Merle Haggard wrote and recorded the song “Branded Man”. Released in July 1967, the song was the second single and title track from the album Branded Man. The song was Haggard’s second number one on the country charts. The single stayed at number one for a single week and spent 15 weeks on the chart.
When we think of formerly incarcerated people, it is difficult to remove the stigma attached to it. We often focus on their previous actions rather than their humanity. The term “criminal,” which tends to be thrown at these people as an insult, brings to mind images of terrifying wrongdoers unworthy of respect or compassion. This was the inspiration for the song “Branded Man”. Haggard felt that no matter what he did or what he accomplished. He would always be known for his time spent in jail – “branded” as an inmate.
The Prison Life
In 1957, Haggard was arrested after he tried to rob a Bakersfield roadhouse. Shortly after that, he also attempted to escape from county jail seventeen times. He was then transferred to San Quentin Prison. While at San Quentin, Haggard started a gambling and brewing racket together with his cellmates. One day, He was caught drunk and sent to solitary confinement for 1 week.
Haggard changed his life when his fellow inmates were executed. He studied, earned a high school equivalency diploma and kept a steady job in the prison’s textile plant. On New Year’s Day of 1959, Johnny Cash performed live in prison. This was the main inspiration for haggard to join the country band. After 3 years in prison, he was released from jail in 1960.
In 1972, after Haggard had become an established country music star, then-California Governor Ronald Reagan granted Haggard a full and unconditional pardon for his past crimes.
Haggard has turned his life around, and people’s perception change towards him through the years. From being branded as a criminal to become one of the greatest country musicians. That “brand” pushed him to become the GOAT musician for me.