Today, we remember Merle Haggard: today marks two year since he died on his 79th birthday at his home in California due to complications from pneumonia.
His fantastic discography, spanning over six decades, includes many of country music’s greatest hits. Writing many from the perspective of the working class people, Haggard’s music resonated so easily with those going through tough times.
With 38 #1 country hits under his belt, Haggard started playing guitar at age 11, two years after the death of his father. Turning to music to escape his school and criminal troubles, it was a run-in with country star Lefty Frizzell that really catapulted his love for performing. Haggard snuck his way backstage and sang one of Frizzell’s song to him. Lefty insisted Merle hit the stage before him, and Haggard fell in love with being in front of a crowd.
It wasn’t smooth sailing–Haggard was sentenced to five years in prison after attempting to rob a cafe with a friend. Johnny Cash visited the prison to perform, and that pushed Haggard to pursue music full-time when he was released early in 1960.
Haggard signed to Tally Records in 1963 and had a nationwide hit on his hands with “Sing a Sad Song,” which caught the eyes of executives at Capitol Records. He followed up with a string of number-one hits: 1966’s “I Am a Lonesome Fugitive,” 1967’s “Branded Man,” 1968’s “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde” and 1968’s “Sing Me Back Home.”
With 47 studio albums under his belt, plus another 8 live albums and 23 compilation albums, Haggard has continually output endless amounts of music. His most recent release is the 2015 collaboration album with Wilie Nelson, Django & Jimmie.
On December 5, 2015, Haggard was treated for pneumonia, postponing several concerts. He was again hospitalized in March before the illness took its toll on him earlier today.
Rest in peace, Merle. Your music will live on forever.
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