Merle Haggard, one of the most successful singers in the history of country music, a contrarian populist whose songs about his scuffling early life and his time in prison made him the closest thing that the genre had to a real-life outlaw hero, died at his ranch in Northern California on Wednesday, his 79th birthday.
His death was confirmed by his agent, Lance Roberts. Mr. Haggard had recently canceled several concerts, saying he had double pneumonia.
Few country artists have been as popular and widely admired as Mr. Haggard, a ruggedly handsome performer who strode onto a stage, guitar in hand, as a poet of the common man. Thirty-eight of his singles, including “Workin’ Man Blues” and the 1973 recession-era lament “If We Make It Through December,” reached No. 1 on the Billboard country chart from 1966 to 1987. He released 71 Top 10 country hits in all, 34 in a row from 1967 to 1977. Seven of his singles crossed over to the pop charts.
He, along with David Allan Coe, were the real outlaws of outlaw country. Haggard reformed after spending three years in San Quentin, having been sent there when he was 18 for armed robbery.
“Mama Tried” was autobiographical as he was sentenced to San Quentin for armed robbery when he was 18.
After his release, he went on to a long and very successful career.
One of his 38 #1 Country Hits.
He leaves behind a lifetime of hits.