Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Happy Birthday Merle!
Country music legend Merle Haggard turns 73 today.
Merle was born in Bakersfield, California. His parents had moved from Oklahoma to California during the Great Depression. At that time, much of the population of Bakersfield consisted of economic refugees from Oklahoma and surrounding states.
By his twenty-first birthday Merle had run away regularly from home, been placed in two separate reform schools (from which he in turn escaped a half-dozen times), worked as a laborer, played guitar and sung informally, begun a family, and performed sporadically at southern California clubs and, for three weeks, on the Smilin’ Jack Tyree Radio Show in Springfield, Missouri. He also spent time in local jails for theft and bad checks.
Haggard's criminal career culminated in 1957 when, drunk and confused, he was caught burglarizing a Bakersfield roadhouse. After an attempted escape from county jail, he was sent to San Quentin. There, in a final burst of antisocial activity, he got drunk on prison home brew, landing himself briefly in solitary confinement.
While incarcerated, Haggard attended three of Johnny Cash's concerts at San Quentin. Seeing Cash perform encouraged Haggard to straighten up and pursue his singing. Several years later, at another Cash concert, Haggard came up to Johnny and told him "I certainly enjoyed your show at San Quentin." Cash said "Merle, I don't remember you bein' in that show." Merle replied, "Johnny, I wasn't in that show, I was in the audience."
Merle's guitar work and voice gives his country a hard edged, blues like style in many cuts.
Along with Buck Owens, Haggard and his band The Strangers helped create the Bakersfield Sound, which is characterized by the unique twang of Fender Telecaster guitars, vocal harmonies, and a rough edge not heard on the more polished Nashville Sound recordings of the same era.
Merle Haggard has been outspoken in his dislike for modern country music.