Merle Haggard, ‘Okie From Muskogee’ — Story Behind the Lyrics
After The Boot’s candid interview with Merle Haggard last month, we got to reminiscing about some of his most beloved hits, including the iconic ‘Okie From Muskogee.’ Having just been released from San Quentin prison, Merle became disheartened watching Vietnam War protests and incorporated that emotion and viewpoint into song. The tune became the title track of Merle Haggard and the Strangers’ 1969 album, which went on to win the CMA for Album of the Year. In his own words, here’s what led The Hag to write the tune that has been re-released numerous times, most recently in 2006:
When I was in prison, I knew what it was like to have freedom taken away. Freedom is everything.
During Vietnam, there were all kinds of protests. Here were these [servicemen] going over there and dying for a cause — we don’t even know what it was really all about. And here are these young kids, that were free, b—-ing about it. There’s something wrong with that and with [disparaging] those poor guys.
We were in a wonderful time in America and music was in a wonderful place. America was at its peak and what the hell did these kids have to complain about? These soldiers were giving up their freedom and lives to make sure others could stay free.
I wrote the song to support those soldiers.