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: Cantrell continues to satisfy – Laura Cantrell may never be a country star. Not at this stage of her career when she's 50, touring here and there and releasing new music every few years or so. But five albums in, Cantrell continues as a warm, enjoyable and worthy purveyor of her brand of country. That would mean going towards a more traditional side, not rushing the songs... »»»
Concert Review: Not only is Turner traditional, he's popular – Every time Josh Turner reached for some of those wonderful subterranean low notes, which he often pulled out during his enjoyable night show, it was like a superhero applying a superpower. He didn't need this extra advantage to please his audience; he has so many quality songs stockpiled in his catalogue already doing the job.... »»»
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

Tyminski goes dark Dan Tyminski (known simply as "Tyminski" on his 2017 release "Southern Gothic") has traditional music roots and unassailable bluegrass street cred especially given his membership in Alison Krauss' Union Station. He is also a powerful songwriter and has been writing songs for himself and others for years now.... »»»
Washburn, Fleck create "Echoes" Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn have powerhouse individual talents; each has followed an estimable career path to where they find themselves today: making complex, but spare, records, writing music together and touring with their son Juno. Their new release, "Echoes In The Valley" features mostly songs written by Fleck and Washburn, banjos, Washburn's strong vocals and very little else.... »»»
Hillman bides his time Legends don't come any more legendary than Chris Hillman. The roll call of bands that comprises Hillman's half century in music reads like a wing exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas, the Souther Hillman Furay Band, the Desert Rose Band,... »»»
The Cadillac Three creates its "Legacy" William Shakespeare noted a few centuries back that a rose by any other name would be equally aromatic, and that general idea has musical implications as well. The Cadillac Three knows a thing or two about maintaining a sonic identity after a name change;... »»»
With Stanley and Watson, sound isn't elementary Those aware of the late Owsley "Bear" Stanley likely know him for one of two reasons - his pioneering work manufacturing lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in San Francisco during the mid-to-late 1960s and his role as an innovative sound engineer. Most notably, Bear worked...... »»»
May shifts gears, directions Headed into 2015, Imelda May was on a hit streak. Her rockabilly career was in full swing, nurtured by the likes of former Squeeze keyboardist Jools Holland and guitar icon Jeff Beck. Her albums routinely topped the charts in her native Ireland.... »»»
Lane assumes mantle of "Highway Queen" For most artists, eight years is a fair amount of time in their careers. For Nikki Lane, eight years represents the entirety of her recorded history, and she's filled that relatively short time span with a highlight reel of impressive accomplishments, not the least of which would be actually... »»»
Seasons Change CD review - Seasons Change
"Boys from Back Home" is Scotty McCreery's amalgamation of Kenny Chesney's "I Go Back" and "Boys of Fall," which even borrows words from each hit song to create something attempting to be new. It's not new. »»»
17th Avenue Revival CD review - 17th Avenue Revival
With a group history that spans over 50 years, gospel and country music mainstays The Oak Ridge Boys are at a place when they could conceivably rest on their laurels, release a few greatest hits records and coast the rest of the way through their careers, and fans would still be pleased. »»»
Right or Wrong CD review - Right or Wrong

Dave Adkins stepped to the plate and swung for the fences. His monster swing found the sweet spot and delivered a game-winning home run. "Right or Wrong" is filled with hot picking, great vocal presentations and a risk or two that absolutely pay off. If Adkins was trying to outshine previous releases, he may have done so.  »»»

Staggered CD review - Staggered
East Nashville may be known as "the" Americana hotbed these days, but some of the talent there is very much verging on rock 'n roll. This is the case with Lynn Taylor & the BarFlies on their third release, a collection of personal tunes by the front man. »»»
Live at Club 47 CD review - Live at Club 47
When Doc Watson passed away in 2012 at the age of 89, his legacy as one of the most treasured and iconic figures of American country and folk music was embodied in nearly five decades worth of highly regarded recordings, both live and in the studio, and for many up and coming musicians... »»»
Here's to You CD review - Here's to You
It's impossible to listen to Montgomery Gentry's "Here's to You," without also feeling sad that it's the last studio album featuring Troy Gentry, who died in a helicopter crash. When they sing, "Here's to the on... »»»