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Music / Merle Haggard

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Merle Ronald Haggard (April 6, 1937 - April 6, 2016) was a Country Music artist. One of the only country musicians from California, he helped pioneer what came to be known as the "Bakersfield sound" and was influential in the "outlaw" sound as well.

Haggard was quite the badass early on in his life, including stints in PSI and San Quentin Prison. After working some time with Lefty Frizzell, he actively pursued a music career in the mid-1960s after cleaning up his life. A modest Top 20 hit, "Sing a Sad Song" on the Tally label, brought him to the mainstream for the first time, but it wasn't until he joined Capitol Records' roster in 1965 that the hits started coming. Working with his band, the Strangers, he would chart thirty-eight Number One hits and several more Top Tens throughout his career. Awards aplenty came from the Country Music Association and Grammys, as well as a Grammy lifetime achievement award in 2006 and induction into the country music Hall of Fame. He even got pardoned by then-California governor Ronald Reagan in 1972. Starting in the late 1970s, he switched to MCA Records, and then to Epic Records by 1981 and Curb in the early 1990s. Although he never hit the Top 10 again after 1989, he never gave up on recording.


Haggard's sons, Noel and Marty, also had minor success as recording artists.

Haggard passed away on his 79th birthday while recovering from pneumonia.

Tropes present in his work:

  • Answer Song: A rather bizarre example not from The Hag himself but directed at him. Apparently, "Grandma's Homemade Christmas Card," an overly-sentimental filler track from his Christmas album, inspired Randy Brooks to write the Black Comedy classic "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer." Yes, really.
  • Anti-Christmas Song: Of a sort. "If We Make It Through December" (1973) has a laid-off factory worker explaining to his daughter that "Daddy can't afford no Christmas here". It's one of his most fondly regarded songs.
  • Band of Relatives: "Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man)", about a traveling band with parents and children performing together, with the Inspirationally Disadvantaged twist of the father being blind and his wife being deaf.
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  • Childhood Home Rediscovery: "The Roots of My Raising" is a young singer's first-person reflection of his childhood home and hometown, which he is visiting for the first time after several years away. In addition to seeing his father asleep in an easy chair and holding a photo of his wife (the singer's mother), he also rediscovers the old one-room schoolhouse he attended as a child, and the bank where people were able to take out loans simply on a verbal promise of repayment.
  • Dead Sparks: "Just Between the Two of Us"
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing:invoked "Okie From Muskogee" lists a bunch of things that good clean-cut folks don't do.
    We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee... we don't take our trips on LSD... we don't make a party out of lovin'...
  • Drowning My Sorrows: "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink" couldn't possibly fit the bill any better. It's strangely upbeat, however. "Misery and Gin" plays it perfectly straight.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Both his cover of Tommy Collins' "Go Home" and his own "Irma Jackson" denounce prejudice against interracial relationships. He was originally planning to release the latter as his next single after "Okie from Muskogee", but Executive Meddling nixed the idea. The song was eventually released in 1972.
  • Maybe Ever After: "If We're Not Back in Love by Monday"
  • Never Live It Down:invoked In-work example with "Branded Man." A case can also be made for "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive."
  • Nice Hat: Merle actually didn't wear a cowboy hat much until later in his career.
  • One-Man Song: "Leonard", a tribute to Haggard's fellow Bakersfield singer-songwriter and friend Tommy Collins, who was born Leonard Sipes.
  • One-Woman Song: "Mary's Mine", "Irma Jackson", "Carolyn"
  • Protest Song: "Okie from Muskogee," wherein he laments the hippie generation. The song was frequently misinterpreted across the American political spectrum, as it is a satirical composition expressing the views of a segment of the populace with whom Haggard seems to have somewhat, but not completely, agreed; the song seems to have been more intended as a lament that such people were unilaterally dismissed as reactionaries and "squares" than a complete endorsement of their views. (That said, Haggard gave conflicting statements about what he intended the song to mean, so it is difficult to know for sure how he intended it). Haggard later strongly distanced himself from the song, saying he "must have been dumber than a rock when [he] wrote it" both in concerts and in interviews. Despite this, he continued performing it to the end of his life. Interestingly, the song also became popular enough among the counterculture that Arlo Guthrie, Phil Ochs, The Beach Boys, and The Grateful Dead were known to perform it.
    • "The Fightin' Side of Me" pretty much inverts this trope, warning against protesting America's involvement in wars. As with "Okie", Hag later denounced the positions he expressed in the song, but continued performing it to the end of his life.
    • "Rainbow Stew" can be interpreted as one but, like many of his songs, is accessible to several interpretations. The song, if read at face value, contains protests against environmental degradation, war, and government corruption, amongst other things. One other possible interpretation is that Hag is challenging the idea that a utopia is possible, while nevertheless hoping that one will arise. However, there are several other possible interpretations as well.
    • For a couple of completely straight examples, see Maligned Mixed Marriage above. "If We Make It Through December" has elements of this as well; see Anti-Christmas Song above.
  • Shout-Out: The song "No Show Jones" from his all duet album with George Jones is basically a series of these to (in order of appearance) Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Haggard himself, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers, and Tammy Wynette.
  • Something Blues: "Workin' Man Blues".
  • "Somewhere" Song: "California Cottonfields".
  • Son of a Whore: "Son of Hickory Holler's Tramp".
  • The Stoner: "It's All Going to Pot".
  • There Are Two Kinds of People in the World: Most of "My Own Kind of Hat" is this.
  • Three Chords and the Truth: Like many of the artists of his generation, the Hag was known for his simple, raw songwriting and production and no-frills concerts. His son Ben, who played guitar for The Strangers in the last years of Haggard's life, once told his father he should speak to the audience in between songs, and Merle responded "Why? They came to hear me sing, not talk."
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: "Mama Tried." Haggard's father really did die young and Haggard really was a rebellious child who grew up to commit several crimes. But the resemblance ends there; the narrator "turned 21 in prison doing life without parole," which obviously didn't happen to Haggard, although he did spend a few years in jail.
  • Wanderlust Song: "The Fugitive" (or "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive"), "Ramblin' Fever", "White Line Fever"
  • Word Salad Lyrics: "We'll all be drinkin' that free Bubble Up and eatin' that rainbow stew" from "Rainbow Stew."note 
  • Working with the Ex: Merle was married to singer Bonnie Owens from 1965 to 1978; but even after the divorce, she continued to tour occasionally as part of his band.