In 1975, Merle Haggard and country band The Strangers covered the song “Kentucky Gambler.” It was released as a single from one of his most commercially successful albums, Keep Movin’ On.
The song became a No. 1 hit on Billboard Hot Country Songs, where it stayed at No. 1 for a week and spent a total of eleven weeks on the chart. It also went No. 1 on the Canadian RPM Country Tracks.
A Song Merle Haggard Could Relate To More Than Anyone Else
“Kentucky Gambler” was actually written by another country superstar, the Queen of Country herself, Dolly Parton. The song tells the tale of a miner who hails from Kentucky. He abandoned his wife and kids in place of the bright lights of Reno in Nevada, where he originally did very well at gambling. In fact, he won at everything he played.
Unfortunately, his winning streak came to an end. Losing all that he’s got, he decided to return home. But much to his surprise, his wife has now found someone else and moved on without him.
“Kentucky gambler, there ain’t nobody, waiting in Kentucky. When I ran out, somebody else walked in. Kentucky gambler, looks like you ain’t really very lucky. And it seems to me a gambler loses much more than he wins,” the man realized.
“Kentucky Gambler” was first issued as a single in 1975 from Parton’s fifteenth solo studio album, The Bargain Store. When Merle Haggard’s version topped the chart just one month later, it became Parton’s only No. 1 single as a songwriter for someone else’s record.
Parton wrote the song based on the story of her grandfather. Growing up, Parton had been told that her grandfather was quite a gambler. The older man would go off gambling and often lose what little money he had earned.
Several years later, Haggard would go through the same addiction. In fact, Haggard would lose more than $100,000 in just one evening playing blackjack in Nevada casinos, and this happened on several occasions. He often had to call his mother to wire him more money.
Haggard even claimed that he went through a time of his life where he really believed that he was a professional gambler. After experiencing an impressive streak of luck that would last for about three years, he opened a secret gambling account at the bank that nobody knew about. That account was reported to peak at nearly $300,000.
Unfortunately for Haggard, he lost that amount, plus another $300,000. Coincidentally, Parton’s “Kentucky Gambler” came along just right in time. Haggard found Parton’s song accurately describing the plague he’s going through.
You can listen to the song in the video below.
Dolly Parton, merle haggard