Few outlaw country legends come as hard-assed and grizzled as Merle Haggard, and even fewer have actually lived the shady, hardscrabble life he has. From an early age, Haggard seemed drawn to crime, with his nefarious hobbies earning him vacations in penitentiaries across Texas and California. During one hitch in San Quentin, the young Hag was enthralled by a Johnny Cash concert there, and soon straightened himself out. By the late '60s, Haggard was atop the country charts with the irony-drenched "Okie from Muskogee," which wasn't so much a conservative manifesto as a satire of America's elusive "Silent Majority." Nonetheless, Nixon backers loved it, and in fact many of Haggard's other wry cultural statements — which he carried into this century with 2003's "That's the News" — have been misinterpreted as well, leading even progressive bastion of equality George Wallace to once seek the Hag's endorsement. Along the way, Haggard and buddy Buck Owens helped birth the rock and roll-indebted "Bakersfield Sound" that influenced folks like Gram Parsons, the Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead and even modern indie-twangers Conor Oberst and Jenny Lewis.
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