Haggard passed away on his 79th birthday, The Bakersfield Californian reports.
With Buck Owens, Haggard was a progenitor of what became known as the “Bakersfield Sound,” an alternative to the more maudlin “Nashville Sound,” and an early iteration of what would become known as roots rock or Americana. It was twangy, rough, and raw; Haggard’s songs, like the (mostly) men he sang about, were simultaneously tough and tender.
Haggard had a gift for sly subversion—best exemplified in “Okie from Muskogee,” a song which both lionized the silent majority and satirized them—and for vividly setting scenes and writing characters. “Mama Tried” begins:
The first thing I remember knowing
Was a lonesome whistle blowing
And a young’ un’s dream of growing up to ride
On a freight train leaving town
Not knowing where I’m bound
And no one could change my mind but Mama tried
“Hungry Eyes” sets the scene with: A canvas-covered cabin in a crowded labor camp stand out in this memory I revive / ’cause my daddy raised a family there with two-hardworking hands and tried to feed my mama’s hungry eyes.
But Haggard’s greatest gift was for empathizing with his characters, who were poor and down on their luck, which helps explain why he wrote some of the best damn drinking songs ever, songs which will come in handy today.