Merle Haggard was the genius behind the prison song, “Sing Me Back Home”. It was released in November 1967 as the first single and title track from the album Sing Me Back Home. It was Haggard’s third number one hit. The single spent two weeks at number one and a total of 17 weeks on the country chart.
In his early life, Haggard spent three years at San Quentin State Prison in California for his role in a failed robbery. That may be the reason why he wrote many songs about prison.
“Sing Me Back Home” was inspired by Haggard’s relationships with two fellow inmates, Caryl Chessman and James Rabbit. Chessman was the first modern American executed for a non-lethal kidnapping. James “Rabbit” Kendrick, was executed in 1961 for killing a California Highway Patrolman after escaping from prison.
The song is the story of an inmate at a state penitentiary, who is being led towards the death chamber. The inmate made a last request from the warden to allow his friend to play the last song for him. As the song is played, he remembers the church choir who passed by the prison a week ago. A member of the choir remembers a song that brings back the memory of her mother. The prisoner has caught up that picture that he wants to bring back feeling as well, as he sings “Sing Me Back Home”.
Some of the Covers Include:
The Byrds recorded a live cover of “Sing Me Back Home” for There Is a Season album.
Gram Parsons recorded a version with The Flying Burrito Brothers for a shelved album in 1970, along with “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down”. They were both released posthumously on Sleepless Nights.
The Everly Brothers recorded a version of the song for their 1968 album Roots along with another Haggard song, “Mama Tried”.