Merle Haggard was a famous country singer who won many awards. He released many albums throughout his singing career. Before he became famous, he was an ordinary young man with a troubled childhood. His ability to turn his life around for the better is admirable. His life story inspires people of all ages to decide to transform their lives through behaviour modification.
Merle Haggard was born on the 6th of April 1937 in Oildale, California, United States of America. His Zodiac sign was Aries, and his nationality was American. Despite having a rough start in life, he transformed his behaviour and became one of the top country songwriters, singers, fiddlers, and guitarists in the country. Merle Haggard died on the 6th of April 2016 at the age of 79 years. He took his last breath in Palo Cedro, California, United States of America.
- Name: Merle Ronald Haggard (commonly known as Merle Haggard)
- Nicknames: The Hag, Okie From Muskogee, The Poet of the Common Man, Hag, Mighty Merle
- Date of birth: 6th of April 1937
- Place of birth: Oildale, California, United States of America
- Date of death: 6th of April 2016
- Age at death: 79 years.
- Place of death: Palo Cedro, California, United States of America
- Zodiac sign: Aries
- Nationality: American
- Ancestry: Scottish
- Father: James Francis Haggard
- Mother: Flossie Mae Harp
- Siblings: Lilian & Lowell Haggard
- Spouses: Leona Hobbs (1956- 1964), Bonnie Owens (1968- 1978), Leona Williams (1978- 1984), Debbie Parret (1985- 1991), Theresa Ann Lane (1993- 2016)
- Children: Dana, Marty, Kelli & Noel (with Leona Hobbs), Jenessa & Ben (with Theresa Ann Lane)
- Profession: Songwriter, singer, fiddler, guitarist
Merle Haggard early life
The musician was given the name Merle Ronald Haggard at birth. His father's name was James Francis Haggard, while his mother's name was Flossie Mae Harp. Both his parents were of Scottish ancestry. The family had relocated from Checotah, Oklahoma to California following the torching down of their barn in 1934. The fire occurred during the Great Depression.
In California, James secured a job at the Santa Fe Railroad. He remodelled an old car into a house, where the country music icon was born. The musician had two older siblings, Lilian and Lowell. In 1945, James died after suffering from a brain haemorrhage. The musician, who was only 9-years-old at the time, was disturbed and deeply affected by the sudden loss of his father.
Following the demise of her husband, Flossie Mae became the family's breadwinner. She got employed as a bookkeeper to sustain her family. When her last child was 12 years old, he received an old guitar from his older brother, Lowell. Mighty Merle learned how to play the instrument by himself.
Since his mother was almost always away from home, Merle's behaviour became uncontrollable. He became rebellious and indisciplined, so Flossie took him to a detention centre for children as a form of punishment. Instead of changing his behaviour as Flossie thought he would, Merle became even more rebellious.
The musician's teenage and early adulthood years were troubled. He was involved in numerous minor offenses. These included writing fraudulent cheques and stealing. In 1950, he was caught shoplifting and was sent to a detention centre for children. When he was 14 years old, he teamed up with his friend, Bob Teague, and the duo fled to Texas. The two young boys scampered around the state by hitchhiking and riding freight trains.
After the Texas trip, both him and Bob got arrested for theft but were later released and sent to a juvenile custody centre. They escaped again and went to Modesto, California. The musician took up labourer jobs in Modesto to sustain himself. He then made his debut performance as a singer when he performed at a Modesto-based bar, Fun Centre, for a payment of $5 and one free beer. He did his first performance alongside his friend, Bob.
In 1951, he moved to Bakersfield where he was arrested for petty theft and truancy. Similar to the previous times, he was sent to a juvenile detention centre, but he escaped. He was later sent to Preston School of Industry where there was heavier security. He was released from this institution after 15 months, but was sent back again after making a theft attempt and physically abusing a local boy.
