On This Day: Merle Haggard Takes ‘The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde’ to No. 1 in 1968

by Jim Casey

Merle Haggard scored his fourth No. 1 single when “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde” topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart on April 27, 1968.

Merle Haggard’s career was in full swing by the late 1960s. The Poet of the Common Man, as he came to be known, had already earned chart-toppers with “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” (1967), “Branded Man” (1967), and “Sing Me Back Home” (1968).

Merle released his sixth studio album, The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde, on April 8, 1968. The album was buoyed by its lead single—and title track.

Bonnie & Merle

Merle Haggard was no angel as a youngster. However, he was not the famed outlaw Clyde Barrow, either.

Merle had been in and out of juvenile detention facilities since the age of nine. In 1958, Merle, 20, landed himself in the San Quentin Penitentiary. A seven-day stretch in solitary confinement—as well as a New Year’s Day performance in 1959 by Johnny Cash—helped motivate Merle to turn his life around. Merle was paroled in 1960 after a stretch of more than two years.

On the other hand, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were murderous robbers who became public enemies during their crime spree in the early 1930s. The 1967 film, Bonnie and Clyde, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, glamorized the duo’s biographical escapades.

Merle was inspired to write “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde” with his second wife, Bonnie Owens, after seeing the flick numerous times.

The Legend of Haggard

Merle and his band, The Strangers, recorded the song in Hollywood, California, in January 1968. In addition, Glen Campbell played guitar and banjo and also sang backup during the recording session.

Merle released “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde” a short time later, and it rolled to No. 1 on April 27, 1968. The single stayed at the top for two weeks.

As Merle noted in The Billboard Book of No. 1 Country Hits, “I got into everything I could get into . . . but I sure wasn’t no Bonnie and Clyde.”

“The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde” became Merle’s fourth No. 1 single in 1968. Before the decade was over, Merle Haggard would top the charts with “Mama Tried” (1968), “Hungry Eyes” (1969), “Workin’ Man Blues” (1969), and “Okie From Muskogee” (1969).