Okie From Muskogee ~ Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard is an American country music singer, guitarist, instrumentalist, and songwriter.

Merle Haggard was born in Bakersfield, California in 1937. His parents, Flossie Mae Harp and James Francis Haggard, moved from Oklahoma to California during the Great Depression. At that time, much of the population of Bakersfield consisted of economic refugees from Oklahoma and surrounding states.

Haggard’s father died when Merle was nine years old, and Merle soon began to rebel by committing petty crimes and truancy. As a result of being caught shoplifting in 1950 (at age 13), he was sent to a juvenile detention center.

In 1951, Haggard ran away to Texas with a friend, but returned that same year and was again arrested, this time for truancy and petty larceny. He ran away from that juvenile detention center to which he was sent and went to Modesto, California. He worked odd jobs – legal and not – and began performing in a bar. Once he was found again, he was sent to the Preston School of Industry, a high-security installation. Shortly after he was released, 15 months later, Haggard was sent back after beating a local boy during a burglary attempt.

After his third release, Haggard saw Lefty Frizzell in concert with his friend, Bob Teague. Haggard sang a couple of songs for Frizzell, who was so impressed that he allowed Haggard to sing at the concert. The audience loved Haggard and he began working on a full-time music career. After earning a local reputation, Haggard’s money problems caught up with him. He was arrested for robbing a Bakersfield tavern in 1957 and was sent to prison in San Quentin for 10 years.

Even while in prison, Haggard was wild, running a gambling and brewing racket from his cell. Merle attended three of Johnny Cash’s concerts at San Quentin. Seeing Cash perform inspired Haggard to straighten up and pursue his singing. Several years later, at another Cash concert, Haggard came up to Johnny and told him “I certainly enjoyed your show at San Quentin.” Cash said “Merle, I don’t remember you bein’ in that show.” Merle Haggard said, “Johnny, I wasn’t in that show, I was in the audience.” While put in solitary confinement, Haggard encountered author and death row inmate Caryl Chessman. Haggard had the opportunity to escape with a fellow inmate nicknamed “Rabbit” but passed on it. The inmate successfully escaped, only to shoot a police officer and return to San Quentin for execution. Chessman’s predicament along with Rabbit’s inspired Haggard to turn his life around. He soon earned a high school equivalence diploma, kept a steady job in the prison’s textile plant and played in the prison’s band.

Upon his release in 1960, Haggard said it took about four months to get used to being out of the penitentiary and that, at times, he actually wanted to go back in. He said it was the loneliest feeling he’d ever had. Haggard was later pardoned by Governor Ronald Reagan.

Okie from Muskogee

“It started out as a joke. We wrote to be satirical originally. But then people latched onto it, and it really turned into this song that looked into the mindset of people so opposite of who and where we were. My dad’s people. He’s from Muskogee, you know?” Haggard once noted about “Okie from Muskogee.” In fact, critic Kurt Wolff wrote that Haggard always considered what became a redneck anthem to be a spoof, and that today fans – even the hippies that are derided in the lyrics – have taken a liking to the song and take humor in some of the lyrics.

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We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee;
We don’t take our trips on LSD
We don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street;
We like livin’ right, and bein’ free.

I’m proud to be an Okie from Muskogee,
A place where even squares can have a ball
We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,
And white lightnin’s still the biggest thrill of all

We don’t make a party out of lovin';
We like holdin’ hands and pitchin’ woo;
We don’t let our hair grow long and shaggy,
Like the hippies out in San Francisco do.

And I’m proud to be an Okie from Muskogee,
A place where even squares can have a ball.
We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,
And white lightnin’s still the biggest thrill of all.

Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear;
Beads and Roman sandals won’t be seen.
Football’s still the roughest thing on campus,
And the kids here still respect the college dean.

We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,
In Muskogee, Oklahoma, USA.

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About DJ Allyn

DJ Allyn is a burned out radio guy who went on to become a burned out sound engineer for a few Seattle area grunge bands in the 1980s and 1990s. Left the madness of worldwide tours with bands, cleaned up my act and went into the relative sanity of sound engineering for television series. Currently working as the Director of Sound for a television series being filmed in North Vancouver, British Columbia. I am always on the lookout for interesting videos, old music, and fun.

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