Merle Haggard died on April 6, 2016, on what would have been his 79th birthday. During his 60-year career in music, Haggard recorded three dozen No. 1 country hits, but is best remembered for his controversial song “Okie from Muskogee.”
Haggard, who overcame an early life of petty crime and a prison term in San Quentin, described himself as the “most incorrigible child you could ever meet.” He credited Ronald Reagan (the then governor of California in 1972) for giving him “a second chance at life” in the form of a full pardon.
Haggard went on to record some of his most memorable songs after his pardon, including “Today I Started Loving You Again,” “If We Make It Through December,” and “Are the Good Times Really Over.”
“I might be a much more musical artist than they give me credit for,” Haggard told reporter Bryan Di Salvatore of Ornery magazine in 1990. “I was indelibly stamped with this political image—this political, musical spokesman, or whatever. I had to play ["Okie from Muskogee”] every night for 18 years. And sometimes, out of a little bit of rebellious meanness, you know, I say I’m not going to do it. But very seldom. Your own songs become like living creatures. They are like children. They are individuals. You forgive them. God dang, you fall back in love with ’em, you know?”
Here are some more highs and lows from the last outlaw of country music. Quotation above via gq.com.