Hey guys it’s Maddie and today we are super excited to show you guys the next episode of our Trucking Culture series, which covers all kinds of music, movies, and other media that have made a major impact on the trucking industry. In today’s episode #5, we will be hearing all about the historic musician, and truck industry icon, Mr. Merle Haggard. But before we begin, if you’ve enjoyed our videos this far and you’d like to help us continue to create more content, please consider joining our Patreon community by visiting Patreon.com/jackschromeshow. Those of you who become patrons will be treated to a video V.I.P. pass with exclusive early-access to all-new episodes such as this one, as well as receive free decals, t-shirts, and truck posters. Interested in becoming part of our Patreon? Please visit the Patreon.com/jackschromeshow link in the description box below and remember folks… “If your rig don’t shine, you don’t know Jack!”
Merle Ronald Haggard was an American country artist, singer/songwriter, guitar player and fiddler from Oildale, California – born on April 6th, 1937, in a boxcar-converted to a house, during the depths of the Great Depression. Haggard had quite a chaotic childhood after the death of his dad, James Francis Haggard, in 1945, leaving his mother, Flossie Mae Haggard, to make ends meet working as a bookkeeper and a young Haggard often all alone to cause all kinds of trouble.
However, at the age of 12, Haggard’s brother gifted him his used guitar, which would quickly become his saving grace and favorite pass-time. Heavily influenced by records he had at home such as Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams, Haggard learned how to play guitar all by himself while his mother was working. Merle credited music as his salvation – and at age 14, Haggard saw his favorite artist Lefty Frizzell live, where Haggard sang Frizzell’s songs for the performer and was subsequently pulled onstage. This incredible experience marked the moment Merle fell in love with performing, as well as set him on the path of pursuing a career in country music.
However, with his mom having to constantly be at work, Haggard became progressively more rebellious – leading him to be incarcerated several times during his youth. What started out as small offenses such as shop lifting, suddenly lead to much larger crimes like larceny and robbery – eventually Haggard landed himself a spot at the San Quentin State Prison in early 1958, where he attended Johnny Cash’s iconic performance at the prison on New Year’s Day in 1959 and became incredibly inspired to continue chasing after a career in music. After being released from San Quentin State Prison in 1960, Haggard had managed to turn his life around and start performing again.
After launching a successful country music career and signing with Tally Records, Haggard’s first record was released called “Singing My Heart Out.” Although the single was not very successful with only 200 copies created – by 1962, Haggard had also started singing at a Wynn Stewart show in Vegas, where he heard Wynn’s “Sing a Sad Song,” for the first time. After asking Wynn’s permission to perform and re-record the song himself, soon Haggard had a hugely successful hit-single on his hands by 1964. Following his first big hit, Haggard had another first happen the following year in 1965, with his first national top-10 record “(My Friend Are Gonna Be) Strangers.”
Haggard’s career was off and running, and in 1967 he recorded “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive,” with The Strangers, which quickly became his first #1 hit-single. The whole 1967 album with The Strangers entitled, “Branded Man,” kicked off an artistically and commercially successful run for Haggard, and also led him to meet his soon-to-be bride Bonnie Owens, who provided back-up vocals on several of the album’s recordings. Towards the end of the decade, Haggard composed several number-one hits, most of which came from his 1968 record “Mama Tried,” including the self-titled song, “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde,” “Hungry Eyes,” and “Sing Me Back Home.” In 1969, Haggard’s first tribute LP “Same Train, Different Time: A Tribute to Jimmie Rodgers,” was released to acclaim.
Also that same year, Haggard and The Strangers released another record titled, “Okie From Muskogee,” full of lyrics loaded with midwestern pride, the song was a skyrocketing success and soon became regarded as Haggard’s signature hit song after topping the country charts and also hitting #41 on the Billboard charts. Haggard’s next single, “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” was released by his record company in 1970 over Haggard’s objections – as he had wanted to follow his harshly right-winged song “Muskogee” with a differently directed song dealing with an interracial romance entitled, “Irma Jackson.”
Haggard’s 1970 LP “A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World,” dedicated to Bob Wills, helped him expand his audience even further, and eventually Merle was widely regarded as one of the most famous country artists in the world. A couple years later in 1972, Haggard starred in his first TV special, “Let Me Tell You About A Song,” which was a semi-autobiographical musical profile of Merle, produced and directed by Michael Davis.
