About Merle Ronald Haggard
2006 Grammy Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award
2004 IBMA Recorded Event of the Year
1998 Grammy Best Country Collaboration with Vocals, Hall of Fame Award
1994 Elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame
1990 TNN / Music City News Living Legend
1984 Grammy Best Male Country Vocal Performance
1983 Country Music Awards Vocal Duo of the Year
1982 Academy of Country Music Song of the Year
1981 Academy of Country Music Top Male Vocalist
1980 BMI Songwriters/Publishers of the Year
1977 Elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame
1976 BMI Songwriters/Publishers of the Year
1974 Academy of Country Music Top Male Vocalist
1972 Academy of Country Music Top Male Vocalist
Country Music Awards Album of the Year
1970 Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year, Top Male Vocalist
Country Music Awards Album of the Year, Entertainer of the Year,
Male Vocalist of the Year, Single of the Year
1969 Academy of Country Music Album of the Year, Single of the Year, Top Male Vocalist
1968 Academy of Country Music Top Vocal Duet
Music City News Country Male Artist of the Year
1967 Academy of Country Music Top Vocal Duet
Music City News Country Male Artist of the Year
1966 Academy of Country Music Top Male Vocalist, Top Vocal Duet
1965 Academy of Country Music Top New Male Vocalist, Top Vocal Duet
* Di Salvatore, Bryan. (1998). "Merle Haggard". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Editor. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 222-4.
* Di Salvatore, Bryan. "Ornery." New Yorker, February 12, 1990, 39-77.
* Fox, Aaron A. "White Trash Alchemies of the Abject Sublime: Country as 'Bad' Music", in Christopher J. Washburne and Maiken Derno (eds.), Bad Music: The Music We Love to Hate, New York: Routledge, 2004 (ISBN 0-415-94366-3).
* Haggard, Merle, with Tom Carter. My House of Memories: For the Record. New York: HarperEntertainment, 1999.
* Haggard, Merle, and Peggy Russell. Sing Me Back Home. New York: Times Books, 1981.
Merle had lung cancer in 2008.
Merle Ronald Haggard (born April 6, 1937) is an American country music singer, guitarist, fiddler, instrumentalist, and songwriter. 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.
By the 1970s, Haggard was aligned with the growing outlaw country movement, and has continued to release successful albums through the 1990s and into the 2000s. In 1997, Merle Haggard was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame for his song "Okie from Muskogee".
Merle Haggard was born in Oildale, California, in 1937. His parents, Flossie Mae Harp and James Francis Haggard, moved from Oklahoma to California during the Great Depression. At that time, much of the population of Bakersfield consisted of migrant workers from Oklahoma and surrounding states. Haggard spent his childhood in Oildale, a hardscrabble suburb of Bakersfield, home to many workers in the adjacent Kern River Oil Field.
Haggard's father died when Merle was nine years old, and Merle soon began to rebel by committing petty crimes and truancy. Due to shoplifting at a women's lingerie store in 1950 (aged thirteen), he was sent to a juvenile detention center. In 1951, Haggard ran away to Texas with a friend, but returned that same year and was arrested for truancy and petty larceny. Again escaping the juvenile detention center, he went to Modesto, California. He worked odd jobs—legal and not—and began performing in a bar. Once he was found again, he was sent to the Preston School of Industry, a high-security installation. He was released fifteen months later, but was sent back after beating a local boy during a burglary attempt.
After his fourth release, Haggard saw Lefty Frizzell in concert with his friend, Bob Teague. After hearing Haggard sing along to his first two songs Frizzell allowed Haggard to sing at the concert. The audience enjoyed Haggard and he began working on a full-time music career. After he had earned a local reputation, Haggard's money problems caught up with him. He was arrested for attempting to rob a Bakersfield tavern in 1957 and was sent to the San Quentin state prison for three years.
While in prison, Haggard ran a gambling and brewing racket from his cell. During a time of solitary confinement, he encountered an alcoholic mathematician and death row inmate named Drunk Adam. Haggard had the opportunity to escape with a fellow inmate nicknamed "Rabbit" but passed on it. The inmate successfully escaped, only to shoot a police officer and return to San Quentin for execution. Drunk Adam's predicament along with Rabbit's inspired Haggard to turn his life around.
