Merle Haggard released his latest CD, “Working in Tennessee,” in late October of 2011, but as he tours this spring, he’s still trying to treat the album as if it is a fairly new release.
“Well, I got sick right there in the highlight of the (initial) promotion of it,” he explains in a phone interview. “We’re going to get back on the promotion of it, and bring it to life.”
The illness was fairly serious — pneumonia — and it sidelined him in January 2012.
“But I’m 100 percent clear. And I’ve gained my strength back. I had some bleeding ulcers. My hemoglobin got down on me. The count was bad. Hell, I was bleeding to death and didn’t even know it, I guess. But I got that taken care of, so I’m walking a little bit every day, a little more (at a time).”
For a moment, though, Haggard feared his illness was something worse — a return of the lung cancer that was diagnosed in 2008 and that he has seemingly beaten.
Haggard isn’t behaving like someone who is worried about his health these days. Having turned 76 on April 6, he has been on tour pretty continuously since spring 2012.
And he has his eyes on booking the most extensive world tour he’s done in years, despite some very pragmatic factors that would dissuade many artists from such a venture.
“I believe it’s something in my future to do, and I might as well do it and I might as well do it right,” he says. “So we’re in the process of drawing up the ground rules and all of that.”
- Merle Haggard
- 8 p.m. Tuesday(6/25/13)
- Paramount Theatre, Cedar Rapids
- Tickets: $35 to $55
- Details: Paramounttheatrecr.com or (319) 366-8203
He also said his management is exploring the possibilities of making a feature-length movie and doing a reality television show.
“We really don’t have a working title, but it would be me and my life and my love story with Bonnie Owens and how we got started, coming out of prison and (having) fame,” Haggard says.
Haggard’s life has certainly been dramatic enough for the big screen.
Growing up in the Bakersfield suburb of Oildale, Calif., Haggard’s father died when he was 9, and as he entered his teens, he began to run afoul with the law, getting arrested for truancy and petty larceny. After being in and out of jail, he landed in San Quentin state prison in 1957 after trying to rob a Bakersfield tavern.
While serving a three-year sentence, Haggard got his life back together, as he earned a high school equivalency diploma and began to focus on writing and playing country music. After being released from prison in 1960, he began playing bars and got a deal with Tally Records.
He notched his first top 10 hit with “(My Friends are Gonna Be) Strangers” in 1966, and soon Haggard was cranking out one hit after another, as songs like “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive,” “Okie from Muskogee,” “Mama Tried” propelled him to the top ranks of country music.
Haggard remained a top hit-maker through the 1970s before his fortunes waned in the early 1980s. His output slowed in the 1990s at Curb Records. But after signing with the rock label, Anti Records, in 2000, Haggard began a prolific stretch of record making that has included eight studio albums, the latest of which is “Working in Tennessee.”
Along the way, Haggard married four times, having four children with his first wife, Leona Hobbs, and a 13-year second marriage to Owens, a country star in her own right who put her career second to raising Haggard’s children and touring with her husband as a backup singer. That marriage ended in 1978, and Haggard went on to marry and divorce twice more before he met his current wife, Theresa Ann Lane, in 1993. They have two children, Jenessa and Ben.
For the moment, Haggard will be busy touring with the latest edition of his long-running band, the Strangers. A typical show that includes a few tunes from “Working in Tennessee,” a solid album that stays true to Haggard’s rough-hewed country sound, as well as a selection of tunes from a back catalog that includes some 100 charting singles.
“We change it up every night,” Haggard said of the show. We don’t use the same songs. So the band stays on their toes.”