Lefty Frizzell was one of the people who influenced and motivated Merle to pursue music as a career. Frizzell had once heard Haggard singing backstage during one of his shows and loved the young man's voice. To encourage the budding star, Frizzell refused to sing unless young Merle was given a chance to sing first. This honour from Frizzell encouraged him to sing more. At the time, he worked in oil fields or farms to earn a living before playing in nightclubs.
By 1957, the singer was married. He tried to steal from a Bakersfield roadhouse because of financial challenges. Unfortunately, he was arrested and imprisoned at the Bakersfield Jail. He tried to escape, but he was caught and transferred to San Quentin Prison. While he was in jail, he received news that his wife was pregnant for another man. The news devastated him. He plotted to escape from San Quentin Prison, but his fellow inmates stopped him.
The psychological trauma caused by the news of his wife's pregnancy pushed him into a self-destructing path. He became a prison gambler and started brewing beer with his then cellmate. Prison officials caught him in a drunken stupor and placed him under solitary confinement for a week.
While he was under solitary confinement, he met Caryl Chessman, who was a death-row inmate. Rabbit, a fellow inmate who was previously his close friend, was facing execution for shooting a police officer. After observing and thinking hard about Chessman's and Rabbit's situations, he decided to change his ways.
The musician enrolled in the prison school from where he got an equivalent of the regular high school diploma. He then secured a job at the textile plant in prison and joined the country music band.
In 1960, he was released from the correctional institution on parole. Former governor, Johnny Cash, later granted him an unconditional pardon for his past criminal offenses in 1972. At the time, he was a reputable country music singer.
After his release from prison, he became a labourer at Lowell's electrical company. He dug trenches. He also started performing again and secured a recording contract with Tally Records. Soon after signing the contract, he started releasing records and thereafter, albums.
His debut record was Singing My Heart Out. It was not as successful as he imagined it would be. In 1962, he recorded Sing a Sad Song, a single that he had heard at Wynn Stewart's show. The song became a mega-hit. He then worked with Liz Anderson in the song, (My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers. This was the record that gave him the much-awaited breakthrough in the country music industry.
In the 1960s, the musician released several albums. In all, except the first, he collaborated with The Strangers. The Strangers was the name of his band. The music albums that he released were;
- Strangers (1965): This was his debut album as a country music singer. It was recorded by Capitol/ EMI Records/ EMI Music Distribution.
- Just Between the Two of Us (1966): He worked alongside The Strangers and Bonnie Owens.
- Swinging Doors and The Bottle Let Me Down (1966): He worked with the label, eOne/ Koch.
- Branded Man (1967): Capitol/ EMI Records produced it.
- I'm a Lonesome Fugitive (1967): He worked with Capitol/ EMI Records for this album.
- Mama Tried (1968): Capitol/ EMI Records produced it.
- Sing Me Back Home (1968): He worked with the record label, Koch.
- The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde (1968): Capitol Records produced this collection of songs.
- Killers Three (1968): Tower produced it.
- Okie from Muskogee (1969): Capitol/ EMI Records produced this album.
- Instrumental Sounds of Merle Haggard's Strangers (1969): Capitol produced this song.
- A Portrait of Merle Haggard (1969): Capitol also produced the album.
- Same Train, A Different Time (1969): Koch produced this album.
The albums that he released from 1970 to 1979 were;
- A Tribute to the Best D*mn Fiddle Player in the World(1970): This was his tribute to Bob Wills.
- Hag (1970)
- Someday We'll Look Back (1971)
- Let Me Tell You About a Song (1972)
- It's Not Love (But It's Not Bad) (1972)
- Merle Haggard's Christmas Present (Something Old, Something New) (1973)
- If We Make It Through December (1974)
- Merle Haggard Presents His 30th Album (1974)
- Keep Movin' On (1975)
- It's All in the Movies (1976)
- My Love Affair with Trains (1976)
- The Roots of My Raising (1976)
- Ramblin' Fever (1977)
- A Working Man Can't Get Nowhere Today (1977)
- My Farewell to Elvis (1977)
- I'm Always on a Mountain When I Fall (1978)
- Serving 190 Proof (1979)
The albums that he released from 1980 to 1989 were;
- Back to the Barrooms (1980)
- The Way I Am (1980)
- Big City (1981)
- Songs for the Mama That Tried (1981)
- Going Where the Lonely Go (1982)
- A Taste of Yesterday's Wine (1982): He sang alongside George Jones.