Haggard soon earned a high-school equivalence diploma, kept a steady job in the prison's textile plant, and played in the prison's band. Upon his release in 1960, Haggard said it took about four months to get used to being out of the penitentiary and that, at times, he actually wanted to go back in. He said it was the loneliest feeling he had ever had. On Tuesday, March 14, 1972, Haggard was pardoned by Governor Ronald Reagan.
Upon his release, Haggard started digging ditches and wiring houses for his brother. 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 over-produced honky tonk of the Nashville Sound. Haggard's first song was "Skid Row". In 1962, Haggard wound up performing at a Wynn Stewart show in Las Vegas and heard Wynn's "Sing a Sad Song". He asked for permission to record it, and the resulting single was a national hit in 1964. The following year he had his first national top ten record with "(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers", written by Liz Anderson and his career was off and running. 1968 saw his first number one song "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive", also written by Liz Anderson, which Haggard acknowledges in his autobiography remains his most popular number with audiences.
In 1968, Haggard's first tribute LP Same Train, Different Time: A Tribute to Jimmie Rodgers, was released to acclaim. "Okie From Muskogee", 1969's apparent political statement, was actually written as an abjectly humorous character portrait. Haggard called the song a "documentation of the uneducated that lived in America at the time." He said later on the Bob Edwards Show that "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."
Later, Alabama Gov. George Wallace asked Haggard for an endorsement, which Haggard declined. However, Haggard has expressed sympathy with the "parochial" way of life expressed in "Okie" and songs such as "The Fightin' Side of Me". After "Okie" was released, it was a hit.
Regardless of exactly how they were intended, "Okie From Muskogee", "The Fightin' Side of Me", and "I Wonder If They Think of Me" were hailed as anthems of the so-called "Silent Majority" and presaged a trend in patriotic songs that would reappear years later with Charlie Daniels' "In America", Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA", and others. In 1969 the Grateful Dead began performing Haggard's tune "Mama Tried", which appeared on their 1971 eponymous live album. The song became a staple in their repertoire until the band's end in 1995. The Grateful Dead also performed Haggard's "Sing Me Back Home" numerous times between 1971 and 1973. In addition, the Flying Burrito Brothers recorded and performed "White Line Fever" in 1971, and toured with "Sing Me Back Home". Singer-activist Joan Baez, whose political leanings couldn't be more different from those expressed in Haggard's above-referenced songs, nonetheless covered "Sing Me Back Home" and "Mama Tried" in 1969. The Everly Brothers also used both songs in their 1968 country-rock album Roots. Haggard's next LP was A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (or, My Salute to Bob Wills), which helped spark a revival of western swing.
On Tuesday, March 14, 1972, shortly after "Carolyn" became another number one country hit for Haggard, Governor Ronald Reagan granted Haggard a full pardon for his past crimes.
During the early to mid 1970s, Haggard's chart domination continued with songs like "Someday We'll Look Back", "Carolyn", "Grandma Harp", "Always Wanting You", and "The Roots of My Raising". He also wrote and performed the theme song to the television series Movin' On, which in 1975 gave him another number one country hit. The 1973 recession anthem "If We Make It Through December" furthered Haggard's status as a champion of the working class. Haggard appeared on the cover of TIME on May 6, 1974.
In 1981, Haggard published an autobiography, Sing Me Back Home. That same year, he alternately spoke and sang the ballad The Man In the Mask. Written by Dean Pitchford (whose other output includes Fame, Footloose, Sing, Solid Gold and the musical Carrie), this was the combined narration/theme from the movie The Legend of the Lone Ranger...which was a box-office flop.
Country star Willie 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.
"If We Make It Through December" turned out to be Haggard's last pop hit. Although he won a Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance for 1984's new kind of honky tonk, newer singers had begun to take over country music, and singers like George Strait and Randy Travis had taken over the charts. Haggard's last number one hit was "Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star" from his smash album Chill Factor in 1988.
