Story Behind the Song: Merle Haggard, ‘Okie From Muskogee’
In September of 1969, Merle Haggard released one of his signature songs, “Okie From Muskogee.” Co-written with Roy Edward Burris, the tune was the first single from and title track of the album that “the Hag” released that December. The artist had become disheartened watching Vietnam War protests, and he incorporated that emotion and viewpoint into the track. “Okie From Muskogee” climbed to No. 1 on the country charts in November of 1969, where it stayed for four weeks, and won Song of the Year at the 1970 CMA Awards. Below, Haggard tells The Boot about the inspiration for one of his most famous hits.
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—hing 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.
This story was originally written by Nancy Dunham, and revised by Angela Stefano.
Remembering Merle Haggard