Thursday, April 06, 2006

Happy Birthday, Merle Haggard!

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.


Anonymous said...

I don't generally like Merle's work with the amazing exception of his recording of Jimmy Rogers' train songs - Same Train, Another Time or something like that. That was almost spiritual as he worshipped at the altar of the Father of Country Music

Anonymous said...

OK - so it's called Same Train, Different Time and Jimmy Rodgers. Sentiment remains the same.

Unknown said...

I have the double LP of that one. Bought it back around 1970 or '71. Great stuff.

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Thanks for the reminder that it's Merle's natal anniversary, Bill.

Rememmber--any station that does not play Merle Haggard or Johnny Cash records is not a country music station.

Unknown said...

You got a point there, Ivan.

Anonymous said...

And who could forget:

And I turned twenty-one in prison doing life without parole.
No-one could steer me right but Mama tried, Mama tried.
Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading, I denied.
That leaves only me to blame 'cos Mama tried.