Sign up for newsletter
 

The Hag dies at 79

Wednesday, April 6, 2016 – Merle Haggard, who sang of hard times and epitomized traditional country music and the Bakersfield Sound, died today at 79 on his birthday after battling pneumonia, Associated Press is reporting.

The Hag, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, has been sick off and on since December, having had to cancel a number of shows.

Haggard grew up just north of Bakersfield and numerous run-ins with the law, leading to a stint at San Quentin State Prison. His backdrop also provided a series of hits including "Swingin' Doors," "The Bottle Let Me Down," "I'm A Lonesome Fugitive," "Sing Me Back Home," "Okie From Muskogee," "The Fightin' Side Of Me," "If We Make It Through December," "That's The Way Love Goes," "Footlights," "My Favorite Memory," "Are The Good Times Really Over (I Wish A Buck Was Still Silver)."

Haggard recorded more than 70 albums and had 38 number 1 songs.

He was born April 6, 1937 in Bakersfield, Cal. to Jim and Flossie Haggard, who moved their from Oklahoma. Jim Haggard, a railroad carpenter, died of a stroke in 1946. His father's death affected Merle. His brother gave him his used guitar as a gift when he was 12 years old. He learned to play alone with records he had at home. Bob Wills, Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams all influenced the young Haggard.

Merle ran away from home a number of times and spent time in at least two separate reform schools. He found jobs as a laborer, played and sang informally including at Southern California clubs. He also did time in local jails for bad checks and theft.

At 20, Hag got drunk and burglarized a Bakersfield roadhouse. Following an attempted escape from a county jail, he was sent to San Quentin. In 1958, a performance there by Johnny Cash convinced Haggard to join the prison country band. He was paroled in 1960 and eventually got a job playing bass for Wynn Stewart in Las Vegas. His experiences in jail ended up playing a big role in his views and songcraft with a number of songs about prisoners and life behind bars.

Two years later, Haggard signed to the small Tally Records label where he recorded five singles. His fourth, "(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers," became a hit, reaching the Billboard Top 10. The song was penned by Liz Anderson, mother of country singer Lynn Anderson. The hit led Haggard to sign with Capitol Records thanks to label head Ken Nelson. Haggard would remain for about a decade. He later recorded for MCA, Epic, Curb, Epitaph, Capitol again and Vanguard. His most recent release was "Django & Jimmie," a recording he did with Willie Nelson, which came out in 2015.

Haggard's very first album, "Strangers," came out in 1965 and was an immediate hit, reaching nine on the Billboard charts. The disc included Haggard's first Top 10 hit, "(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers."

"Strangers" was the start of 10 albums released by the end of the decade with nine making the top 10. He had number 1 albums with "Swinging Doors" in 1966, "Branded Man/I Threw Away the Rose" in 1967, "Sing Me Back Home" in 1968 and "Same Train, A Different Time," a tribute to Jimmie Rodgers, in 1969. To say that Haggard was prolific would be an understatement as he released three albums apiece in 1968 and 1969.

Haggard had a stellar backup band including Roy Nichols on Telecaster, Ralph Mooney on steel guitar and Bonnie Owens, who was his wife at one point, on backing vocals.

During this period, Haggard recorded "Okie from Muskogee," which either was taken as a humorous song or else a diatribe by the Hag against those opposed to the Viet Nam War. The song became a huge hit at concerts and was considered his signature song.

He followed that up with another big hit, "The Fightin' Side of Me," which made clear Haggard's conservative views. Ironically, Haggard had wanted to release "Irma Jackson," a song about interracial love, but Nelson discouraged him from doing so.

The hit albums continued through the 1970s and 1980s. During the Seventies, he was part of the outlaw country music of Nelson, Waylon Jennings and others.

He published an autobiography "Sing Me Back Home" in 1981.

While moving ahead with his own career, Haggard also recorded with others, including George Jones ("Yesterday's Wine") in1982 and Nelson ("Pancho and Lefty") the following year.

Haggard also faced personal demons during the decade Following his split with his third wife, Leona Williams, in 1983, Haggard became involved with drugs and alcohol. At one point, he was addicted to cocaine. He also suffered financial problems, which would continue into the '90s.

Haggard's final number one hit was "Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star" from "Chill Factor" in 1988.

He would release three albums on Curb in the 1990s, but none clicked. He would later put out two acclaimed albums for the Anti- label, "If I Could Only Fly" in 2000 and "Roots, Volume 1" the following year.

Haggard maintained a busy touring schedule, even as he aged and continued to record. He gained some acclaim for a disc he put out with Nelson and Ray Price, "Last of the Breed," in 2007 and touring with them.

He was married five times, marrying his fifth wife, Theresa Ann Lane, on Sept. 11, 1993.

In December 2015, Haggard was treated at a California hospital for pneumonia. He recovered, but postponed concerts, although he played several in California in February. He died at his home in Palo Cedro, Cal.

