MERLE HAGGARD > Legends of American Music: Merle Haggard-The Original Outlaw

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Merle Haggard’s bio is even more tragic-comic than the character profiles he writes and sings. Merle’s dad died when he was 9, he spent a sizable chunk of his early life in prison (including a famous stint at San Quentin for attempting to rob a restaurant while drunk), and he eventually found salvation in country music.Label: TIME LIFE
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Merle Haggard’s bio is even more tragic-comic than the character profiles he writes and sings. Merle’s dad died when he was 9, he spent a sizable chunk of his early life in prison (including a famous stint at San Quentin for attempting to rob a restaurant while drunk), and he eventually found salvation in country music.

But Haggard has always been more determined than the down-on-their-luck folks who populate his songs. More often than not, they shrug off their troubles, settling for another beer when things turn bad. Haggard pushes on. Years after it seemed like he’d never re-ignite his early-70s spark, 2000’s terrific If I Could Only Fly found the 63-year-old singer and songwriter ruminating on everything from getting old to his one time coke habit.

That album’s key track, “Wishing All These Old Things Were Knew,” anchors the third and final disc of Legends of American Music: Merle Haggard-The Original Outlaw, a 60-song overview of Haggard’s long and storied career. The set pulls together the best material from more than 75 albums that span 45 years.

Haggard’s trademark swagger and sway developed early. Hits like “The Fugitive,” “Swinging Doors,” and “The Bottle Let Me Down” established Haggard as a no-bullshit Nashville outsider (he was born in Bakersfield, California). By the late ’60s, he was taking on the death penalty (“Sing Me Back Home”), family expectations (“Mama Tried”), and flag-burning hippies (“Okie from Muskogee”). Even later cuts-like the 1983 chart-topping cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty,” a duet with Willie Nelson-resonate with a sense of realness. They should-these songs are pretty much Haggard’s life.


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