Merle Ronald Haggard (April 6, 1937 – April 6, 2016) was an American country and Western songwriter, 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 and the unique mix with the traditional country steel guitar sound, new vocal harmony styles in which the words are minimal, 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 he continued to release successful albums through the 1990s and into the 2000s. In 1994, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 1997, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.
Merle Haggard came to prominence to many in 1966 with 'Swinging Doors' and 'The Bottle Let Me Down'. Although not his first hits, they were among three hits he had that year in the Top Ten. Later hits followed, including 'Branded Man', 'I Threw Away the Rose', 'Mama Tried', 'Today I Started Loving You Again', 'Working Man Blues', 'The Fightin' Side of Me', 'Okie from Muskogee' and 'If We Make It Through December'. The last two songs seem also to have had a major impact in America.
Haggard's guitar playing and voice gave 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 George Strait, Toby Keith and Alan Jackson. Keith has singled Haggard as a major influence on his career. The Youngbloods responded to "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. 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 "How 'bout some music/She said have you got any Merle/That's when I knew she was my kind of girl." In 2000, Jackson and 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". Brooks & Dunn also reference Haggard in 1993's "Rock My World (little country girl)" off their Hard Workin' Man Album as they sing "Acts like Madonna but she listens to Merle/Rock my world little country girl." Red Simpson also mentions Merle and Buck Owens in his 1971 song "Hello, I'm a Truck". The last line in the song goes, "Well, I know what he's gonna do now/Take out that tape cartridge of Buck Owens and play it again/I dunno why he don't get a Merle Haggard Tape."
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 did not co-write with John Prine). George Jones recorded two albums with him (Merle) and mentions "The Okie from Muskogee" in his song "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes". Lynyrd Skynyrd's song, "Railroad Song", references Haggard, "Well I'm a ride this train Lord until I find out/What Jimmie Rodgers and the Hag was all about". They also performed both a cover of "Honky Tonk Night Time Man" as well as their own take on the song with "Jacksonville Kid" (found on the 2001 CD reissue of the album) on the album, Street Survivors.
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.
On June 14, 2013, Merle Haggard was presented an honorary doctorate by California State University, Bakersfield. The doctor of fine arts honor, the first in CSUB's history, was conferred during School of Arts & Humanities commencement ceremonies.
Merle Haggard was pardoned in 1972 by California Governer Reagan for his past crimes. "If We Make It Through December" was a classic song that really touched the depth of the poverty of some in recession times. In 2005 he released "Chicago Wind" which included an anti Iraq war song.
"Okie From Muskogee" showed his affinity with ordinary rural America. Throughout his career, he seems to have had an affinity with working people and has indeed been described as the (American) working class poet.
In many Interviews Merle said that the Song "Okie From Muskogee" was meant ironically.
Haggard died on April 6, 2016, his 79th birthday, at his home in Palo Cedro, California, just outside Redding, California.
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