Merle Ronald Haggard was born in 1937, outside Bakersfield, California. His father worked as a carpenter for the Santa Fe Railroad. Things changed dramatically after Jim died of a stroke when Merle was nine years old. The angel on his shoulder during these troubled times was Haggard’s love and talent for music. His musical ability offered hope for a future. Haggard’s music was his way out of a dead-end life of small crimes and intermittent jail time.
When he got a chance to record his own single, Haggard chose the Stewart composition, “Sing A Sad Song.” It came out on the small Tally Records label in 1964, and made it into the Top Twenty. “(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers” went into the Top Ten and brought him to the attention of Capitol Records. He proved himself a hit maker with three Top Ten singles in 1967, including his first #1, “The Fugitive.” “Sing Me Back Home,” another #1 in 1967, was written for his old friend Rabbit, who was executed after his escape plan led to the death of a prison guard. “Mama Tried,” reached the top of the chart in 1968. In 1997, Merle Haggard was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.