Merle Haggard is lucky to be alive. As a youth, he was in and out of detention centers. Then as a young adult, he was in and out of jails. After an escape attempt, Haggard was transferred to San Quentin Prison. While in the joint, he ran a gambling ring and operated a brewery. Haggard was destined for a life of crime until he befriended a death row inmate and another acquaintance of his was executed for killing a police officer. That convinced Haggard that he needed to make better choices. After being released from prison in 1960, he went clean and dedicated himself to music.
Haggard released his first album in 1965 and scored his first number one single, "I'm a Lonseome Fugitive," in 1966. Overall, he's sent 36 singles to the top of the country music charts. His biggest hit is the classic "Okie From Muskogee." Haggard helped create the "Bakersfield Sound" and popularized a subgenre of country music called "Outlaw Country."
Besides selling millions of Merle Haggard tickets in his 50-year career, he's also been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, and was a recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Despite the rocky start to his life, Merle Haggard is now considered one of the most influential country music artists of all-time.