Country Music Great Merle Haggard Has Died (LIVE Blog)

merle-haggard

On his 79th birthday, one of the most legendary performers in country music history has died. According to numerous sources, Merle Haggard passed away this morning, April 6th. This story is developing, and Saving Country Music will keep you abreast via continued updates as details emerge and remembrances pour in below.

The country legend canceled numerous tour dates back in December when it was discovered he was suffering from a double pneumonia. Merle took some time off to recover in the hospital and a treatment facility, and had been trying to tour subsequently, but kept having to cancel shows because of the continued illness.

All times Central time.

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11:43 p.m. Bruce and Kelly Robison have just posted a video tribute to Merle:

Bruce Robison’s Merle Haggard Tribute “Today I Started Loving You Again” from Media, Texas on Vimeo.

11:00 p.m. No funeral or public service arrangements have been announced as of yet, but as soon as they are, they will be posted. Some more remembrances coming in this evening:

George Strait: “It’s a very sad day for all of us Hag fans. I honestly think that had it not been for him I would not have chosen the path that I chose. – G”

Ronnie Milsap: “Few wrote life like Merle Haggard. None sang or played with such truth.”

Scott H. Biram:So sad to hear. RIP Merle Haggard. We love you and I thank you for so much inspiration. Silver wings can take you home now. Love you Merle!”

Kelsey Waldon:My heart is absolutely broken. No words will be enough. Can’t describe how grateful I am/was to even gain a little insight from Merle. To get to talk Lefty & country music with one of my heroes. Treated us like people. How beautiful that he left such a mark on us all. Godspeed, Mr. Haggard. Thank you so much.”

Brennen Leigh: “As a teenager, I discovered Merle through my parents’ big record collection. My dad had made a bunch of cassettes for square dances and Merle was on many of them. Of course my brother and I hijacked the tapes and became country music fanatics. I still feel like I’m driving around Fargo in our white ’88 Honda with retractable headlights when I hear Merle. I think the first country song I learned to play was Mama Tried. My favorite Merle tune. Condolences to Merle’s family and friends.”

Blake Shelton: “Incredibly sad tonight.. Goodbye Merle Haggard.”

9:27 p.m. New article on Saving Country Music — Merle Haggard: The Living Embodiment of the American Experience

9:25 p.m. Billboard has posted a previously-unreleased interview with Merle Haggard from 2008 from a potential biographer where he talks about death.

“Sometimes I fear it,” he said, “and other times it calls to me like a forgotten dream or an old song. I’m not saying I welcome it, but I recognize it as part of a holy process. Born of nature, return to nature. Maybe that’s the name of my last song.”

7:20 p.m. Here’s a sneak peak at the tribute cover for Merle Haggard in tomorrow’s edition of The Tennessean.

6:22 p.m. More Remembrances of Merle Haggard:

Dolly Parton: “We’ve lost one of the greatest writers and singers of all time,” says Parton. “His heart was as tender as his love ballads. I loved him like a brother. Rest easy, Merle.”

Hank Williams Jr.: “He was your common everyday working man. I remember when I was 15 years old on tour with Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard. They both were wondering which one of the two was going to make it. Well, they both made it. Today, ole Merle joined Waylon, George, and Daddy to sing in the Heavenly choir.”

Clint Eastwood: “Merle will always be one of the greatest classic country artists of all time. He will be dearly missed.”
Tanya Tucker: “I just can’t imagine a world without Merle,” says Tucker. “We played a lot of gigs together through the years, but some of my fondest memories were hanging out in a natural setting, like the time we sat there by the river in his backyard and ate bologna sandwiches. Merle was a simple man with incredible talent like no other. And now he’s up there singing with George and all the angels.”
Clint Black: “I was lucky to have him as a special guest on my first headline tour and got to know my biggest musical hero up close,” says Black. “It was a magical. He and I had a lot of hang time on my bus, which was too big a deal to have even been imagined for a bucket list. He was generous with the stories from his life and I could’ve sat across from him and listened for hours. . . There are no words to describe what his music and the time I had with him meant to me.”
Jason Isbell: “The best country songwriter there ever was.”

