As Merle grew older he became rebellious, perhaps because his mother had to work, perhaps because life was hard. His mother eventually decided she could not handle him and had Merle placed in a juvenile detention center. This really only made matters worse, and Merle got into more trouble after being released. He committed a series of minor crimes which landed him back in a juvenile center.
His first “gig” was at a bar where he played guitar for $5 and free beer.
|Younger Haggard with a Gibson|
After a series of run-ins with some bad company in prison, Merle Haggard straightened out his life, and earned a high school diploma.
While in prison he was able to play in the prison country music band. He stated that he took inspiration from a 1958 performance by Johnny Cash at San Quentin.
Branded Man, which contained his autobiographical song, was a commercial success. He had a new band, began touring and continued to record hit songs throughout his career.
|Same Train, Different Time|
By the end of the 1970’s Haggard had composed a number of hit songs, based on his past; such as Mama Tried, The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde, Sing Me Back Home, Okie From Muskogee and The Fightin’ Side of Me.
In 1972, after Haggard had become an established country music star, then-California governor Ronald Reagan granted Haggard a full and unconditional pardon for his past crimes.
|Young Merle with a Martin 00-18|
|Merle Haggard with a Martin 000-18|
As Jimmie Rodgers prospered he purchased a top of the line Martin 00-45 with his name inlaid on the fretboard.
Haggard played other Martin guitars throughout his career. These appear to be Martin D-28 models. In the mid 1960's
Grammer guitars. For a few brief years these were played by many Country artists and Merle Travis was one of them. In 1968 the Grammer Company was purchased by the Ampeg Music company and around this time a Merle Travis model was offered.
|Washburn Parlor guitar|
Haggard's album Strangers shows him with a beautiful Washburn parlor guitar. Jimmie Rodgers played one of these guitars too.
We also see a photo of Merle Haggard playing an Ovation Classical Electric.
|Merle with Martin 000-28MH|
It featured a slotted head stock that features an elaborate logo that read Blue Yodel No. 13 (a tribute to Jimmie Rodgers) was inlaid on the Indian rosewood peghead. The C.F. Martin logo was displayed on the back of the headstock
The guitar came with factory installed electronics. There was only a limited number of the Martin 000-28MH editions issued.
Martin Guitars made a donation for each one sold to charities that Merle Haggard chose.
Perhaps the guitar that Merle Haggard is most identified with was his butterscotch Fender Telecaster. In 1961 Haggard was at a show in Las Vegas to watch his friend Roy Nichols do his act. Nichols had walked off stage and handed Merle his Telecaster and told him to "go use this thing". Haggard walked out on stage and sang a few songs. He played a Telecaster ever since that day.
He once remarked, "A Telecaster is not for the timid; you had to be a bulldog to play a Telecaster because it is hard to play. It doesn't respond like a lot of guitars, so you have to play it with a different attitude, and that makes the results different."
|Merle's Original Fender Telecaster at the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame|
|Merle with Fender Tuff Dog Telecaster|
I have to wonder if that remark was taken to heart when Fender Musical Instruments created the Merle Haggard Tuff Dog Telecaster.
This guitar is a modified Telecaster Thinline model with a laminated top of highly figured maple. The neck is set-in with a deep carved heel and topped with a birdseye maple fretboard with 22 frets.
The pickguard is ivoroid and modified from a normal Telecaster plckguard design.
|Fender Custom Shop photo|
|Tuff Dog Saddles|
|Tuff Dog Tele|
In an interview Haggard stated this was the best guitar he ever owned and was the guitar that he dreamed about.
Merle Haggard owned a few other guitars. He can be seen playing a Taylor 814ce.
He also owned a Framus 12 string guitar that he gave away to be auctioned off for a charity. The body was autographed by some of Haggard's friends.
Though he did not own this guitar, here is a rare photo of him playing his friend Lefty Frizzell's customized Gibson SJ-200 with a Bigbsy neck.
He called it the Rose guitar. I cannot find any information on the luthier that made this fine instrument. I do not know it was named after Merle's song I Threw Away the Rose or if the makers name was Rose.
The word "Hag" is inlaid between the 9th and 11th fret. The neck joined the body at the 12th fret.
|Merle Haggard with Rose guitar|
Merle passed away April 6th, 2016 on his 79th birthday.