Merle Haggard Will Be Remember 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 lived 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 biggest legend.
Originally, from Bakersfield, California, born on April 6, 1937, Merle grew up in a different kind of California then the one we now know.
The Depression era existed during his beginning years of life and ways of living were pretty much, what a person had. Haggard lived in a boxcar that his parents converted to their family home. A severe respiratory condition mostly kept Merle confined to his bed when he was young. The death of Merle’s father in 1945, forcing his mother to be absent from the home, and leave him in the hands of trusted family members, resulted in a rebellious soul.
Haggard established a criminal record early at the age of nine through grand theft auto, passing fraudulent checks, and truancy. The time and relationship that Merle had with his father before he passed nurtured a passion for music. Merle was gifted and could play the fiddle and guitar very early on.
However, his darkness would alter his life for a short period. Haggard troubles would catch up to him while in a drunken state he broke into a café for which he spent three years in San Quentin. Upon being granted parole and released in 1960, then twelve years later in 1972, Ronald Reagan who was Governor at that time, expunged Haggard’s criminal record and provided him full pardon. Once released from prison, Merle begin working with his brother digging ditches. He also, worked playing lead guitar in a local country band, and by the year 1962, left for Las Vegas as a back 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 that initiated his earlier recording with the independent label. Merle 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 chart. Merle continued to remain friends and record with Tally through 1965. Then there was a shift, after recording his third single, “All My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers” and its success went to the C&W Top Ten. He changed labels and signed to Capitol. Haggard’s prolific musical career consisted of duets with George Jones, Willie Nelson, and Bonnie Owens whom he married and later divorce. Recording other great hits such as “Swinging Doors”, “The Fugitive” that became his first number one record, and “The Bottle Let Me Down”.
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 Wildly 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, stating there will never be another who sang with such conviction and heart as he. The Record Searchlight, released that a part of the California Highway will bear Merle Haggard’s name.
The overpass, which consists of Interstate 5 and Highway 44, will now be name the Merle Haggard Memorial Overpass. Interested fans can visit the location in Redding, 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. To encourage those to participate in the honor, the hosts encourage those to make a $20 donation and in return, they would receive a t-shirt celebrating the event. Initial funds were influential in pushing the tribute to happen by Lulu’s Eating and Drinking Establishment, Merle’s favorite restaurant. Local community responded to the fundraiser and joined efforts to raise the $2,500 requisite. Merle Haggard Memorial Overpass was official dedication ceremony was held on October 25.