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April 6

Why today? It was on this date in 1958 that Merle Haggard turned 21 in prison. (He wasn’t, however, doing life without parole.)

About the record: Capitol 2219, recorded on May 9, 1968, in the Capitol Tower’s studio in Hollywood. Released the following month, eventually topping the Billboard country chart. Also appeared on Mama Tried, Capitol ST 2972, released Oct. 3, 1968. It reached No. 4 on Billboard‘s country album chart.

In the first few years of his career, Merle Haggard made no mention of his record of arrests and, in 1957, a sentence to San Quentin prison on a robbery conviction. But in the mid-’60s, he started writing songs about it — “Branded Man,” “I’m A Lonesome Fugitive,” “Sing Me Back Home,” and “Mama Tried.” On this great record, I think it’s Roy Nichols, longtime axeman for the Hag, providing the nimble acoustic picking, and James Burton on the brief but piercingly effective electric lead licks. (Anyone with info to the contrary, please advise.) And, as always in those days, then-wife Bonnie Owens provided the harmony voice.

About the artist: If you’d rather not do the math, today is mighty Merle’s 73rd birthday. He’s been a force in country music for close to a half-century. Check out this bio and see what I mean.

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