Country Throwback: Watch Merle Haggard and Tammy Wynette Duet on ‘Okie from Muskogee’ in 1988

by Matthew Wilson

Two of country music’s biggest talents teamed up back in the 1980s. Merle Haggard and Tammy Wynette performed a rare duet of Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee.”

The performance makes country fans and historians wish the pair would have recorded a studio version of the song. Wynette’s harmonics elevates Haggard’s ragged baritone. When they sing the chorus together, the duo is nothing but majestic.

Separately, Wynette and Haggard were two of the biggest names in country music. Wynette was known for her frequent collaborations with ex-husband George Jones as well as a successful solo career. Haggard had transformed from a career criminal to a country superstar in the 1960s and 1970s.

Both musicians faced a changing musical landscape in the 1980s but were still popular. Haggard performed a sold-out show in London’s Wembley Arena. While on stage, Haggard got a surprise visitor in the form of Wynette. The two performed a rendition of Haggard’s classic for the excited fans.

Merle Haggard Intended the Song to Be Satirical

When he first conceived “Okie from Muskogee,” Haggard intended the song to be a satirical look at small-town life. But the musician quickly realized how it connected with people. The tune soon became an anthem cry for people from small towns across the country.

One of the themes of the song is also the Vietnam War and the related protests. Haggard was critical of the protests against the soldiers.

“During Vietnam, there were all kinds of protests,” Haggard said, according to Song Facts. “Here were these [servicemen] going over there and dying for a cause – we don’t even know what it was really all about. And here are these young kids, that were free, b—hing about it. There’s something wrong with that and with [disparaging] those poor guys. We were in a wonderful time in America and music was in a wonderful place. America was at its peak and what the hell did these kids have to complain about? These soldiers were giving up their freedom and lives to make sure others could stay free. I wrote the song to support those soldiers.”