At the height of the Vietnam War, in his song, "The Fightin' Side of Me," a cantankerous ex-con named Merle Haggard told hippie protesters, "If you don't love [America], leave it; let this song that I'm singin' be a warning."
Thirty-six years later, the whiskey-voiced star spends much of his hard-earned credibility questioning the war in Iraq and defending the Dixie Chicks, the country-music trio whose radio airplay went south three years ago after they slammed President Bush on foreign soil.
Merle Haggard and the Strangers perform at 7:30 tonight at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center in Salisbury. Seats are $37.50-$55, fees included. For tickets or more information, go to www.wicomicociviccenter.org or call 410-548-4911.
April 6, 1937, in Bakersfield, Calif.
Early music idols:
Lefty Frizzell, Bob Wills
Truancy, petty larceny (1951)
"Skid Row" (1962)
Served from 1957-1960 in San Quentin for trying to rob a diner; pardoned by California Gov. Ronald Reagan (1972)
First No. 1 hit:
"The Fugitive" (later renamed "I Am a Lonesome Fugitive") (1966)
Total CD Releases:
Amazon.com's CDNOW lists 393, including live recordings, greatest-hits compilations and duets with other artists.
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (1977), TNN Living Legend (1990), Country Music Hall of Fame (1994), Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award (2006)
Sing Me Back Home: My Life (1981)
Most recent album:
Kicking Out the Footlights (Again) with George Jones (due in October)
First family home was a converted boxcar ... Ran a gambling racket, worked in the laundry room and earned his high-school equivalency in San Quentin ... Declined a request to endorse Alabama Gov. George Wallace (1969); played "Okie From Muskogee" for Richard Nixon at the White House (1973) ... Was bequeathed the last fiddle of Bob Wills, who died in 1975 ... Composer on nine film soundtracks, including Killers Three (1968), Heartburn (1986), Fargo (1996) and Brokeback Mountain (2005) ... In a 2004 editorial, "Poet of the People," the Sacramento Bee nominated him for California poet laureate.
[Sources:Country Music Television, Sing Me Back Home: My Life, by Merle Haggard with Peggy Russell]