When Theresa Haggard shared the news of her husband Merle Haggard’s passing on April 6, 2016, the nation collectively mourned a man who was the very embodiment of American country music.
He was the best singer, songwriter and performer I’ve ever seen,” she said. “Not only did he write the songs he sang, he was the music. I will miss him forever. Merle passed away this morning peacefully surrounded by his loved ones after a long hard battle with his health.”
The iconic, “Okie From Muskogee,” singer died in Northern California on his 79th birthday. He was born to James and Flossie Haggard in Oildale, California, and he left behind six children as well as his wife, Theresa.
Haggard was known as an, “everyman’s outlaw.” He used his agile baritone to document and celebrate the struggles of the American working class, of which he was a proud product.
Along with Buck Owens, Merle created the twang-filled, “Bakersfield sound,” a guitar-fueled mix of honky-tonk, pop, blues, and jazz.
Numerous performers have credited Merle with influencing their careers, including legendary non-country acts like the Byrds and the Grateful Dead. His 1968 hit, “Today I Started Loving You Again,” has been covered by an estimated 400 artists.
Like Johnny Cash, Merle has a famous connection to legendary San Quentin State Prison. Johnny performed there, but Merle spent almost three years of his life there, after being convicted of burglary in 1957. In what sounds like a classic country song lament, Merle often recounted how he turned 21 in solitary confinement!
His popular hits, “Mama Tried,” and, “Branded Man,” were written about his incarceration.
Throughout his illustrious career Merle had almost 40 singles reach No. 1 on the Billboard country chart, from 1966 to 1987. These included the single, “Workin’ Man Blues,” as well as 1973’s, “If We Make It Through December.” His recording of, “That’s the Way Love Goes” snagged a Grammy Award in 1985.
Overall Merle earned over 70 Top 10 country hits including an incredible stretch of 34 in a row, from 1967 to 1977. Seven of his singles crossed over to the pop charts.
Merle received the Kennedy Center Honor in 2010, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1977, and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994.
Haggard’s last recording, a song called, “Kern River Blues,” was released on May 12, 2016. The song describes his departure from Bakersfield in the late 1970s, and his general displeasure with politicians. Recorded on February 9, 2016, the song features his son Ben on guitar.
To learn more about the late, great Merle Haggard, be sure to visit his website at www.merlehaggard.com.
Written by Tanya Clark