When Merle Haggard broke out on the country music scene in 1963, he didn’t look back. He performed pretty much up until he took his final breath on his 79th birthday, April 6, 2016.
He is considered a pioneer, an outlaw, and a legend. The outlaw movement grew in the 1970s with the help of The Hag and his success earned him an induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994.
He’s a legend in so many ways. He was in the prison system and overcame his past to become one of the greatest singers of all time, was a phenomenal songwriter, and he was legendary for not really giving a crap about what anyone thought.
We have compiled a list with the top 7 times Merle Haggard was a complete and total badass.
1. The Time He Got Caught Imitating Johnny Cash….By Johnny Cash
Haggard was known to do an impression or two, and they were totally SPOT ON! While he was a guest on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour and did impressions of Marty Robbins, Hank Snow, and Buck Owen.
Owen showed up to surprise Haggard in the middle of his performance and convinced Haggard to do his Johnny Cash impression. At first Haggard said no because Cash would kill him! Owens begged a little more and Haggard obliged, but turns out, Cash was there too. He came out and caught Haggard, who had the most priceless look on his face. Watch the moment it went down in the video above.
2. The Time He Recorded A Duet With Clint Eastwood And It Hit No. 1
Haggard’s most prominent duet partner during his career was his good friend Willie Nelson. In 1980, Haggard teamed up with actor Clint Eastwood to record a song together for the soundtrack of the movie Bronco Billy. The song, which is called “Bar Room Buddies”, ended up hitting number one on the Billboard country charts, making it Haggard’s 25th number one song.
3. The Time He Told Off A Record Executive For Firing Johnny Cash
Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash pic.twitter.com/c7WLS5i2Jd
— Country Music in Photos (@CMinPhotos) December 19, 2022
In 1986, Johnny Cash was dropped from his record label and 23 years later, Haggard still wasn’t ready to let it go. At a 2009 event, Haggard was awarded with a career achievement award from Country Radio Broadcasters and used his acceptance speech to tell off Rick Blackburn, who was the person who dropped Cash from his label.
That night, Emmylou Harris performed Haggard’s song “Kern River” and he told a story of Blackburn not liking the tune at all. Haggard told the audience that Blackburn said, “I’d like to tell you one more time. I don’t like ‘Kern River.’ And I said, ‘That’s about the third time you’ve told me that.’ He said, ‘It’s more like five times.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m about five times short of telling you to go to hell.’”
He asked Blackburn,”Who do you think you are? You’re the son-of-a-bitch that sat at that desk over there and fired Johnny Cash. Let it go down in history that you’re the dumbest son-of-a-bitch I’ve ever met.”
4. The Time He Escaped From Jail…17 Times
Haggard had a tough upbringing, which led him to rebel. He was arrested for burglary, writing fraudulent checks and much more. He ended up in jail more than a few times and in an interview with Vanity Fair, he revealed that he escaped from jail a total of 17 times, all by the age of 19. After that, he was transferred to San Quentin Prison because he was an escape risk.
5. The Time He Saw Johnny Cash Perform While He Was In Prison
Johnny Cash performing for prisoners at Folsom Prison, 1968. Photo by Dan Poush. pic.twitter.com/znxcjMxYQ9
— Classic Rock In Pics (@crockpics) March 7, 2023
Once Haggard was released from prison and became a country star, he finally formally met Johnny Cash – in a men’s restroom at a television station. Haggard reminisced with Cash about his past performance at San Quentin, and Cash said, “I don’t remember you playing at that show, Merle.”
Haggard had to inform him that he was actually in the audience. Cash’s performance inspired Haggard to clean up his act and become a country singer.
6. The Time All His Crimes Were Pardoned By Ronald Reagan
— Beatrice-Elizabeth Peterson (@MissBeaE) April 6, 2016
Because Haggard had such a long rap sheet, it was hard to get his crimes and escapes pardoned. For twelve years after his release, he tried and tried, with no avail. In 1972, then-California Governor Ronald Reagan pardoned Haggard for all his past crimes. In an interview with CMT, Haggard said, “He didn’t have to do it at all. He could have just snubbed his nose and went on to lunch.”
Ten years later, Reagan was voted President of the United States and Haggard sang at a concert in celebration. “I hope the President will be as pleased with my performance today as I was with his pardon 10 years ago.”
7. When He Notched 38 No. 1 Hits
Between 1966-1987, Haggard released 38 songs that went on to being No. 1 hits on the Billboard country charts. It is an incredible feat to notch this many hits, but The Hag was one of a kind! As you all know, his career did not slow down after 1987. He continued to successfully release albums until the 2000s.
What is your favorite bas ass fact about Merle? Let us know in the comments.