Merle Haggard Once Appeared on ‘The Waltons’ as a Musician in 1976

by Emily Morgan

Besides being a legend in the country music universe, Merle Haggard also had a successful run as a Hollywood actor. 

In 1976, Haggard appeared on an episode of the beloved series, “The Waltons.” 

Merle Haggard plays country singer Red Turner in the show’s season five episode “The Comeback,” which premiered on October 7, 1976. 

However, Haggard’s character first appeared on the show during season two’s episode”The Gift” and was initially played by Ken Swofford. 

In Haggard’s episode, his character grieves from his son’s death, who’d been played in “The Gift” by another fan favorite, Ron Howard.

According to the show’s website, “Jason needs to find $300 to cover his tuition at the Kleinberg Conservatory of Music. He gets a job playing piano at the Dew Drop Inn. He also convinces Red Turner to pick up the guitar and perform again after the death of his son Seth.”

Merle Haggard Fondly Remembered By ‘The Waltons’ Castmate

Jon Walmsley, a talented musician and composer off-screen, plays the character of Jason Walton.

“I was thrilled to have Haggard come on the show as a guest star, and even more so that the main plot of the show was the relationship between our two characters,” Walmsley said in 2017.

“We spent a lot of time together during that six or seven days away from the camera. We did a lot of playing guitar on the set between takes. In fact, the assistant director had to tell us to shut up because they couldn’t concentrate on their work. What a nice guy Merle was. We all know how talented he was, but he was really a sweet, genuine, and down to earth man.”

Walmsley made his Grand Ole Opry debut two years before his on-screen partnership with Haggard aired.

“He came onto the lot, on his bus, with his tour manager and those people,” he said fondly of his. “It was interesting because he seemed so humble and shy. He wasn’t a real showbiz personality. He struck me as being a little bit like Elvis – where he had his guys who were around him all the time. I think he felt most comfortable at home on the stage. I would have loved to have gotten to know him away from Hollywood, and hung out. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be, but what a great memory.”