Country Throwback: Merle Haggard Sings Emotional ‘Mama Tried’ To His Mother

by Clayton Edwards
(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

When many fans think of classic country music, they think of Merle Haggard. He is without a doubt one of the most iconic performers in the genre’s history. If there was a country music Mount Rushmore, he would be on it. As far as the Okie from Muskogee’s extensive catalog goes, you don’t get much more iconic than “Mama Tried.”

With “Mama Tried,” Merle Haggard turns his checkered past and his feeling about it into gold. He wrote the song based on his stint in prison. While he obviously didn’t do a life sentence, he did do some time in San Quinten. The song is all about how hard his mother tried to steer him in the right direction. However, no matter how hard she tried or how many sacrifices she made, he went bad. In the end, Haggard ended up doing time in one of America’s most famous prisons. Like many reformed criminals, one of Haggard’s biggest regrets was disappointing his mother. That shines through in the song.

Luckily, Merle Haggard got out of prison and turned his life around in a big way. He was able to take his authentic outlaw past and turn it into a legendary career. However, I have to believe that performing his signature hit for his mother as well as a huge crowd was a career highlight for Haggard.

Merle Haggard Sings to the Mama That Tried

Now, we can’t be sure where or when this video was taken. However, it had to be between 1968 when the song was released and 1984 when Merle Haggard’s mother passed away. The important thing is he got to stand on stage and sing the song to his mother.

For most people, this isn’t an emotional song. However, when you see Merle Haggard’s mother beaming with pride as he sings, you can’t help but get a little emotional.

Merle kicks off the song by asking his mother, “Are you ready for your song, mama?” At this point, the camera cuts to his mother seated in the front row. As he gets through the first line of the verse, a smile spreads across her face.

Throughout the song, the camera goes back and forth between Merle Haggard and his mom. You can see the pride on her face at seeing her son up on stage. At the same time, you can see that the slightly fictionalized version of Merle’s life story hits home with her.

The most touching part of the video comes at the end. After the song is over, Merle Haggard asks his mother to stand up and take a bow. When she does, the crowd gives her a standing ovation. One young man even comes over to shake her hand.

In the end, he gives his mother credit for his career but he does so with his own dry humor, Merle Haggard tells the crowd, “She’s to blame for this whole evening,” before asking the audience not to bother her. In the end, we’re glad she tried so hard. Without her efforts, country music wouldn’t be the same.