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Merle Haggard, Country's Outlaw With A Heartfelt Message

Merle Haggard, performing at the Ryman Auditorium in 2004 in Nashville, Tenn.
Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery
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Merle Haggard, performing at the Ryman Auditorium in 2004 in Nashville, Tenn.

Some songwriters are able to write songs about those turns in life too painful to talk about.

When I met Merle Haggard aboard his tour bus in the early summer of 2001, he no longer looked much like the hard-scrabble outlaw of his 20s, but a man who had been tempered by the ups and downs of riches and bankruptcy, love, loss and time. He had come a long distance since his boyhood in a converted boxcar on the wrong side of the tracks, growing up just outside of Bakersfield, Calif., and the troubled times when he served more than two years in San Quentin for robbery.

But once Merle Haggard began to sing instead of steal for a living, he became the living link to country music before it went Hollywood, when it was the music of long, hard days on farms and factories, and long, lonely nights looking up at an orange moon.


Merle Haggard told us on his tour bus, "I don't like music that has no message of any kind." But I thought his songs didn't send messages so much as they shared what poured from his heart, unfiltered and lyrical.

We spoke to him in 2001 about his album If I Could Only Fly. One song, "I'm Still Your Daddy," recollected how a father tells his son that he was once in prison — a conversation Merle Haggard had to have with his children. Another song, "Think About a Lullaby," was suggested to Merle Haggard by his wife, Theresa Lane, after they lost a child, a little girl, at birth.

"But my wife said, 'We should write her a lullaby, not a funeral song,' " he told us.

It is a song to send love to a child who didn't quite make it into this world, but would never leave Merle Haggard's heart and dreams. I like to think that he's singing it to her now.

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