Merle Haggard (born April 6, 1937) is an American country and rock musician, as well as a multi-instrumentalist. He and his band the Strangers are known as the creators of the Bakersfield Sound, a form of country that originated around Bakersfield, California in the 1950s. Some of his biggest hits include "Okie from Muskogee," "The Fightin Side of Me," and "Carolyn."
Haggard was born in Oildale, California and lived in a converted boxcar for the early part of his childhood. His father died when he was just eight years old, hugely affecting his life and music. Haggard got his first guitar when he was twelve years old and was influenced by the records he had at home, including Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, and Bob Wills.
Haggard's mother put him in a juvenile detention center after he began to regularly commit small crimes, mostly petty theft. Once he was out, he continued to commit small crimes, and eventually landed in high-security Preston School of Industry for 15 months.
The moment he decided to make a career out of music came when he and his friend, Bob Teague, attended a Lefty Frizzell concert. They made their way backstage and sang a few songs to Frizzell, delighting him. Frizzell insisted that he wouldn't go on until the boys were allowed to sing a song to the audience, so they were. The positive response from the audience sparked Haggard's career.
Haggard married Leona Hobbs in 1956.Even in the midst of some professional success, he faced financial difficulties and turned to robbery. This eventually got him thrown back in jail at San Quentin prison, sentenced to a 15 year term for attempting to rob a restaurant. After his sentence was reduced to five years, he eventually got out and moved back in with is with Leona. He started playing music at bars again and got the attention of Fuzzy Owen, who went on to be the first to record Haggard with "Skid Row."
In 1972, then-governor Ronald Reagan pardoned Haggard's criminal record. Haggard grew to be part of the Bakersfield country movement, a sound which was at odds with the wildly popular Nashville sound. Bakersfield country came from more of a Honky Tonk background, and included more electric elements. By 1966, Haggard had the Top Ten hits "Swinging Doors," "The Bottle Let Me Down," (which climbed to number three) and "The Fugitive."
In 1969, Haggard released "Hungry Eyes," "Workin' Man Blues," and "Okie from Muskogee," the latter receiving the most attention for its political themes. It was an attack on the liberal hippie movement that was popular during the 1960s.
Haggard remained on the tops of the charts until 1985. He was inducted into the Country Hall of Fame in 1994.
Haggard has been politically outspoken in the last two decades. He defended the Dixie Chicks when they were berated for their attacks on President Bush in 2003. His music has continued to be riddled with social and political commentary.
- Birthday Date: Sunday, 06 April 2014