Merle Haggard Will Be Remembered In California Forever
The Interstate 5-Highway 44 interchange in Redding California will now be called the “Merle Haggard Memorial Overpass.” It’s about 10 miles west of Palo Cedro where Merle was living when he died. From a troubled past as a youth to serving time at San Quentin prison, Merle Haggard defeated the odds and became one of country music’s biggest legends.
Merle Haggard was born on April 6, 1937 in Bakersfield, California. He grew up in a different kind of California than the one we know now.
Merle grew up in his early years in the Depression era. Life in those days consisted of what you had in your possession. Haggard lived in a boxcar that his parents converted into their family home. As a child, Merle was confined to his bed most of the time with a respiratory illness. His father passed away in 1945 which forced his mother to be absent from the home and leave him in the hands of trusted family members. Unfortunately this resulted in a rebellious soul..
Haggard established a criminal record at the early age of nine with grand theft auto, passing fraudulent checks, and truancy being just few of his crimes. His father had tried spending time with him and wanted to build a relationship with Merle with his own passion for music. Merle was gifted and soon learned that he could play the fiddle and the guitar and receive a different kind of attention when he performed.
However before he could recognize where he was headed, his past would catch up with him and it would alter his life for a short period. One night while in a drunken state, he broke into a café for which he spent three years in San Quentin. He was granted parole and released in 1960. Once released from prison, Merle began working with his brother digging ditches but he also worked playing lead guitar in a local country band at night. By 1962, he left for Las Vegas as a backup singer for Wynn Stewart, where he made the decision to make music a career.
A Legend and a Leader
Haggard’s partnership in 1963 with Fuzzy Owens and Lewis Talley, the owners of Tally Records, initiated his earlier recordings with the independent label. Merle’s success was not immediate. The first single from Haggard only sold 200 copies, but his second single, “Sing Me a Sad Song,” ranked at Number 19 on the Billboard country charts. Merle continued to remain friends and record with Tally through 1965. After recording his third single, “All My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers” and its success to the C&W Top Ten, he changed labels and signed with Capitol Records.
His achievements did not stop there. Merle had over 100 country chart singles, including 38 of those that were number one hits. Between the time of 1966 and 1987, Haggard had at least one song on the Top Five country during that period. Haggard’s music set the tone and raise the bar for country music today. More than 400 artists have recorded “Today I Started Loving You Again”. Memorable accomplishments were performing for President Nixon and his family in 1973, singing at the California ranch of the Reagans, and the special invitation on Apollo 16 moon mission.
Merle Haggard was inducted into the County Music Hall of Fame in October 1994. Merle was very vocal about social issues and used his platform to express his thoughts on anti- war, biased media coverage, bullying Dixie Chicks who opposed President George W. Bush, and other political issues.
The Merle Haggard Overpass is Popular
Merle Haggard passed away on April 6, 2016 on his 79th birthday. Many country music stars continue to pay tribute and homage to the legend by stating that there will never be another artist who sang with such conviction and heart as he did.
The overpass which consists of Interstate 5 and Highway 44 will now be named the Merle Haggard Memorial Overpass.Interested fans can visit the location in Redding, California which is located about ten miles from Merle’s home in Palo Cerdo.
The memorial fund initiative for the name change came from the leadership of two radio hosts, Billy and Patrick Mornings at Q97 FM. Initial funds were influential in pushing the tribute to happen by Lulu’s Eating and Drinking Establishment which was one of Merle’s favorite restaurants. The local community responded to the fundraiser and joined efforts to raise $2,500. The Merle Haggard Memorial Overpass dedication ceremony was held on October 25.