“It’s almost embarrassing to know that the Lord cares that much for me, but I’m going to shout it to the world.”
-Merle Haggard, 2012
Like his late friend Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard had a questionable past and a complicated “present tense” throughout his career.
As we learned from the lyrics of his famous song “Mama Tried,” Merle Haggard spent his 21st birthday in prison. He grew up very familiar with poverty and the police were familiar with him. In fact, beginning when he was 11, Merle went to jail four times as a teen, escaped once, and began serving a 15 year sentence at age 18 at San Quentin. While serving that sentence at the ripe old age of 20 on New Year’s Day, 1958, a popular musician with a similar criminal reputation named Johnny Cash played a concert for the inmates. Later in life, Merle reflected on that concert and described Johnny Cash as someone who changed his life.
“Faith is the only way we’re going to make it. None of us are smart enough to make it on our own.”
Like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard was no saint. Ever. But later in life, he spoke openly about his faith and studying the Bible. He was a complicated character, an incredible performer, but most of all a master storyteller. Merle Haggard went on to have 38 #1 hits on the Country Music charts. 38. He became a close friend of Johnny Cash. Then-Governor of California Ronald Reagan gave him several full pardons and expunged his criminal record in 1972. His songs have been covered for decades by bands like The Grateful Dead and The Avett Brothers. I believe this quote sums him up perfectly:
“Merle’s power has always come from the truth that he tells… about life and love and everything in between.”
-President Barack Obama, 2010
Merle Haggard’s story had an impact on me. He was an imperfect man with a difficult history who later found success and gave God all the credit. Nobody every made the mistake of thinking he was perfect. Just like Johnny Cash. I love that. These are the type of stories that have always resonated with me.
What’s your story?