Via Ray Hill:
It’s the birthday of country songwriter and singer Merle Haggard, born in Bakersfield, California (1937). The first song he wrote was “Branded Man,” about the life of an ex-con. He was still on parole when he wrote it.
His parents were Dust Bowl migrants from Oklahoma, and Haggard grew up in a house made from a railroad boxcar. As a young man, he wrote bad checks, stole cars, hopped trains, and was in and out of reform schools and jails. Eventually, he spent 27 months in San Quentin prison, which was such a bad experience he decided he’d never go back. He became a model prisoner, and joined the prison’s country music band, and saw Johnny Cash perform there. Later, when he met Johnny Cash in person, Johnny said he didn’t remember Merle being in the show with him, and Merle had to tell him it was because he was in the prison audience.
Today, Haggard has released more than 600 songs, 40 of which were No. 1 hits.
Governor Ronald Reagan pardoned his time at San Quentin. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger inducted him into the California Hall of Fame. Vanity Fair interviewed him to ask if he had any advice for the troubled actress Lindsay Lohan on how to handle prison.
Haggard said: “She has to be honest, and she has to let the other prisoners know that she doesn’t feel like she’s any better than they are. If I told somebody I was going to meet them on a Tuesday, I met ’em. I learned that it’s better to be honest, because you can’t get away from your lie.”
~ Writers Almanac