FOLSOM — If the question were asked, “Who forged the genre known today as modern country music,” only a tiny group of country immortals could step forward to share the spotlight. One, out of that select handful, would be Merle Haggard.
“There are few people who epitomize the spirit and the reality of country music the way Merle Haggard does,” said Three Stages Executive Director Dave Pier. “We’re honored to have him on Stage One.”
Merle Haggard & The Strangers will perform in Three Stages on Monday, March 5, and Tuesday, March 6; both shows begin at 7:30 p.m.
Haggard’s career has been illustrious. He has received eight Grammy nominations and won Best Country Vocal Performance for “That’s The Way Love Goes” in 1984. To date he has written hundreds of songs, including the classics “Sing Me Back Home,” “Okie From Muskogee,” “Mama Tried” and “Silver Wings,” among others.
The former “B” side, “Today I Started Loving You Again,” has been recorded by more than 400 artists to date. Fifty-six of his songs have received awards from BMI (47 country, 9 pop). Three of his songs have logged more than a million plays (“Today I Started Loving You Again,” “Okie From Muskogee” and “Big City”). He has released more than 65 albums, most of which have charted in the major trade publications —four of his albums certified gold.
Haggard has also been nominated 42 times for CMA awards, more than any other male country entertainer.
But Haggard’s life path has never been easy, nor has much of it been pretty, as aired in his 1981 book, Sing Me Back Home. His childhood years were spent in Bakersfield and the death of his father, when Merle was just 9 years old, became the catalyst that led to a squandered youth. At the same time, his love for the wandering songs of such as Jimmie Rodgers lead to an errant passion for the gleaming, endless railroad tracks and the siren song of slow freights and hobo jungles. And, along the way, to numerous brushes with the law.
Incarceration for three years in San Quentin Penitentiary became the experience that finally changed his perspective and the spark that turned his head around. He abruptly assumed the role of a model prisoner and was paroled in 1960. (In 1972 California Gov. Ronald Reagan granted him a full pardon.)
He was signed by Tally Records, owned by close friend Lewis Tally, and began cutting singles in a garage behind Tally’s house. His first single was “Singing My Heart Out,” which received some regional airplay on the West Coast, but it was in 1963 that he eventually broke into the top twenty of Billboard’s country charts with his first national hit, “Sing A Sad Song.”
Since then the country charts have been his second home.
Haggard’s band, The Strangers, has become known as one of country music’s finest road bands and has been the recipients of a number of industry accolades, including being eight-time winners of the Academy of Country Music’s Touring Band of the Year Award, as well as a pair of Music City News awards for Band of the Year. The band has also recorded several albums of its own.
In late January of this year Haggard was hospitalized in Macon, Ga., with double pneumonia; his website notes that he is resuming his national tour in support of his latest recording “Working In Tennessee” on Feb. 28 in Tucson, Ariz.
On his website, Merle Haggard states, “Thanks to the wonderful people all over the world that prayed those special prayers. I’m a new man. Another special thanks to the folks of Macon, Ga., for their kindness, intelligence and probably saving my life!”
Tickets to the Three Stages shows are $49 to $69 with premium tickets available for $79; buy them at threestages.net or from Three Stages ticket office at (916) 608-6888 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and two hours before show time. Three Stages is located on the west side of Folsom Lake College campus in Folsom, facing East Bidwell Street.