for Haggard's 1968 album Mama Tried, Andy Wickham wrote, "His songs romanticize the hardships and tragedies of America's transient proletarian and his success is resultant of his inherent ability to relate to his audience a commonplace experience with precisely the right emotional pitch Merle Haggard looks the part and sounds the part because he is the part.
    More Details Hide Details He's great."
    In 1968, Haggard's first tribute LP Same Train, Different Time: A Tribute to Jimmie Rodgers, was also released to acclaim.
    More Details Hide Details Haggard's songs attracted attention from outside the country field. The Everly Brothers covered both "Sing Me Back Home" and "Mama Tried" on their 1968 country-rock album Roots. The following year, Haggard's songs were performed and/or recorded by a variety of artists, including the Gram Parsons incarnation of the Byrds, who performed "Sing Me Back Home" on the Grand Ole Opry and recorded "Life in Prison" for their album Sweetheart of the Rodeo; singer-activist Joan Baez, who covered "Sing Me Back Home" and "Mama Tried"; crooner Dean Martin, who recorded "I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am" for his album of the same name; and the Grateful Dead, whose live cover of "Mama Tried" became a staple in their repertoire until the band's end in 1995.
  • TWENTIES
  • 1966
    Age 28
    The 1966 album Branded Man kicked off an artistically and commercially successful run for Haggard.
    More Details Hide Details In 2013, Haggard biographer David Cantwell stated, "The immediate successors to I'm a Lonesome Fugitive — Branded Man in 1967 and, in '68, Sing Me Back Home and The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde — were among the finest albums of their respective years." Haggard's new recordings largely centered around Roy Nichols's Telecaster, Ralph Mooney's steel guitar, and the harmony vocals provided by Bonnie Owens.
    In 1966, Haggard recorded "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive", also written by Liz Anderson with her husband Casey Anderson, which became his first number-one single.
    More Details Hide Details When the Andersons presented the song to Haggard, they were unaware of his prison stretch. Bonnie Owens, Haggard's backup singer and then-wife, is quoted by music journalist Daniel Cooper in the liner notes to the 1994 retrospective Down Every Road: "I guess I didn't realize how much the experience at San Quentin did to him, 'cause he never talked about it all that much. I could tell he was in a dark mood and I said, 'Is everything okay?' And he said, 'I'm really scared.' And I said, 'Why?' And he said, 'Cause I'm afraid someday I'm gonna be out there and there's gonna be some prisoner in there the same time I was in, stand up—and they're gonna be about the third row down—and say, 'What do you think you're doing, 45200?'" Cooper notes that the news had little effect on Haggard's career: "It's unclear when or where Merle first acknowledged to the public that his prison songs were rooted in personal history, for to his credit, he doesn't seem to have made some big splash announcement. In a May 1967 profile in Music City News, his prison record is never mentioned, but in July 1968, in the very same publication, it's spoken of as if it were common knowledge."
  • 1965
    Age 27
    Shortly after divorcing Hobbs, in 1965, he married singer Bonnie Owens.
    More Details Hide Details Haggard credited her with helping him make his big break as a country artist. He shared the writing credit with Owens for his hit "Today I Started Loving You Again", and acknowledged, including on stage, that the song was about a sudden burst of special feelings he experienced for her while they were touring together. She also helped care for Haggard's children from his first marriage, and was the maid of honor for Haggard's third marriage.
    At the time of Haggard's first top-10 hit "(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers" in 1965, Owens (who had formerly been married to Buck Owens) was known as a solo performer, a fixture on the Bakersfield club scene who had appeared on television. She won the new Academy of Country Music's first ever award for Female Vocalist after her 1965 debut album, Don't Take Advantage of Me, hit the top five on the country albums chart.
    More Details Hide Details However, Bonnie Owens had no further hit singles, and although she recorded six solo albums on Capitol between 1965 and 1970, she became mainly known for her background harmonies on Haggard hits such as "Sing Me Back Home" and "Branded Man". Producer Ken Nelson took a hands-off approach to producing Haggard. In the episode of American Masters dedicated to him, Haggard remembers: "The producer I had at that time, Ken Nelson, was an exception to the rule. He called me 'Mr. Haggard' and I was a little twenty-four, twenty-five year old punk from Oildale He gave me complete responsibility. I think if he'd jumped in and said, 'Oh, you can't do that,' it would've destroyed me." In the documentary series Lost Highway, Nelson recalls, "When I first started recording Merle, I became so enamored with his singing that I would forget what else was going on, and I suddenly realized, 'Wait a minute, there's musicians here you've got to worry about!' But his songs—he was a great writer."
  • 1964
    Age 26
    He asked for permission to record it, and the resulting single was a national hit in 1964.
