February 5

The 1972 Hit of Merle Haggard, “Carolyn” and its Story


The 1972 Hit of Merle Haggard, “Carolyn” and its Story 1

The Sound of Bakersfield

Journalists have repeatedly lumped the artist mentioned above together as purveyors of “The Bakersfield Sound”. Analysts consider this music’s main characteristic. To be a more “driving” sound, utilizing plenty of electric guitars, bass, and drums. This was much different than what Music City was offering at the time with its smoother, pop-oriented “Nashville Sound”. That sound dominated radio airwaves from the 1960s into the early 1970s.

Tommy Collins, Buck Owens, and Merle Haggard

Tommy Collins’ career brushed those of both Buck Owens and Merle Haggard in Bakersfield. Born Leonard Raymond Sipes in Oklahoma City in 1930, Collins moved to California in 1952. He employed Buck as a guitarist and began his own recording career a year later. He earned four Top Ten records over the next two years. As a writer, Tommy also picked up a major hit in 1955 when Faron Young recorded “If You Ain’t Lovin’ (You Ain’t Livin’)” which reached No. 2. George Strait covered this tune in 1988 and it went to No. 1.

Tommy Collins left music and moved into the ministry between 1961 and 1964. It was during this time that he became friends with Merle Haggard. Collins had heard Haggard’s very first chart record and looked him up. They really got acquainted during long fishing trips on the Kern River. Haggard even recorded one of Tommy’s tunes, “Sam Hill” in ’64.

Carolyn and its Chart Performance

Eight years later, Merle Haggard took another Collins composition, “Carolyn”, all the way to No. 1. Sung to a woman named Carolyn, the narrator suggests a trip of desperation by a married man to a brothel. Collins claimed the song provided an indirect way of talking to someone. He said he wanted to “come in the side door rather than the front door”. The subject of the song happened to be Tommy’s wife and he wanted to say something to her as if he were talking to someone else.

“Carolyn,” which reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart January 15, 1972, marked Merle Haggard’s eleventh of 38 chart-toppers and was the last of Merle’s hits to employ Glen Campbell as a backing vocalist.


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