Haggard's guitar playing and voice gives his country a hard-edged, blues-like style in many cuts. Although he has been outspoken in his dislike for modern country music, he has praised newer stars such as George Strait, Toby Keith and Alan Jackson. Keith has singled Haggard as a major influence on his career. 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 and The Grateful Dead. The Dixie Chicks paid tribute by recording Darrell Scott's song "Long Time Gone", which criticizes Nashville trends: "We listen to the radio to hear what's cookin’/But the music ain't got no soul/ Now they sound tired but they don’t sound Haggard," with the following lines mentioning Johnny Cash and Hank Williams in the same vein. Collin Raye paid him tribute with the song "My Kind Of Girl," when he sang the lines "How 'bout some music/She said have you got any Merle/That's when I knew she was my kind of girl." In 2000, Alan Jackson and George Strait sang "Murder On Music Row," which criticizes mainstream country trends: "The Hag wouldn't have a chance on today's radio/Because they committed murder down on music row." In 2005, the country rock duo Brooks & Dunn sang "Just Another Neon Night" off their Hillbilly Deluxe album. In the song Ronnie Dunn said "He's got an Eastwood grin and a too early swagger/Hollerin' turn off that rap/And play me some Haggard". In 2005, Shooter Jennings mentioned him in the title track of his album Put the "O" Back in Country and later mentioned him in 2007 in his song "Concrete Cowboys." In 2006, Hank Williams III included Haggard as well as other country icons in the song "Country Heroes". Steve Goodman mentioned him, humorously but respectfully, in the song "You Never Even Called Me By My Name" (which he either co-wrote or didn't co-write with John Prine). George Jones recorded two albums with him. Lynyrd Skynyrd's song Railroad Song references Haggard, "Well I'm a ride this train Lord until I find out/What Jimmy Rodgers and the Hag was all about", Nuthin' Fancy Nuthin' Fancy.
In 2006, Haggard was back on the charts in a duet with Gretchen Wilson, "Politically Uncorrect". He is also featured on "Pledge Allegiance to the Hag" on Eric Church's debut album. The song was also written by Church.
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. 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. 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".
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. In addition, his song "Swingin' Doors" can be heard in the 2004 film Crash and his 1981 hit "Big City" is heard in Joel and Ethan Coen's 1996 film "Fargo" and in the 2008 Larry Bishop film "Hell Ride", executive produced by Quentin Tarantino.
In October 2005, Haggard released his album Chicago Wind to mostly positive reviews. 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." This follows from his 2003 release "Haggard Like Never Before" in which he includes a song, "That's The News". Haggard released a bluegrass album, The Bluegrass Sessions, on October 2, 2007. 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.
In April 2010, Haggard released a new album, I Am What I Am. Released to strong reviews, Haggard performed the title song on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno in February 2011.
Haggard has endorsed Fender guitars and has 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 plays 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.
Wives and children
Haggard was married to Leona Hobbs from 1956 to 1964. They had four children: Dana, Marty (b. 1958), Kelli, and Noel (b. Sept. 4, 1963). They divorced and in 1965 he married singer Bonnie Owens; they divorced in 1978. Haggard married a third time in 1978 to Leona Williams and they were divorced in 1983. In 1985 Haggard married Debbie Parret, but they divorced in 1991. He married his current wife, Theresa Ann Lane. on September 11, 1993. They have two children, Jenessa and Ben.
Haggard said he had 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 days afterward, when he says he finally realized his condition and quit for good.
Haggard underwent angioplasty in 1995 to unblock clogged arteries. On November 9, 2008, it was announced that Haggard had been diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer in May of that year and underwent 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, Haggard played two shows on January 2 and 3, 2009, in Bakersfield at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace, and continues to tour and record.
On December 19, 2006, the Kern County Board of Supervisors approved a citizen-led resolution to re-name a portion of 7th Standard Road in Oildale as Merle Haggard Drive, which will stretch from North Chester Avenue west to U.S. Route 99. The first street travelers will turn onto when they leave the new airport terminal will be Merle Haggard Drive.
In 2006, Merle Haggard was honored as a BMI Icon at the 54th annual BMI Pop Awards. During his songwriting career, Haggard has 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 adds up to over 25 million performances.
Merle Haggard accepted the prestigious award for lifetime achievement and "outstanding contribution to American culture" from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on December 4, 2010. At a December 5, 2010 gala in Washington, D.C. he was honored 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 in the Tuesday December 28, 2010 CBS special, The Kennedy Center Honors.