- Goin' Home for Christmas (1982)
- Heart to Heart (1983): He collaborated with Leona Williams on this project.
- Pancho & Lefty (1983): He also worked with Willie Nelson on this album.
- That's the Way Love Goes (1983)
- It's All in the Game (1984)
- Kern River (1985)
- Out Among the Stars (1986)
- A Friend in California (1986)
- Chill Factor (1987)
- Seashores of Old Mexico (1987): He collaborated with Willie Nelson.
- 5:01 Blues (1989)
The albums that he released from 1990 to 1999 were;
- Blue Jungle (released in 1990)
- 1994 (released in 1994)
- 1996 (released in 1996)
- Two Old Friends (1999): He collaborated with Albert Brumley, Jr.
2000 to 2016
The albums that he released from 2000 to 2016 were;
- If I Could Only Fly (2000)
- Roots, Volume 1 (2001)
- Cabin in the Hills (2001)
- The Peer Sessions (2002)
- Like Never Before (2003)
- I Wish I Was Santa Claus (2004)
- Unforgettable (2004)
- Chicago Wind (2005)
- Kickin' Out the Footlights...Again (2006): He collaborated with George Jones.
- The Bluegrass Sessions (2007): McCoury Music produced it.
- Last of the Breed (2007): He collaborated with Ray Prince and Willie Nelson.
- I Am What I Am (2010): Vanguard produced it.
- Working in Tennessee (2011)
- Django and Jimmie: This was his second last album which was released in 2015. Legacy, a record label produced it. It was a collaborative project with Willie Nelson.
- Timeless (2015): He worked with Mac Wiseman on this project.
Similar to many other music stars, Mighty Merle collaborated with other artists throughout his career. In the 1960s, he did several duets with Bonnie Owens. He also worked closely with Bob Wills, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Chester Smith, Gretchen Wilson, Blaine Larsen, Don Henley, Willie Nelson, among others.
Merle Haggard greatest hits
There are numerous Merle Haggard songs for fans to listen to and enjoy. The inspiration for each song varied depending on what the artist was experiencing in his life at the time. Some of the songs performed better than others. Some of those that are considered to be his greatest hits, and their year of release are;
- I'm A Lonesome Fugitive (1966)
- Branded Man (1967)
- The Legend Of Bonnie And Clyde (1968)
- Hungry Eyes (1969)
- Okie From Muskogee (1969)
- The Fightin' Side of Me (1970)
- Carolyn (1971)
- Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man) (1971)
- I Wonder if They Ever Think of Me (1972)
- Grandma Harp (1972)
- Everybody's Had The Blues (1973)
- Kentucky Gambler (1974)
- Things Aren't Funny Anymore (1974)
- Movin' On (1975)
- The Roots Of My Raising (1975)
- It's All In The Movies (1975)
- Cherokee Maiden (1976)
- I Think I'll Just Stay Here And Drink (1980)
- Big City (1981)
- My Favorite Memory (1981)
- Yesterday's Wine (1982)
- You Take Me For Granted (1982)
- That's The Way Love Goes (1983)
- Pancho And Lefty (1983)
- Someday When Things Are Good (1984)
- A Place to Fall Apart (1984)
- Let's Chase Each Other Around The Room (1984)
- Natural High (1984)
- Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Star (1987)
Although the musician was not a professional actor, he once featured in the episode, The Comeback, in the television show, The Waltons. He portrayed the character of a local musician named Red Turner. Red was depressed and withdrawn following the demise of his son.
