Haggard, Merle (Ronald )
- Peter LaChapelle
(b Bakersfield, CA, April 6, 1937). American country singer-songwriter. The son of farmers who fled Oklahoma for California during the Depression, Haggard has produced chart-topping and critically acclaimed songs for more than four decades. At the time of Haggard’s birth, the family lived in a converted railroad car just outside Bakersfield. His father, by then a railroad yardman, died of a stroke before Haggard reached ten. His mother, a bookkeeper, raised Merle and two siblings on her own. As a teenager, he ran away from home and had run-ins with the law. As his hit song “Mama Tried” (Capitol, 1968) would later retell, he “turned 21 in prison” while serving a three-year sentence at San Quentin after trying to burglarize a liquor store.
Upon parole, Haggard took farming and blue collar jobs and spent his free time in Bakersfield’s honky-tonks. Haggard played guitar for Bakersfield house bands before joining Wynn Stewart’s outfit in Las Vegas. Encouraged by fellow musicians to record his own songs, he cut his first single, “Skid Row,” on Bakersfield’s Tally label in ...