Country music great Merle Haggard, 79, has died after having been in poor health recently. He had a 50-year in country music, with some 40 top 1 hits.
Born to Oklahoma migrants James and Flossie Haggard on Apr. 6, 1937 in Bakersfield, California, Merle Ronald Haggard was the youngest of three children. The Haggard family lived in a converted railroad car in Oildale, Cali.
After his father died of a stroke in 1946, Merle started getting into trouble. At the age of 10, he hopped his first train with a friend, and made it to Fresno before he got caught. The rebellious young man spent time in juvenile facilities and reform schools over the next several years, but he also fell in love with music, and began learning to play guitar. He was captivated by country artists like Lefty Frizzell, Western Swing pioneer Bob Wills, and “America’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Band”: The Maddox Brothers and Rose.
When Mr. Haggard was 21, he was sent to San Quentin State Prison following a burglary attempt. While imprisoned, he saw country star Johnny Cash perform for the inmates, played in the prison band, and worked in the San Quentin textile mill. Upon his 1960 release, Mr. Haggard—who was by then married to his first wife, Leona Hobbs, with whom he’d have four children—was determined to turn his life around.
He certainly did turn his life around.
His quintessential hit, "Okie From Muskogee":