Merle Haggard - vocals, guitar; Jimmy Belkin - fiddle; Dennis Romak - bass; Don Markham - saxophone, trumpet; Roy Nichols - guitar; Bobby Wayne - guitar; Mark Yeary - piano
This partial set from Merle Haggard's headlining show in San Antonio, Texas in 1984, opens with his musical discovery Freddy Powers. Powers, an up and coming country music singer/songwriter, sang an original entitled "Silver Eagle." Haggard was a huge country star at this point, and the fact that he took time to back and feature an unknown artist that he believed in says a great deal about his musical integrity.
He and the band kick into an instrumental with "Air Mail Special" before going into his concert staple "Iron Red." Next up is "Get Along Home Cindy," the type of sad country song that Haggard built his career upon. "Branded Man" tells the story of an outlaw, a signature facet to Haggard's own celebrity persona, and is clearly the highlight of the performance. In fact, the only misstep here is Haggard's show closer, "To All The Girls I've Loved Before," the song that his friend, Willie Nelson, took to the top of the charts with Julio Iglesias. Haggard seems out of place singing this song, and closing his show with it is a bit anti-climatic.
With the exception of his friend and contemporary, the late Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard was arguably the most important country artist to emerge from the 1960s. A founding member of the outlaw country music movement (along with Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson, among others), Haggard not only sang about the lifestyle, he lived it. In 1957, while balancing a shaky marriage, tough financial times, a number of manual labor jobs, and a genuine effort to break into the country music scene, Haggard ended up getting arrested for a failed robbery attempt. That, plus an escape from the local prison where he was awaiting trial, landed him a 15-year sentence in San Quinton State Prison in California.
While in prison, he turned his life around and was paroled after serving less than three years. He decided to focus on a career in country music and never looked back. That was 1960. By the end of the decade, Haggard was arguably the biggest star in country music. His classic "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down" topped the charts in 1966, and he later scored three #1 songs in a row in 1969. One of those songs was "Okie From Muskogee," a direct attack on the liberal political views of the hippie movement, and further polarized the country during the tumultuous Vietnam War. From that point on, Haggard has gone on to have a myriad of country and crossover hits, and continues writing, recording and touring today. He is largely credited (along with Buck Owens and others) with establishing the Bakersfield Sound.
Merle Haggard continues to write and record, and recently completed a stint with the alternative label, Anti-Epitaph Records. He has since returned to Capitol-EMI, where he had his greatest chart success during the '60s with classics like "The Bottle Let Me Down Tonight" and "Okie From Muskogee."