4:37 p.m. From Merle Haggard’s son Ben:

A week ago dad told us he was gonna pass on his birthday, and he wasn’t wrong. A hour ago he took his last breath surrounded by family and friends. He loved everything about life and he loved that everyone of you gave him a chance with his music. He wasn’t just a country singer.. He was the best country singer that ever lived.

4:31 p.m. Dale Watson:

4:29 p.m. More remembrances are pouring in for Merle Haggard:

Garth Brooks: “Today, we lost the greatest country artist of all time.”

Kacey Musgraves: “I’m so sad about Merle and the rest of my heroes riding off into the sunset. Artists like Merle Haggard are important because they became legends and set trends not by worrying about money and fame but just by being themselves. So it just inspires me even more to uphold what’s important to me as a person and songwriter first and not worry about the rest.”

Neal McCoy: “”Nobody sang better or with more heart than Merle Haggard. It was an honor to spend time and share the stage with him on many occasions. Merle had a special way of making everyone around him feel like a friend, after just a short time with him. He just made folks feel special. I don’t feel like he ever really knew, or cared, how big of a star he really was, and there is real beauty in that. Gonna miss Haggard, we all will.”

Larry Gatlin: “You can talk about on one hand the (artists as influential as Merle Haggard), George Jones, Ray Price, Willie (Nelson), Glen Campbell, you’re talking about very rarified air. I was in England a couple of months ago, and the promoter and I were riding in a car together and he mentioned Merle and Willie. I said, ‘Well, Merle and Willie are cockroaches. You can’t kill them.’ Evidently, I was wrong. Everybody moved up on the list on the greatest country singers alive because Merle was ahead of the rest of them. We played an amphitheater with him up in New York. He sat on the side of the stage and applauded for every song and laughed at every one of my jokes. Because if Merle Haggard is sitting over there, you’re going to be aware that he was there. We all feel the loss.”

Keith Urban: “One of the great concert memories I have is seeing Merle and the Strangers at the Ryman in Nashville. We had a live album of his when I was growing up, and I felt like I’d fallen inside my dad’s stereo speakers. One of my all-time favorite voices and a master songwriter. Blessings to your soulful spirit, Merle, and all of your family and loved ones.”

4:23 p.m. DETAILS of the CMT Merle Haggard special tonight at 8:30 / 7:30 Central: Hosted by CMT’s Cody Alan and Katie Cook, featuring Vince Gill, Dwight Yoakam, Miranda Lambert, Toby Keith, Wynonna Judd, Brooks & Dunn, Bobby Bare, and (cough) Florida Georgia Line.

3:46 p.m. Numerous radio stations all around the country are going to an “All Merle” format in tribute to Haggard. SiriusXM’s Willie’s Roadhouse, KOKE FM in Austin, Big G’s Texas Roadshow in Kerrville, TX is running a Haggard tribute, and dozens of other radio stations across the country.

3:26 p.m. CMT will be airing a Merle Haggard special tonight at 8:30 / 7:30 Central.

3:15 p.m. This LIVE blog will continue to be updated as news, information, and remembrances for Merle Haggard continue to pour in, but the minute by minute updates will be less frequent. Stay tuned to Saving Country Music for additional coverage of the death of Merle Haggard.

3:05 p.m. Texas country artists react to the death of Merle Haggard:

Jason Eady: I’m at a loss for words. I wouldn’t be doing what I do today if it weren’t for Merle Haggard. Period. There’s no way to say enough. There’s no way to say it in 140 characters. He was the best there ever was. I’m feeling this one.

