September 7

“Branded Man” Captured Merle Haggard’s Inmate Representation

"Branded Man" Captured Merle Haggard's Inmate Representation 1
Merle Haggard | Photo credits:;

A former inmate turned country music superstar, Merle Haggard couldn’t help but draw inspiration from his life in prison for his music. Hence, many of his recorded hits centered on this theme. His first top country song I’m a Lonesome Fugitivewas oftentimes regarded as his autobiographical tune given its close association with the singer’s prison stretch. One of the songwriters claimed that she doesn’t have any idea of Haggard’s past life when she pitched the song to him. Nonetheless, the song brought Haggard to stardom. This inspired him to write what would become his second No. 1 hit, “Branded Man.”

Merle Haggard’s Brand

Before writing the song “Branded Man,” Haggard once shared his fears of becoming an outcast once he comes out from the prison with his former wife and backup singer Bonnie Owens. The stigma attached to him being an ex-convict would always be there. And for sure, no matter how great his accomplishments will be, his brand as a criminal would be what remains in other people’s thoughts. These concerns served as the inspiration for Haggard’s “Branded Man.”

Haggard’s life, including his stint in the prison, was an open book. His felonious acts led him to jail and while there, the singer repeatedly tried to escape. The singer’s behavior did not improve even after his transfer to San Quentin Prison. As a matter of fact, his attitude got even worse. But after witnessing the execution of some of his cellmates, Haggard changed for good. He persevered to become a renewed man. He obtained a high school equivalency diploma and was offered a stable job at the prison’s textile plant.

His interest in music was born after watching the country music icon Johnny Cash perform at San Quentin Prison on New Year’s Day of 1959. Accordingly, Haggard began joining country music bands. In 1950, after spending three years in jail, he was released and he continued performing until he became one of country music’s superstars. Because of this, Haggard was granted a full and unconditional pardon for his previous misconduct. It was then-California Governor Ronald Reagan who conferred the absolution in 1972.

Music has been a great help to Haggard’s pursuit of a new direction in his life. As he continued entertaining the crowd with his country music records, he was able to gain back little by little the public’s trust and respect. As a result, their perception toward him continuously changed. Eventually, from being branded as a criminal, Haggard became the man that country music people looked up to.

Watch Merle Haggard’s live performance of “Branded Man” below.

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