Merle Haggard

Induction Year: 1977

Birth Name: Merle Ronald Haggard

Birth Date: 04-06-1937

Place of Birth: Bakersfield, California

Death Date: 04-06-2016

Place of Death: Palo Cedro, California

Merle Haggard often gets name-checked in contemporary country songs. It's a quick way to tip a hat to tradition and to add some honky-tonk credibility. Haggard's 40-plus #1 hits and place in country's Mount Rushmore aside, his name personifies the hard life that was once synonymous with the genre.

Jail time, multiple divorces, dust-ups with fellow musicians, drinking and drug problems — Haggard's lived it all and spun his misfortunes into some of the greatest songs of the last 50 years.

Born and raised in Bakersfield, California, Merle started playing guitar and fiddle when he was 12. His violin teacher told Merle's mother she was wasting her money on lessons because her son's ear was too good and he wouldn't bother with the sheet music. Haggard said, "Right then, I think I realized I had the ability."

But Haggard had an equal ability for mischief. He lost his dad when he was nine, and spent the rest of a wild youth in and out of juvenile detention centers. After a botched burglary attempt of a restaurant, he was sentenced to 15 years in San Quentin.

What might have spelled the end became a new beginning. Upon his release two years later, Haggard dug ditches and worked as an electrician by day. At night, he hit the West Coast bars with guitar in hand, mining his troubled past for songs and singing like his life depended on it.

He got his first big break in 1962, singing with country star Wynn Stewart. Stewart even gave Haggard "Sing a Sad Song," a tune he had planned to record for himself. In 1964, it lifted Merle into the country charts for the first time, and he never looked back. From his debut album in 1965, Haggard has released 75 records, topped the charts with classics such as "Mama Tried," "Sing Me Back Home" and "If We Make It Through December," won numerous awards, toured relentlessly and survived every musical trend thrown in his path. His smooth, expressive voice is one of the most imitated in country, and he has influenced singers from George Strait to Alan Jackson.

For all his success, Haggard still thinks of himself first as a songwriter. And his songs are inseparable from his life. As Haggard said, "Lefty Frizzell once said, 'You don't have to have lived the thing you sing about, but you got to believe it.' And I think that's true. But it's better if you've experienced it."

"Always Wanting You"

Merle Haggard1975 #1 country

"Big City"

(written with Dean Holloway)

Merle Haggard1982 #1 country
Iris DeMent1994 

"Branded Man"

Merle Haggard1967 #1 country
Mel Tillis1968 
Ronnie Milsap1973 
David Allan Coe1996 

"Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man)"

Merle Haggard1971 #1 country, #119 pop
Tennessee Ernie Ford1972 
Robert Earl Keen1994 

"Everybody's Had the Blues"

Merle Haggard1973 #1 country, #62 pop
B. B. King1993 
Randy Travis1994 

"Hungry Eyes"

Merle Haggard1969 #1 country
Bill Anderson1969 
Johnny Darrell1969 
Cal Smith1970 
Jeannie Seely1970 
Norma Jean1972 
Emmylou Harris1994 

"I Can't Be Myself"

Merle Haggard1970 #3 country
LeAnn Rimes2011 

"I Had a Beautiful Time"

Merle Haggard1986 #5 country

"I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am"

Merle Haggard1968 #3 country
Dean Martin1969 #15 adult contemporary
Clint Black1994 

"I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink"

Merle Haggard1980 #1 country
George Jones2006 

"I Threw Away the Rose"

Merle Haggard1967 #2 country
Charley Pride1967 
Conway Twitty1967 
Porter Wagoner1968 
George Jones1972 
Lorrie Morgan1994 

"I Wonder If They Ever Think of Me"

Merle Haggard1972 #1 country

"If We Make It Through December "

Merle Haggard1973 #1 country, #28 pop
Alan Jackson1993 
Holly Cole2001 
Joey & Rory2011 

"Kern River"

Merle Haggard1985 #10 country
Dave Alvin1994 
Emmylou Harris2008 

"Let's Chase Each Other Around the Room"

(written with Freddy Powers, Sheril Rodgers)

Merle Haggard1984 #1 country

"Mama Tried"

Merle Haggard1968 #1 country
The Everly Brothers1968 
The Grateful Dead1971 
Reba McEntire1989 
Albert Lee1991 
The Old 97's1994 

"My Own Kind of Hat "

(written with Red Lane)

Merle Haggard1979 #4 country
Rosie Flores1994 
Alan Jackson1999 #71 country

"Okie from Muskogee"

(written with Roy Burris)

NSAI Song of the Year, ACM Song of the Year

Merle Haggard1969 #1 country, #41 pop
Lynn Anderson1970 
Conway Twitty1970 
Jimmy Dean1970 
Cal Smith1970 

"Old Man From the Mountain "

Merle Haggard1974 #1 country

"Ramblin' Fever"

Merle Haggard1977 #2 country
Billy Joe Shaver1994 
Tanya Tucker2009 

"Silver Wings"

Merle Haggard1969 
The Hagers1970 #59 country
The Knitters1985 
Pam Tillis1994 
Marshall Crenshaw1994 
Laura Cantrell2006 
Rosanne Cash2009 

"Sing Me Back Home"

Merle Haggard1967 #1 country
The Everly Brothers1968 
The Byrds1969 
Porter Wagoner1969 
Buck Owens1969 
Billy Ray Cyrus1996 
Marianne Faithfull & Keith Richards2008 

"Someday We'll Look Back "

Merle Haggard1971 #2 country

"Swinging Doors"

Merle Haggard1966 #5 Country
Johnny Paycheck1966 
George Jones1968 
Del Reeves1981 #67 Country
Cal Smith1991 
Jerry Lee Lewis2010 
Terri Clark2012 

"The Bottle Let Me Down"

Merle Haggard1966 #3 country
Emmylou Harris1975 
The Flying Burrito Brothers1976 
Waylon Jennings1979 
Elvis Costello1981 
George Jones1992 
Brooks & Dunn1994 
The Mavericks1997 
LeAnn Rimes2011 
Hank Williams III2012 

"The Fightin' Side of Me"

Merle Haggard1970 #1 country, #92 pop
Jeannie Seely1970 

"Things Aren't Funny Anymore"

Merle Haggard1974 #1 country

"Today I Started Loving You Again"

(written with Bonnie Owens)

Merle Haggard1968 
Bill Anderson1968 
Conway Twitty1968 
Jerry Lee Lewis1968 
Loretta Lynn1969 
The Osborne Brothers1972 
Kenny Rogers & the First Edition1973 #69 country
Bettye Swan1973 #46 pop
John Fogerty1973 
Jonathan Edwards1974 
Mel Street1974 
Sammi Smith1975 #9 country
Emmylou Harris1986 #43 country
Willie Nelson1994 
Dolly Parton1996 
Martina McBride2005 

"Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star"

(written with Freddy Powers)

Merle Haggard1987 #1 country

"Working Man Blues"

Merle Haggard1969 #1 country
Jerry Lee Lewis1970 
Johnny Russell1989 

Merle Haggard

Induction Year: 1977