Courtney Patton: My heart is broken. My house is full of the sound of the most beautiful country voice I ever knew, spinning on vinyl, as the tears fall. Hugs to all my musical brothers and sisters. I wish we could all hug each other and play Haggard tunes together until tomorrow. Love to all.

Jason Boland: Thank for the inspiration, music, and class. @merlehaggard

Josh Abbott: This hit us in the gut. We’ll be having another “Merle” night on the bus this weekend. Condolences to his family

Zane Williams: Mighty Merle Haggard passed away today. They don’t make ’em like him anymore. God bless Merle and everyone who will be missing him

Cody Canada: Never has my heart been so heavy. There will never be another like you Merle. #myhero

Josh Grider: Rest in peace Mr Haggard. I am at a loss for anything else to say.

2:54 p.m. Texas country star Randy Rogers remembers Merle. “You will always be my hero. This was one of the best days of my life.”

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2:50 p.m. From Willie Nelson:

2:40 p.m. Merle Haggard life moment #9: Helping to Define The Bakersfield Sound

As the bean counters on Music Row out in Nashville decided that for country music to survive, strings and choirs needed to be added, and that they needed to “refine” the sound of this rural art form to appeal to older audiences, the country music rebels out in California said “screw that” and we’re slinging their telecasters around, playing way too loud, and pushing boundaries. Right beside Buck Owens at the forefront of this movement was Merle Haggard with his hard-driving, hard-edged sound, embellished by Ralph Mooney’s blaring steel guitar.

Not only did The Bakersfield Sound keep Nashville’s “Countrypolitan” in check, it also showed many of Bakersfield’s rock and roll neighbors in places like LA and San Francisco that country music could be cool, and next thing you know you have bands like The Byrds and The Grateful Dead cutting country records.

2:36 p.m. The Country Music Association or CMA has posted an obituary for Merle:

In an era when journalists and fans often saw Country artists through a prism of sub-genres Outlaw, honky-tonk, Western swing, traditional, and so on Merle Haggard was one of the few who defied easy categorization. More than that, his gifts as a songwriter stood him apart from nearly all of his contemporaries and earned him a place in Country Music’s most select company of performing balladeers, with Kris Kristofferson, Hank Williams, and very few others among his peers.

He was to the end a singular figure in and beyond Country Music, a bard blessed with the gift of turning his extraordinary story into songs that nearly everyone could embrace as if they had written each one themselves.

2:33 p.m.

2:32 p.m. Merle Haggard life moment #8: Recording Pancho and Lefty with Willie Nelson

Merle Haggard isn’t known especially for being a legendary duet partner, but when he paired up with Willie Nelson in 1983 to record Pancho & Lefty whose title track is the famous Townes Van Zandt song, a strange magic ensued. The song “Pancho & Lefty” went straight to #1, and so did the album. It also launched another Top 10 hit, “Reasons to Quit,” written by Haggard. Willie & Merle went on to be named the Vocal Duo of the Year by the CMA in 1983.

2:22 p.m. Sturgill Simpson: “We lost a true hero today & I’m very sad to say a true friend. I will always be eternally grateful. Goodbye Hag”

2:20 p.m. Merle Haggard life moment #7: The “Me and Crippled Soldiers Give a Damn” Protest Song

Merle Haggard wrote and recorded many politically-charged songs over his career spanning both sides of the isle. From his conservative-leaning anthems like “Fighting Side of Me” and “Okie From Muskogee” (though he’s said this song was written to be a somewhat humorous portrait), to the more recent anti-war song “America First.” But “Me and Crippled Soldiers Give a Damn” might be his crowning, politically-charged moment.

Incensed by the Supreme Court’s decision to allow flag burning under the First Amendment, Merle penned this controversial tune in 1989 and tried to release it, but his label CBS Records refused. So Merle, determined to have the song see the light of day, bought himself out of the stipulations of his CBS contract simply so he could release the song. And just so nobody was confused of where Merle’s heart was in the matter, he gave all the proceeds from the song to the Disabled Veterans of America.