    More Details Hide Details The following year, he had his first national top-10 record with "(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers", written by Liz Anderson (mother of country singer Lynn Anderson) and his career was off and running. Haggard recalls having been talked into visiting Anderson—a woman he did not know—at her house to hear her sing some songs she had written. "If there was anything I didn't wanna do, it was sit around some danged woman's house and listen to her cute little songs. But I went anyway. She was a pleasant enough lady, pretty, with a nice smile, but I was all set to be bored to death, even more so when she got out a whole bunch of songs and went over to an old pump organ... There they were. My God, one hit right after another. There must have been four or five number one songs there "
  • 1962
    Age 24
    In 1962, Haggard wound up performing at a Wynn Stewart show in Las Vegas and heard Wynn's "Sing a Sad Song".
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  • 1960
    Age 22
    He was released from San Quentin on parole in 1960.
    More Details Hide Details In 1972, after Haggard had become an established country music star, then-California governor Ronald Reagan granted Haggard a full and unconditional pardon for his past crimes. Upon his release, Haggard started digging ditches for his brother's electrical contracting company. Soon, he was performing again, and later began recording with Tally Records. The Bakersfield sound was developing in the area as a reaction against the overproduced honky tonk of the Nashville sound. Haggard's first record for Tally was "Singing My Heart Out" and "Skid Row"; it was not a success, and only 200 copies were pressed.
  • 1959
    Age 21
    Haggard soon earned a high school equivalency diploma and kept a steady job in the prison's textile plant, while also playing for the prison's country music band, attributing a performance by Johnny Cash at the prison on New Year's Day 1959 as his main inspiration to join it.
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  • 1958
    Age 20
    He was sent to Bakersfield Jail, and after an escape attempt, was transferred to San Quentin Prison on February 21, 1958.
    More Details Hide Details While in prison, Haggard discovered that his wife was expecting a child from another man, which pressed him psychologically. He was fired from a series of prison jobs, and planned to escape along with another inmate nicknamed "Rabbit". Haggard was convinced not to escape by fellow inmates. Haggard started to run a gambling and brewing racket with his cellmate. After he was caught drunk, he was sent for a week to solitary confinement where he encountered Caryl Chessman, an author and death-row inmate. Meanwhile, "Rabbit" had successfully escaped, only to shoot a police officer and be returned to San Quentin for execution. Chessman's predicament, along with the execution of "Rabbit", inspired Haggard to correct his life.
  • TEENAGE
  • 1957
    Age 19
    Married and plagued by financial issues, he was arrested in 1957 shortly after he tried to rob a Bakersfield roadhouse.
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  • 1956
    Age 18
    Haggard was married five times, first to Leona Hobbs from 1956-64.
    More Details Hide Details They had four children: Dana, Marty, Kelli, and Noel.
    He eventually landed a spot on the local television show Chuck Wagon, in 1956.
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  • 1951
    Age 13
    He returned to Bakersfield in 1951, and was again arrested for truancy and petty larceny and sent to a juvenile detention center.
    More Details Hide Details After another escape, he was sent to the Preston School of Industry, a high-security installation. He was released 15 months later, but was sent back after beating a local boy during a burglary attempt. After his release, Haggard and Teague saw Lefty Frizzell in concert. After hearing Haggard sing along to his songs backstage, Frizzell refused to sing unless Haggard would be allowed to sing first. He sang songs that were well received by the audience. Due to the positive reception, Haggard decided to pursue a career in music. While working as a farmhand or in oil fields, he played in nightclubs.
  • 1950
    Age 12
    Haggard committed a number of minor offenses, such as thefts and writing bad checks. He was sent to a juvenile detention center for shoplifting in 1950.
    More Details Hide Details When he was 14, Haggard ran away to Texas with his friend Bob Teague. He rode freight trains and hitchhiked throughout the state. When he returned the same year, his friend and he were arrested for robbery. Haggard and Teague were released when the real robbers were found. Haggard was later sent to the juvenile detention center, from which his friend and he escaped again to Modesto, California. He worked a series of laborer jobs, including driving a potato truck, being a short order cook, a hay pitcher, and an oil well shooter. His debut performance was with Teague in a Modesto bar named "Fun Center", being paid US$5, with free beer.
  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1945
    Age 7
    His father died of a brain hemorrhage in 1945, an event that deeply affected Haggard during his childhood and the rest of his life.
    More Details Hide Details To support the family, his mother worked as a bookkeeper. At 12, his brother, Lowell, gave him his used guitar. Haggard learned to play alone, with the records he had at home, influenced by Bob Wills, Lefty Frizzell, and Hank Williams. As his mother was absent due to work, Haggard became progressively rebellious. His mother sent him for a weekend to a juvenile detention center to change his attitude, but it worsened.
  • 1937
    Born
    He remodeled the boxcar, and soon after moved in, also purchasing the lot, where Merle Ronald Haggard was born on April 6, 1937.
    More Details Hide Details The property was eventually expanded by building a bathroom, a second bedroom, a kitchen, and a breakfast nook in the adjacent lot.
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