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February 13

Merle Haggard Rose to Fame With “I’m A Lonesome Fugitive”

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Merle Haggard Rose to Fame With "I'm A Lonesome Fugitive" 1

The Song Mirrors Merle’s Life

The song “I’m A Lonesome Fugitive” is perhaps meant to be performed by Merle Haggard. Its lyrics, written by Liz Anderson and husband Casey Anderson, closely echoed the American country music artist’s life. Although not much has been said about Merle Haggard’s prison stretch, most of his fugitive life in the past was reflected in this song. The songwriters were totally unaware of Haggard’s wretched history at the time they presented the song to him. According to David Cantwell’s The Running Kind, the writing of the song was inspired by the popular television show The Fugitive. The couple-songwriters penned the song while driving cross country.

Having escaped from lock-up numerous times, Haggard felt an instant connection with the song. Also, his quite recent prison term for robbery added further to the already relatable feel of the tune. Enacting the lyrics, Haggard fills the shoes of an escaped convict – a role he has played in real life multiple times. Torn between freedom and the desire to settle down, Haggard was ‘resigned to living a lonely life on the road as a “rolling stone”’.

The Track’s Success and Its By-Product Album

Released in December 1966, the song reached No. 1 on Billboard Hot Country Songs, making it Haggard’s first number one hit. The track stayed on the chart for fifteen weeks and occupied the top position for one week. Apparently, it brought Haggard stardom in country music.

The song was succeeded by 37 more number one hits recorded by the singer. Stirred by the success of the single, Haggard released an album bearing the track’s title, I’m a Lonesome Fugitive, the following year (March 1, 1967). Immediately, the album peaked at number 3 on Billboard Country Albums chart while it ranked 165th on Billboard Pop Albums chart. Haggard wrote most of the album’s tracks, himself. The project was described as “hurtling and out of control even when standing still”.

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Casey Anderson, David Cantwell, Liz Anderson, merle haggard


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