2:18 p.m. Luke Bryan pays his respects. “A true hero was lost today. Thank you for your contribution to not only country music but all music. @merlehaggard”

2:16 p.m. Message from The Recording Academy, or The Grammys:

“Two-time Grammy Award winner and 2006 Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Merle Haggard was an uncommon hero in country music. An exceptional multitalented singer/songwriter, guitarist, and fiddler, Merle’s massive success was rooted in his masterful ability to celebrate the outlaws and the underdogs. Merle’s extraordinary talent resulted in more than 30 No. 1 country hits and his remarkable performances will forever live on and inspire music creators worldwide. We have lost an innovative member of the music community and our sincerest condolences go out to Merle’s family, friends, collaborators and all who have been impacted by his incredible work. He will truly be missed.” Neil Portnow, President/CEO, The Recording Academy

2:14 p.m. Message from the Country Music Hall of Fame on Merle’s passing:

“Merle Haggard’s contribution to American popular music is inestimable, and his death seems somehow unfathomable. He carried the sounds and spirit of his heroes Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams, and Woody Guthrie into the present day, and he wrote the songs that told, and will continue to tell, our stories. He sought to make, in his words, ‘music that contributes to the well-being of the spirit”¦ music that cradles people’s lives and makes things a little easier.’ That music remains with us, to soften the enormous blow of this hard and sad time.” Kyle Young, CEO, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

2:12 p.m. Merle Haggard life moment #6: Kicking Cancer’s Ass

Merle Haggard was diagnosed with lung Cancer in May of 2008. Not wanting to make a big deal or publicity stunt out of the matter, he kept it hush hush. On November 3rd, 2008, Haggard had surgery to remove part of the upper lobe of his right lung that had a lemon-sized tumor growing on it. Five days later, he finally spilled the beans to the public about his diagnosis and treatment. Merle had been a smoker early in his life, and had quit cigarettes in 1991, and marijuana in 1995. But doctors said smoking had nothing to do with Merle’s condition.

How did Haggard pull through? Less than two months later he was playing shows at The Crystal Palace in Bakersfield. “I feel like I’ve extended my life,” Merle said at the time. “I’m in better shape than when I went in.”

2:07 p.m. Juli Thanki from The Tennessean: “Merle Haggard embodied country music so perfectly that @countrymusichof named its core exhibit ‘Sing Me Back Home.’ “

2:06 p.m. From Merle Haggard’s son Ben:

2:00 p.m. Merle Haggard life moment #5: Recording Tribute Albums to Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills(from 10 Badass Merle Haggard Moments)

It’s one thing to record a tribute album to one of the greats of country music’s past. It’s another to do it at the height of your professional career when your talent and attention could be more financially lucrative elsewhere.

After landing his first #1 hits “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” and “Branded Man,” and before releasing his big 1969 hits “Workin’ Man Blues” and “Okie From Muskogee,” Merle Haggard released the 1969 LP Same Train, A Different Time: A Tribute to Jimmie Rodgers a massive, two-record tome of 25 Jimmie Rodgers songs recorded to critical acclaim. The project took a total of 6 months to complete and is given credit for a revitalization of interest in the Singing Brakeman’s career.

Same could be said for Bob Wills, when Merle made time to record and release A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World the very next year. Even more cool, Merle rustled up the last 6 remaining members of Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys Johnny Gimble, Alex Brashear, Johnnie Lee Wills, Eldon Shamblin, Tiny Moore, and Joe Holley to participate in the record along with Haggard’s backing band The Strangers.

1:59 p.m. Country and roots performer Austin Lucas: “Just absolutely fucking gutted to hear about the passing of Merle Haggard.”

Tift Merritt: “Silver wings, shining in the sunshine — Silver wings, slowly fading out of sight. Fly safe, @merlehaggard”

Kip Moore: “RIP Merle…you paved the way for so many. You had what we all hope for…a voice that matters and survives the ever changing trends.”

