Merle Haggard Graces the Cover of ‘TIME’ On This Day in 1974

by Emily Morgan
(Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

On this day in 1974, one of America’s last true country outlaws graced the cover of TIME magazine. On May 6 of that year, the late and legendary Merle Haggard appeared on the cover, and its result was paramount. The cover alone speaks volumes: no frills, fringe, or fuss, the photo is Haggard to a T. In it, a black and white photo of Haggard appears as if he can see right through you. Donning a cowboy hat, his signature sideburns, and a thousand-yard stare, the image is hauntingly accurate of just who Haggard was. 

Unlike covers today, Haggard doesn’t need the glitz and glamour that all too often punctures country music. The cover speaks for itself: raw, unfiltered, and bitterly honest — just like his beloved music. 

Merle Haggard’s Reign Throughout the ’70s

By that year, Haggard had already released his career-defining records such as “Okie from Muskogee” and “The Fightin’ Side of Me.” A year after his cover in 1975, he also wrote and performed the theme song to the television series “Movin’ On,” which gave him and The Strangers another number-one country hit of the same name. 

As the decade chugged along, Haggard and his backing band continued to dominate the country charts with hits like”Someday We’ll Look Back,” “Grandma Harp,” “Always Wanting You,” and “The Roots of My Raising.” 

From 1973 and 1976, he and The Strangers received nine consecutive number-one country hits. By 1980, it seemed as if the same success he saw in the ’70s would transition into the next decade. He scored a number-one hit in 1980 with “Bar Room Buddies,” a duet with Clint Eastwood that appeared on the soundtrack for Bronco Billy. 

From 1981 to 1985, Haggard racked up 12 more top-10 country hits. Nine of those reached number one, including “My Favorite Memory,” “Going Where the Lonely Go,” “Someday When Things Are Good,” and “Natural High”. 

For collaborative work, Haggard recorded two chart-topping duets with George Jones in 1982. He also worked with fellow Highwayman, Willie Nelson, on “Pancho and Lefty” in 1983. 

By 1983, Haggard was in the midst of a divorce with his third wife, Leona Williams. Despite the divorce, drugs, and alcohol abuse, Haggard put all his grief into his music. His personal life may have been in turmoil, but professionally, he continued to reign: he won a Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance for his 1984 remake of “That’s The Way Love Goes.”