Haggard was born in the California farmlands of Oildale near Bakersfield during the height of the Great Depression. The dust bowl forced many from Oklahoma towards the West Coast, with many settling in the familiar terrain. As a young man, Haggard often found himself in trouble with the law and by the late '60s, Haggard had been to jail several times. His experiences are detailed in his truthful lyrics with songs such as "Branded Man" and "The Bottle Let Me Down" chronicling his rocky past. After a three year stint in San Quentin Prison, Haggard joined the edgy Bakersfield sound scene that was the West Coast's answer to Nashville's twangy pop sound. Merle Haggard tour dates were scheduled aggressively in honky-tonks and dive bars during his nascent where he played to the people.
Haggard put out his first single, the aptly titled "Skid Row" in 1962 and performed on the Vegas strip. Haggard hit the big times with his first top ten hit "My Friends Are Gonna Be (Strangers)" in 1968 and scored his first #1 single "Lonesome Fugitive" that same year. Haggard toured and recorded throughout the 1960s collecting #1 hits and selling out shows along the way. His career took a more political turn in the early 1970s when he toured alongside political activist and singer Joan Baez in 1971. Haggard also received a full pardon from California Governor Richard Reagan in 1972 after his single "Carolyn" garnered him another #1 single. Haggard recorded the recession track "If We Make It Through December" which portended the plight of the working class and solidified his status as a proletariat icon. The single resonated with the economically disadvantaged and landed him on the cover of Time Magazine in 1974. Merle Haggard tour dates ditched the honky-tonk for larger venues to play to his growing fan base.