1:53 p.m. The country Music Hall of Fame has set up a remembrance book in the Hall of Fame rotunda in front of Merle Haggard’s plaque where folks can leave their thoughts. For some reason watching this is when all of this just hit me. What a devastating loss for country music. It will never be the same, and neither will we.

1:48 p.m. Merle Haggard life moment #4: Escaping From Jail 17 Times.

As impossible as that sounds, this is what Merle Haggard claims. His criminal record over the years has been a source of much debate about just how hardened the young Merle was. More than likely most of his crimes were quite petty hooliganism stuff, and were bred out of growing up and not having a father to keep him in line, and not having any money and resorting to stealing for his daily bread. But apparently he became pretty adept at giving the local jailers the slip, and that’s why he eventually ended up at San Quentin.

“I was scared to death,” Merle recalls. “I was just 19 at the time, and I’d already been in a lot of jails. San Quentin is the last place you go. I wasn’t really that bad a guy. They just couldn’t hold me anywhere else. I escaped 17 different times, so they sent me there because I was an escape risk. When I walked out on the grounds of San Quentin, I was scared. I was there two years and nine months.”

1:46 p.m. NPR obituary for Merle Haggard:

Merle Haggard wrote the forward to his biography, an early summation of the ingredients of his life and his music. He read it himself for the audio book version:

“I’ve lived through 17 stays in penal institutions. Incarceration in a peniteniary. Five marriages, bankruptcy, a broken back, brawls, shooting incidents, swindlings, sickness, the death of loved ones and more. I’ve heard tens of thousands chant my name when I couldn’t hear the voice of my own soul. I wondered if God was listening and I was sure no one else was.”

With Merle Haggard’s passing, perhaps he’ll finally learn that God was indeed listening and was actually a fan.

1:43 p.m. For Sirius/XM subscribers, Willie’s Roadhouse is playing all Merle Haggard today in tribute.

1:43 p.m. Merle Haggard life moment #3: Watching Johnny Cash Play at San Quentin Prison

Johnny Cash’s most famous prison appearances were in 1968 and 1969 at the Folsom State Prison and San Quentin Prison, but these concerts weren’t the first time Johnny Cash played at a correctional institution. His first ever was New Years Day 1958 at San Quentin in California, and a 20-year-old Merle Haggard was in the audience. After a few other run-ins with the law, being arrested for the first time at age 11,  and after having participated in multiple of jailbreaks (see below), Merle Haggard got sentenced to 15 years for burglary in 1957 to the notorious California lockup. He was just 18.

Merle ended up only serving two years of his sentence though, in part because the Johnny Cash concert changed his life. At the time, Haggard was conspiring with his cell mate “Rabbit” on an escape plan, but Merle’s fellow cell mates convinced him he had a brighter future in country music. Rabbit eventually did escape, killed a cop, and ending back at San Quentin on Death Row.

“He had the right attitude,” Merle recalls of Johnny Cash’s appearance. “He chewed gum, looked arrogant and flipped the bird to the guards he did everything the prisoners wanted to do. He was a mean mother from the South who was there because he loved us. When he walked away, everyone in that place had become a Johnny Cash fan.”

1:39 p.m.

1:37 p.m. The New York Times has posted their Merle Haggard obituary.

Merle Haggard, a contrarian populist whose songs about his scuffling early life and his time in prison made him the closest thing that country music had to a real-life outlaw hero, died Wednesday. He was 79.

Unlike his friend Johnny Cash, Mr. Haggard didn’t merely visit San Quentin State Prison to perform for the inmates. Convicted of burglary in 1957, he served nearly three years there and spent his 21st birthday in solitary confinement.

Mr. Haggard went on to write “Mama Tried,” “Branded Man” and several other candid songs about his incarceration, all of them sung in a supple tenor suffused with dignity and regret. Many of his other recordings championed the struggles of the working class from which he rose. He became known as a poet of the common man.

