One of the days the music died was when they stopped playing Merle Haggard on country radio. He turns 68 today, and he can still sing better than any of the hat acts out there. I stole the stuff below from today's Writer's Almanac.
It's the birthday of country songwriter and singer Merle Haggard, born in Bakersfield, California (1937). His parents were dustbowl migrants from Oklahoma, and Haggard grew up in a house that had been converted from a railroad boxcar by his father. He grew up poor and restless, in and out of reform schools, and by the time he was fourteen he was hopping trains and hitchhiking around the West Coast. He supported himself as a migrant farm worker, but he also stole cars, wrote bad checks and became a petty thief.
He eventually got caught trying to burglarize a roadhouse and he spent twenty-seven months in San Quentin prison. He decided that he didn't ever want to go to prison again and became a model prisoner. He also joined the prison's country-music band. Before he was released, Haggard got to see Johnny Cash perform in concert for the prisoners. Haggard even got to meet Cash, and the experience persuaded him to pursue country music as a career.
The first song he wrote, while he was still on parole, was "Branded Man" about the life of an ex-con. He began recording with a friend who ran a record company out of his garage. His first single sold only 200 copies, but within a few years, his song "All My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers" became a top-ten hit on the country charts.
Today, Haggard has released more than six hundred songs, thirty-eight of which were number-one hits.