More news for Merle Haggard

CD reviews for Merle Haggard

Working in Tennessee CD review - Working in Tennessee
Read Merle Haggard's Wikipedia entry. It talks, in the second sentence, of his having helped create the Bakersfield sound, with its "rough edge." Later, it discusses, at some length, his conservative touchstones, in particular Okie From Muskogee. While, in Wikipedia fashion, that may capture the popular perception of the recent Kennedy Center honoree, it doesn't hit at the core of what made him, along with Willie Nelson and George Jones, one of country music's three most »»»
I Am What I Am CD review - I Am What I Am
It seems that the legendary country artists who survive to their later years, often make some of their best music during that time. It certainly was true with Johnny Cash and apparently Merle Haggard is primed to follow suit. The evidence of that is spread all over his new 12-song outing. Haggard has gone introspective, but he has done it in such a way that most of the songs are easy for the listeners to apply to their own experiences. The opener, I've Seen It Go Away, is about losing the »»»
Legendary Performances DVD CD review - Legendary Performances DVD
The Strangers are a talented and extremely flexible band, as Haggard's mood can vary from showing off his rich singing voice on ballads to playing the jazzy guitar hero via Western swing material. Thus, it takes a multi-faceted combo, like The Strangers, to keep up with Haggard's many moods. This disc collects 15 Haggard TV clips, and the man is definitely not lip synching his way through these performances. For instance, viewers can clearly hear The Hag clear his throat right before »»»
Editorial: Walking the talk – When names like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Waylon and the Hag are invoked, you're talking hard core country. These are the touchstones of country , the guys who made country music what it was and still is (or maybe can be). When these folks would sing about being down-and-out and the rough-and-tumble, they knew of what they were singing about. Fast forward a few years to the country singers of today. »»»
Concert Review: Carlile takes her chances on feeling "Blue" – During a rare moment sitting at the piano and appropriately dressed in blue, Brandi Carlile paraphrased a memorable Joni Mitchell quote. Basically, it went that, if you listen to Joni Mitchell music and only picture Mitchell - but not yourself - something is wrong. While Carlile, who performed Mitchell's "Blue" album in its entirety for... »»»
Concert Review: Underwood keeps it world class – There are different levels of fame. There are quite a few artists who go by a mononym; no one asks "Sting or Bono "who?" And then there is an artist whose surname is used as a verb. Being "Underwooded" is a slang phrase used to describe car vandalism. That's American Idol's best-selling artist fame.... »»»
Follow Country Standard Time  Subscribe to Country News Digest  Follow Country Standard Time on twitter  Visit Country Standard Time on Facebook 

Elsewhere in the news

Currently at the CST blogs

Willis, Robison spin "Beautiful Lie" Eleven years ago, Kelly stepped away from music. She had just finished touring on 2007's exquisite "Translated From Love" and felt the angst of being a travelling musician with family at home. At that point, Willis and her husband, musician/producer Bruce Robison,... »»»
Chip Kinman celebrates brother, career on "Sounds Like Music" For a brief moment last summer, the news of Tony Kinman's death was, if not greatly exaggerated, then at least fortuitously premature. The roots rock icon, known for his work in The Dils, Rank and File, Blackbird and Cowboy Nation with his younger brother Chip, had been diagnosed with cancer in March 2018,... »»»
Shiflett learns "Hard Lessons" Until recently, Chris Shiflett took a somewhat obsessive/compulsive approach to his music career. For the past two decades, Shiflett has been the primary guitar foil for Dave Grohl in Foo Fighters; early in his tenure, Shiflett was so self-deprecatingly... »»»
White embraces "The Hurting Kind" John Paul White, to paraphrase a Steve Earle song, may just be one of the last of the hardcore troubadours. By 'troubadour,' we mean one of those guys that lives to write great songs - more specifically, great country songs - and then get these songs into the ears of folks that... »»»
Bingham gets personal with "American Love Song"...again A lot of the early reviews for "American Love Song," Ryan Bingham's latest set of raucous and reflective Americana brilliance, have characterized it as the singer/ songwriter's most personal album to date.... »»»
Wilson goes her own way After having huge success at the get go with "Redneck Woman," Wilson eventually went her own way and took a break. During her "hiatus," Wilson started her own label and was a "120 percent mom" to her teenage daughter.... »»»
Carll tells it like it is A visit with Hayes Carll finds him taking a rare day off at home to discuss new album "What It Is" co-produced by Brad Jones and Carll's girlfriend, Allison Moorer. "This album works around three themes; our relationship (he and Moorer), the world and myself.... »»»
Redemption 10: Live at Blue Rock CD review - Redemption 10: Live at Blue Rock
Houston-based singer-songwriter and former lawyer Libby Koch celebrates the 10th anniversary of her first album, "Redemption," by releasing a full band, live audience setting for what was originally a solo acoustic album.  »»»
Live From the Ryman CD review - Live From the Ryman
The very best way - the only way, really - to see Old Crow Medicine Show is live. Like its namesake, the medicine shows of old that were part preaching, part snake oil sales pitches, part old time music and pure entertainment, »»»
Fire & Brimstone CD review - Fire & Brimstone
It would be easy (and lazy journalism) to write about how much Brantley Gilbert's music is un-country. You need only isolate the drum parts for most of these latest songs to confirm this is primarily a rock recording  »»»
Sunshine is Free CD review - Sunshine is Free
Monica Rizzio's second album, "Sunshine Is Free," emblematic of its title, ushers in bright country music, with roots touches but generally gliding in melodic, uplifting country territory. Put this in your player when you need a smile or two. »»»
Seems Like Tears Ago CD review - Seems Like Tears Ago
If the first few strains of Jason James' "Seems Like Tears Ago" remind you of George Jones, then that's exactly what Jason James intended as he channels the traditional country greats on these 10 original tunes. They are the kind of three-minute »»»
Heartache Medication CD review - Heartache Medication
Jon Pardi may sing about heartache medication with this collection of songs, but his focus on arrangements filled with traditional musical elements (fiddle, steel guitar and twangy electric guitar) is joyfully medicinal  »»»