In honor of a pair of local concerts Merle Haggard is set to perform the week after this, our paper ran an article and an interview with Haggard, a country music classic. Unfortunately, I’m busy both nights he’ll be in town, so I thought I’d post an article and a couple of songs for my pleasure and hopefully yours.
Merle Haggard was born in 1937, in Oildale, CA, near Bakersfield. He grew up wild and drew a three year term in San Quentin when he was 20. While in prison, he decided playing music would be a better way to live, and 1967 he recorded his first number one country music song, “The Fugitive,” which remains my all time Haggard favorite:
I first heard Haggard after he released his 1969 counter-counter-cultural anthem, “Okie from Muskogee.” Lyrics like, “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee,” made it a tongue-in-cheek favorite on hippie radio stations of the day. Later that year, the Grateful Dead covered one of his songs, as did Joan Baez a short while later.
Haggard, who had his own battles with alcohol and drug abuse, is far less doctrinaire these days: he built a recording studio near his home in Redding, CA where he’s currently working on a tribute album to Bob Dylan. At 76, having also survived lung cancer, Haggard sounds grateful as well as surprised at his success and still being alive. If you like country music, you’re sure to enjoy the article and the interview.
Haggard says country music is “pretty shallow” these days, and when you listen to his work, it’s hard not to come to the same conclusion. Here is a country singer who shows the depths and soul that are possible in this classic American genre.