Merle Haggard: 1937-2016

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Multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and country legend Merle Haggard died today, according to his agent. It was his 79th birthday.

Haggard is a titanic figure in the country music world. Rising from a troubled youth that saw him do significant time in juvenile detention facilities and in prison for robberies, he transformed his experiences into songs such as “I’m A Lonesome Fugitive” and “Branded Man.”

In the 1960s, he was among the pioneers of the so-called Bakersfield sound, a bluesy response to the maximalist production of Nashville’s honky-tonk that set the stage for the development of the Laurel Canyon and “cowboy country” movements that would have tremendous influence on bands like The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Eagles.

Haggard also struggled with political characterizations of both his person and his music; he was alternately viewed as a voice of the “silent majority” and a counterculture sympathizer, when in truth his ideology fit more under the category of rugged individualism.

Accordingly, Haggard became involved with the outlaw country movement following a string of hits in the mid-1970s. Among the highlights of this era of his career was his 1983 collaboration with Willie Nelson, Pancho and Lefty.

In the 2000s, Haggard made something of a comeback, releasing new music such as 2011’s Django and Jimmie and touring vigorously up until last year. Over the last few months of his life, he battled pneumonia repeatedly, to the point that tour dates scheduled for this month had to be canceled.

Haggard is survived by his current wife, Theresa Ann Lane, and their two children, Jenessa and Ben. He was married four previous times, and had four children with his first wife, Leona Hobbs.

Read our 2015 feature on Haggard and Willie Nelson here, and check out some classic recordings from the Paste Cloud below. You can listen to the full selection of every Merle Haggard song in the Paste Cloud here.