With his father’s death in 1945 and his mother’s demanding role as sole breadwinner, Haggard was left to his own devices as a youth, and became increasingly rebellious. He regularly ran afoul of the law by his early teens, and bounced from juvenile detention to jail for burglary and bad checks. He continued playing music at dances and nightclubs, but even after deciding to pursue a music career seriously, he still struggled financially and was sent to Bakersfield Jail after a failed robbery, eventually landing at San Quentin Prison after an escape attempt. While an inmate at San Quentin in 1958, Haggard attended Johnny Cash’s first-ever prison performance – a show that launched a series of concerts that have become legendary in the annals of country music. The experience was the inspiration for Haggard to finally clean up his act for good and embrace music as a path to turn his life around.
Jumping headlong into the emerging country scene in and around Bakersfield, Haggard helped establish a distinctive musical approach that became known as the “Bakersfield sound” – a rebellious rejection of the orchestrated, slickly produced songs coming out of Nashville at the time. The Bakersfield sound embraced the electric instruments and backbeat of rock-n-roll, and reveled in a stripped-down, direct and rough-hewn presentation. Other prominent practitioners of the Bakersfield sound included Wynn Stewart, Buck Owens, and Tommy Collins.
|Merle Haggard at the White House for the 2010 Kennedy Center Honors|
Merle Haggard performs at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre on Friday, December 4. Tap here for more information.