Merle Haggard is one of the biggest icons in the history of country music and was recently named by today’s biggest country stars as the number one artist of all-time in CMT’s All-Time Top 40 in 2014. He’s had 38 number one country songs over his half century in the recording industry, but there’s some facts about him that even the biggest country music fans might not be familiar with.
Here are five …
1. Born in a Boxcar
Merle Haggard has perhaps lived the countriest life of anybody in the history of the country music genre, especially in his younger days. Among the particularly “country” things in Haggard’s lifetime is the fact that he was actually born in a real boxcar. His parents moved from Oklahoma during the dust bowl of the 1930’s for a better life in Bakersfield, Calif. Merle’s father, James, worked for the Santa Fe Railroad and took to converting an old boxcar sitting on a piece of land just outside of Bakersfield into a home for his family that was about to grow with the addition of another. Merle was born in that boxcar on April 6, 1937 and would spend a good chunk of his childhood living there.
2. Saw Johnny Cash While an Inmate at San Quentin
It’s pretty common knowledge that Merle Haggard served hard time at San Quentin Prison in California in the late 1950’s for robbery and escaping from other jails and prisons, making him one of the few country singers to sing about prison life who actually lived that life. What many might not realize is San Quentin played a huge role in Haggard eventually becoming a music superstar when he saw Johnny Cash perform one of his prison concerts on New Year’s Day in 1958, when Haggard was 20 years old. Haggard served two years of a 15 year sentence before being released in 1960. Cash’s performance made him want to pursue his music passion and got his life straight. Within three years he’d record his first top 20 country single.
3. Pardoned by Ronald Reagan
Sometimes super-stardom has its perks, which Merle Haggard no doubt found out in 1972 when he was pardoned for all of his past crimes by then-California Governor and future President of the United States Ronald Reagan just 12 years after his release from San Quentin. Haggard had tried for years to get a pardon, but the appeals process was lengthy and he hadn’t had success. He’d say years later the pardon came as a shock to him and he didn’t expect it to happen. He told CMT.com: “He didn’t have to do it at all. He could have just snubbed his nose and went on to lunch.” Haggard would perform for Reagan 10 years after receiving the pardon when Reagan had become President. Haggard said during his concert: “I hope the President will be as pleased with my performance today as I was with his pardon 10 years ago.”
4. Had a number one Duet with Clint Eastwood
Merle Haggard has had a few duet partners over his recording career, but none more unusual than award-winning actor Clint Eastwood. Eastwood directed and starred in a movie called “Bronco Billy” in 1980 for which he and Haggard recorded a duet called “Bar Room Buddies” for the soundtrack. Haggard would also appear as himself in the film. It was a fun little drinking/buddy song featuring Haggard doing his usual thing, but the vocals from Eastwood are proof that he chose the right career. Surprisingly the song went all the way to number one on the Billboard country chart in the summer of 1980, becoming Haggard’s milestone 25th career number one.
5. Can personally impersonate several other iconic country stars
Merle Haggard is one of the most serious performers in the history of country music. He’s also got a great sense of humor though, that is rarely seem among the public. One of the few times his playful side has ever come across on television was during an appearance on Glen Campbell’s variety television series in Haggard’s heyday of the 1960’s when Haggard broke out his many impressions of fellow country stars. Campbell said they were “the best country music impressions I’ve ever heard” and he was probably right. Haggard does perfect impressions of Marty Robbins, Hank Snow, Buck Owens and Johnny Cash. The impressions are spot on not only because Haggard is able to perfectly mimic each artist’s voice, but also their playing styles and facial expressions. Things get really fun when he impersonates Owens and Cash and they walk up behind him unbeknownst to him. It’s truly a must-see video.
Julian Spivey axs.com
Please share this with your friends and also pray for Merle as he is not well at this time.