On This Day: Merle Haggard’s Live Version of ‘Okie from Muskogee’ Goes No. 1 in 1970

by Clayton Edwards

“Okie from Muskogee,” isn’t just one of Merle Haggard’s signature tunes. It’s also one of the biggest songs in country music. This is especially true if you grew up anywhere in the state of Oklahoma. However, if you’re a country music fan there’s a good chance that you know a good chunk of the song by heart. On this day, the live version of that song hit the top of the chart.

The spirit in which the song was written has long been debated. The song boasts about the straight-laced life of middle America. So, socially conservative folks in that region loved the song. However, Merle Haggard and his drummer, Roy Edward Burris, wrote the song as a kind of character study. He wanted to look at Vietnam-era America through the eyes of his long-dead father. Today, long-haired, sandal-wearing, acid-dropping potheads love the song as much as socially conservative Oklahoma residents.

No matter what the spirit of the song really is, one thing is certain. It was a hit.

Merle Haggard Takes Muskogee to the Top of the Charts

Merle Haggard originally released “Okie from Muskogee,” in September of 1969. It didn’t take long for it to reach number one on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. It stayed there for four weeks. At the same time, it fell just shy of hitting the top 40 on the Hot 100 chart.

Fans around the country loved the song. So, Merle Haggard played the song live at all of his shows. He played it during a show at the Philadelphia Civic Center in 1970. That show became the live album Fightin’ Side of Me. Hag released the live cut of “Muskogee,” as a single and it, too, went to the top of the Hot Country Singles chart.

Merle Haggard also included “Okie from Muskogee,” on his 1969 live album of the same name. That album was recorded the day before the release of the studio version of the song at the Civic Center in Muskogee, Oklahoma. The album topped the Billboard Country Albums chart. The album won Hag an ACM Award for Album of the Year. He also took home  Single of the Year for the title track as well as Top Male Vocalist.

So, Merle Haggard and his drummer wrote a song as a character study on and tribute to his late father. That song hit the top of the country chart not once but twice. Then, he won an ACM Award for the song. On top of that, he put the small-ish city of Muskogee, Oklahoma on the map.