In 1973, the recession anthem “If We Make It Through December” was recorded and released – solidifying Haggard’s status as a so-called “champion of the working class.” In May of 1974, Merle appeared on the cover of TIME magazine, and the next year in 1975 he wrote and performed the theme song to the trucking television series, “Movin’ On.” By 1977, Merle had made the move over to MCA Records, where he continued his country career and began exploring themes of alcoholism on middle age albums such as “Serving 190 Proof” in 1979, and “The Way I Am,” in 1980.
Haggard also scored another #1 hit in 1980 with “Bar Room Buddies,” a duet with actor Clint Eastwood that appeared on the “Bronco Billy” soundtrack, a movie which Merle also made an appearance in. Merle also made an appearance with Lynda Carter on her tv music special, as well as airing on an episode of The Walton’s around this same time. In 1981, Haggard published an autobiography entitled, “Sing Me Back Home,” and he also changed record labels again this same year, moving to Epic Records and releasing one of his most critically acclaimed albums, “Big City.”
Throughout the early 80’s, Haggard had several more top-10 hits, in addition to 2 chart-topping duets done with George Jones, “Yesterdays’ Wine” in 1982, followed by another song “Pancho and Lefty,” also featuring the famous Willie Nelson in 1983. 1983 proved to be quite a hectic year for Haggard, who after releasing a record collaboration with his then-wife Leona Williams in early 1983 called “Heart to Heart,” underwent his 3rd divorce with her later that same year. Sadly, this led Haggard to spend much of the 1980’s decade drowning his sorrows with drugs and alcohol.
Despite these ongoing drinking and drug issues, Merle still managed to win a Grammy Award in 1984 for Best Male Country Vocal Performance, for his remake of “That’s the Way Love Goes.” Additionally, 4 years later in 1988, Haggard scored another #1 hit with “Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Star,” from his smash album “Chill Factor.” The next year in 1989, Merle also recorded a rather controversial song called “Me and Crippled Soldiers Give a Damn,” from the album, “Blue Jungle,” in response to the Supreme Court’s decision not to allow banning flag burning.
Unfortunately, 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. In 1993, Haggard was forced to file for bankruptcy and sell the rights to some of his songs in order to pay off debt. A little later in 1995, Merle also underwent a minor surgery to unblock several clogged arteries, and Haggard’s overall health started deteriorating slowly starting during this time.
However, in 2000, Haggard made a comeback of sorts – signing with the independent record label Anti and releasing the record, “If I Could Only Fly,” to critical acclaim. This was shortly followed up in 2001 with the home-grown record, “Roots: Vol. I,” which was recorded in Haggard’s house featuring a mix of Merle originals and other artists like Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams. After this mash-up album, Haggard had his record “Haggard Like Never Before,” released in 2003. This was followed up in October of 2005, with his record “Chicago Wind,” which contained a controversial anti-Iraq war song called “America First.” Haggard also joined forces with George Jones and Willie Nelson again around this time, releasing “Kickin’ Out the Footlights… Again” in 2006 with Jones, and “Last of the Breed” in 2007 with Nelson.
In November of 2008, Haggard announced he had been diagnosed and treated for lung cancer – during which part of his lung was removed. Less than 2 short months after returning home to recover from his surgery, Merle was out playing more shows. He continued to tour and record right up until shortly before his death, putting out the strongly reviewed record “I Am What I Am,” in April 2010, and performing one of his last shows in January of 2014 at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards, alongside other industry icons including Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Blake Shelton.
Speaking of Willie… the pair would release their 6th and final duet record together in 2015, called “Django and Jimmie,” which featured the lead single song “It’s All Going to Pot.” Sadly shortly after their record was released, on December 5th, 2015, Haggard was hospitalized with pneumonia which led to several postponed shows and eventually a recovery. However, only 3 months later in March of 2016, Haggard was hospitalized once again due to double pneumonia. Sadly after fighting for over a month, on the morning of April 6th, 2016 – Merle’s 79th birthday – he passed away from complications of his ongoing illness at his home in California.
During his rather lengthy career, Haggard received countless awards of all kinds and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1977, the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994, and the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 1997. Haggard had also received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 and was honored as a BMI Icon that same year. Despite his rather quick and dirty “out on the road” lifestyle spanning over the course of 6+ decades– including almost a dozen arrests, 5 marriages, 6 kids, 38 #1 country chart hits, 64 studio albums, and over 34 awards and accolades – Merle managed to make quite the name for himself as arguably the best and most successful country music star to ever live.
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