10- His singing career was inspired by Johnny Cash
Merle Ronald Haggard was an inmate of San Quentin State Prison in California when he was 20 years old and saw Johnny Cash perform. He had been in and out of jail for a slew of crimes and was currently serving a 15-year sentence. (He really did turn 21 in prison.) After an early release in 1960, Haggard got straight to work and recorded his first Top 20 hit on the Billboard chart within three years.
In a lost interview published by Rolling Stone, Haggard describes the friendship he and Cash built over the years.
“We were always humorous with each other,” Haggard said. “I criticized him one time for something he did, and he answered me, ‘Haggard, you have the ugliest face in country music.’ We had that kind of sense of humor back then. But later I missed a couple of dates out in Oregon when I was 49 years old, and he and June called me and said, What’s the matter, Haggard, did you get ahold of some bad dope?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘What’s the matter?’ I said, ‘I’m 49 years old, Cash. I’m fixin’ to turn 50.’ He said, ‘Oh, my God. I wound up in rehab when I turned 50. I totally understand.’ … He helped me every time he had a chance to help me, and I would have done the same for him.”
9- He was born in a boxcar
During the Great Depression, Haggard’s parents lived in Oklahoma but decided to relocate to Bakersfield, California for a better life after their barn burned down. The singer’s father, James, worked for the Santa Fe Railroad and ended up converting an old boxcar into a home for his family. Merle was born in that very boxcar and spent many years as a child there.
8- Ronald Reagan pardoned his past life of crime
In 1972, Governor Ronald Reagan pardoned all of the past crimes that the country singer had to his name. The star was so touched he even mentioned it when he performed for President Reagan 10 years later. At the concert, he said, “I hope the president will be as pleased with my performance today as I was with his pardon 10 years ago.”
7- He was great at impressions
Haggard was so skilled at impersonating other country artists he was frequently asked to do so, as evidenced by this clip from The Glen Campbell Show. Not only does he perfectly capture the sounds of Marty Robbins, Hank Snow, Buck Owens and Cash, but he also nails their facial expressions and their mannerisms when performing.
6- He was awarded an honorary degree
California State University- Bakersfield, gave the “Okie From Muskogee” singer the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts in 2013. When Haggard walked up to receive this honor he said, “Thank you. It’s nice to be noticed.”