Merle Haggard has been called the Poet of the Common Man, and his ability to capture the hopes and fears of real people with his songwriting — not to mention his expressiveness as a singer — helped him lock up a spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Now he’s got a place in another hall of honor: the California Hall of Fame, housed at the California Museum, just one block from the State Capitol in Sacramento. Merle’s induction was announced Wednesday by the state’s First Lady, Maria Shriver, among a class of 14 new members. The class includes Barbra Streisand, Betty White, former Governor Pat Brown, jeans maker Levi Strauss and director James Cameron.
Others who’ve been previously inducted include John Wayne, Willie Mays, Jane Fonda, Carol Burnett, Walt Disney and a couple of guys with distinct ties to Merle: Clint Eastwood, who joined Merle on a No. 1 single, “Bar Room Buddies,” in 1980; and Ronald Reagan, who once pardoned Merle for an attempted robbery that landed him in prison before he became a star.
His early transgressions are part of a PBS “American Masters” documentary, “Merle Haggard: Learning To Live With Myself.” Debuting July 21, it includes commentary from Robert Duvall, John Fogerty, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Kris Kristofferson, Keith Richards, Tanya Tucker, Don Was, and Dwight Yoakam.
There’s also commentary from Merle himself, who’s never shied away from his inglorious past. “I’m living proof that things go wrong in America,” he says. “And I’m also living proof that things can go right.”