Just days after announcing a string of tour cancelations in the month of April do a recurring bout of pneumonia, Merle Haggard passed away on his 79th birthday.
Merle was one of the biggest icons in country music history, beginning his career in the 1960s and writing/recording over 700 songs. Along with Buck Owens, Haggard helped pioneer a new twangy sound in country music that was fueled by his rebel spirit, harnessed during a stint in San Quentin prison, inspiration for his number one hit, “Mama Tried.”
Throughout the 1960s, Haggard was the face of the pro-troops, anti-hippie culture, penning such hits as “Okie From Muskogee” and “Fightin’ Side Of Me.”
Things began to shift when he teamed up with Willie Nelson and created “Pancho and Lefty” which began a nationwide sensation. The paring also began to shift Haggard’s worldview, but he kept true to his great country sound.
Back in 2008, Haggard had a lung surgery following a cancer diagnosis. It was a process, riddled with a misdiagnosis that made him believe he only had a short time to live.
When it turned out not to be the case, Haggard resumed his active touring and performing lifestyle until the pneumonia in both his lungs took his life on Wednesday.
Haddard will forever be known as one of the greatest country artists ever, inventing a style that generations of artists attempted to recreate. When interviewed by NPR back in 2010, he reflected on his outlaw past this way:
On Turning His Life Around
“While I was in San Quentin, I one day saw the light. I didn’t want to do that no more. I realized what a mess I made out of my life, and I got out of there and stayed out of there. Never did go back. And went and apologized to all of the people I wronged and taken money from. I think when I was 31 years old, I paid everyone back, including my mother.”
On Changing His Reputation In Prison
“I went back down on the yard and asked for the roughest job in the penitentiary, which was a textile mill, and went down and started building my reputation. Started running in reverse from what I’d been doing and started trying to build up a long line of good things to be proud of, and that’s what I’ve been doing since then.”
What’s your favorite Merle Haggard song? Sound off in the comments below!