Country Throwback: Watch Merle Haggard Open Up About His Life and Work

by Joe Rutland

Country music remains touched by the words and music of singer-songwriter Merle Haggard. His songs influence performers and fans alike.

Looking back on his career and his life, Haggard happens to share his own insights on what makes his music stand out.

“One word: Truth,” Haggard said during a 2010 interview leading up to his Kennedy Center Award recognition. “No matter how bad it hurts.”

He reflects on his own youth, saying, “I was a very happy child until my father passed away.” That changed the way Haggard lived his life, taking his guitar and running wild on freight trains across America.

Haggard’s wild life, though, landed him in San Quentin Prison for nearly three years starting in 1957.

“It taught me the absolute necessity of honesty,” Haggard tells CBS’ Julie Chen in an interview. “You know, you tell somebody in San Quentin that you are going to do something on Tuesday, you best do it.”

Merle Haggard Learns Lesson From Johnny Cash Concert

On Jan. 1, 1958, another country legend, Johnny Cash, performed inside San Quentin. Merle Haggard remembers what he learned from seeing Cash.

“He captivated 5,000 convicts,” Haggard said, “and I said, ‘Hey, this guy’s got something.'”

Later on, Cash apparently told Haggard to put all of his life’s experiences and hard times into his songs.

He recorded more than 600 songs and had 40 No. 1 hits throughout his career. He won three Grammys and a lot of country music awards, too, in his lifetime.

Haggard Took Critical Hit On ‘Okie From Muskogee’

Admittedly, his biggest and most well-known song is “Okie From Muskogee.” There were critics of that song, but Merle Haggard said there was more than one message in it.

“One of them is pride for this country,” Haggard said, “and we all agree on that.”

Back in 2010, he admitted to Chen that he was both deeply disturbed and deeply in love with the United States.

Take a listen to Chen’s interview with the legend and icon himself, Merle Haggard.

For his many fans, Merle Haggard’s music remains as touching today as when it was first recorded.