Merle Haggard has recorded 77 albums, has 41 hit songs, and has won numerous accolades, but the number he’s most proud of is the milestone he reached April 6 – he turned 75 years old. The country legend was hospitalized in January with pneumonia and fought and beat lung cancer in 2008, making the birthday even more meaningful.
“It’s quite an accomplishment, let me tell you,” Merle told the Tennessean. “I’m really happy. I’m proud. Proud to be above ground and in good health. I had a rough start this year, but I’m in good health now, and everything’s back on schedule.”
Merle’s musical heroes – Jimmie Rodgers, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams and Bob Wills – all died before turning 75. Bob Wills passed away at 70 while Lefty died 47, Jimmie at 35 and Hank at 29. Merle has lived a life worth a Hollywood movie, including a childhood spent in a boxcar and doing time in San Quentin state prison, only to come out inspired to pursue a music career by a Johnny Cash concert on the penitentiary grounds. Within 10 years of being released, Merle became the biggest star in country music.
“That first decade, after I got out of San Quentin, that would be hard to believe if you documented all that,” he said. “Once I got out, I really never looked back, and I didn’t stumble. I was able to keep my life straight, and I worked my butt off, but I never had so much fun in all my life. I got to play with great, great musicians, and we made a whole lot of music.”
Merle will play a sold out show at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium on Wednesday night. He will take the stage with an impressive catalog of classic country hits and a great appreciation for still being able to do what he loves.
“There’s more than 100 songs of mine that have been in the country Top 100, and 63 that have been in the top three,” he said. “I’ve been blessed in so many ways, and all I can do is thank the Lord, and thank the folks for supporting me.”