Awards and honours
In his career, the musician received numerous awards and honours. Some of these were;
- In 1970, the Country Music Association named him the Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year. His song, Okie From Muskogee, also won the Single, Album of the Year award.
- In 1977, he was inducted to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in Nashville.
- In 1985, he won the award of Best Male Country Vocal Performance for his song, That's The Way Love Goes.
- In 1994, he was honoured via induction to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
- In 1991, Mama Tried entered the Grammy Hall of Fame.
- In 2006, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (BMI Icon).
- In 2010, he received the Kennedy Center Honors.
- In mid-2013, he received an honourary degree from California State University, Bakersfield.
Merle Haggard spouse
The country music star got married five times in his life and got divorced four times. His first wife was Leona Hobbs. The marriage lasted from 1956 until 1964 during which the couple was blessed with four children. Merle Haggard children with Leona were Marty, Dana, Noel, and Kelli.
A short while after divorcing Leona, the singer married fellow singer Bonnie Owens. According to the musician, Bonnie was the person who helped him to make his big breakthrough in the music industry. The two wrote songs together. In one of his songs, Today I Started Loving You Again, he expressed his profound romantic feelings for Bonnie.
Bonnie was special to Merle because, in addition to singing with him, she assisted him in raising the four children he had with his first wife. The relationship between the two remained cordial and friendly even after getting divorced in 1978. Bonnie, his second wife, was the maid of honour at this third wedding. The two musicians were good friends until the demise of Bonnie in 2006.
In 1978, the country musician married his third wife, Leona Williams. He and Williams got divorced in 1984. One year later, he married his fourth wife, Debbie Parret, but the two annulled their marriage in 1991. Afterward, he married his fifth spouse, Theresa Ann Lane. The lovebirds exchanged their vows on the 11th of September 1993. They bore two children, Ben and Jenessa. They were together until the country music singer died.
One of Merle Haggard sons, Marty, is a country musician like his father. So far, he has released six studio albums. In 2010, he honoured his father by releasing the album, A Tribute to Merle Haggard, My Dad. The following year, he released A Tribute to Merle Haggard, My Dad, Volume Two.
Struggle with substance abuse
When the musician was 41 years old, he began smoking MJ. In 1983, he purchased a stash of coke and partied five months nonstop. Over time, he realized that he was on a downward spiral and decided to stop using substances. He quit smoking MJ in 1995 and cigarettes in 1991. In 2009, however, he admitted that he had been smoking pot again.
Merle Haggard death
Is Merle Haggard still alive? No, he is not. He passed away on his birthday in 2016. Before his death, he struggled with poor health. In 1995, he underwent an angioplasty procedure to clear his clogged arteries. In early November 2008, an announcement that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer was made. A few days earlier, he had undergone a surgical procedure to remove part of the infected lung.
The country musician then went on with his normal life and even made several music tours. In December 2015, he was diagnosed with pneumonia and got treated in California. Sadly, he was hospitalized again in March 2016. He had to cancel his scheduled tours to seek medical attention.
The pneumonia-related complications worsened, leading to his demise.
When did Merle Haggard die? The music icon passed away on the morning of the 6th of April 2016 on his 79th birthday at his home in Palo Cedro, California. His exact time of demise was 9:20 AM. His body was interred at his ranch on the 9th of April 2016 in an intimate ceremony.
Merle Haggard net worth
Throughout his music career, Haggard experienced a massive transformation in his financial status. He was no longer the young man who committed crimes such as theft to make ends meet. Most of his music albums performed well and earned him substantial amounts of money in sales and revenues. At the time of his death, he had an estimated net worth of $40 million.
Merle Haggard was a country music icon. Initially, he was a young rebel who was arrested and jailed for small offenses. However, his ugly past did not deter him from becoming a great singer who was recognised and honoured globally. He released hundreds of songs before his demise. Unfortunately, he died on his 79th birthday, but his legacy in the country music industry will always live.