1:33 p.m.: Merle Haggard life moment #2: Telling Off A CBS Records Executive for Firing Johnny Cash

merle-haggard-kern-riverIn 1985 Merle released the song “Kern River” and it reached #10 on the country charts. But if it was up to CBS Records executive Rick Blackburn, the song would have never been recorded at all. Blackburn hated the song, and apparently went out of his way to tell Merle as much at every opportunity he had. Then at some point, Merle had enough. Blackburn mouthed off to Merle about it, and Merle lost it.

“That’s about the third time you’ve told me that.” Haggard said, “It’s more like five times. Well, I’m about five times short of telling you to go to hell.”

Then Haggard continued:

“Who do you think you are? You’re the son-of-a-bitch that sat at that desk over there and fired Johnny Cash. Let it go down in history that you’re the dumbest son-of-a-bitch I’ve ever met.”

1:29 p.m. Merle Haggard life moment #1: Being born in a boxcar (from 10 Badass Merle Haggard Moments)

Merle’s boxcar home after his father slowly converted it into a house. bakersfieldcalifornian.com

Merle’s boxcar home after his father slowly converted it into a house. bakersfieldcalifornian.com

James Francis and Flossie Mae Haggard moved from Oklahoma during The Depression after their barn burned down in 1934, and settled in an apartment in Bakersfield with Merle’s two older siblings Lowell and Lillian. Merle’s father got a job working for the Santa Fe Railroad as a carpenter, and soon went to work converting a boxcar parked on a piece of land in Oildale, CA, just outside of Bakersfield that eventually became the family’s homestead. Merle Haggard was born in that boxcar on April 6, 1937. The Haggard’s eventually purchased the land around the boxcar, and expanded it to include two bathrooms, a kitchen, and a breakfast nook.

1:27 p.m.: Lee Ann Womack:

1:26 p.m. Trisha Yearwood:

Rest in peace, Hag. One of a kind, and the definition of legend.

1:24 p.m. Country music supporter Johnny Knoxville:

We’ve lost an American original. RIP Merle Haggard. Today was his birthday too.

1:22 p.m. Today’s country stars react to the death of Merle Haggard on Twitter:

Brad Paisley: There are no words to describe the loss & sorrow felt within all of music with the passing of Merle Haggard. Thank God for his life & songs.

Carrie Underwood: Love and prayers for the Haggard family. Merle was a pioneer…a true entertainer…a legend. There will never be another like him.

Dierks Bentley: literally just fell to the floor. can’t believe we lost the hag. rip merle haggard

Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum: You are a cornerstone of country music @merlehaggard…u will be missed greatly. Praying for the Haggard family.

Jason Aldean: extremely sad to hear of the passing of one of the greatest of all time Mr. Merle Haggard

Chris Young: There will never be another artist like the Hag… Rest In Peace Merle Haggard

Dustin Lynch: Hard to believe the news about Merle Haggard. Working with him is something I’ll never forget & will cherish forever

Billy Currington: rip @merlehaggard thank you for all the great music u blessed us with. we will play it forever

Jake Owen: Nobody ever sang a song with the heart and emotion that @merlehaggard did. No wonder it’s raining today. Even God is crying.

 

1:16 p.m. Rolling Stone has reported on Merle’s death:

In American and country music, few artists loomed larger. Haggard’s career spanned 38 Number One country hits, and his rough hard-edged style influenced country and rock & roll artists from Waylon Jennings and Gram Parsons to Jamey Johnson and Eric Church. As a songwriter, Willie Nelson called him “one of the best.”

“Merle Haggard has always been as deep as deep gets,” Bob Dylan told Rolling Stone in 2009. “Totally himself. Herculean. Even too big for Mount Rushmore. No superficiality about him whatsoever. He definitely transcends the country genre. If Merle had been around Sun Studio in Memphis in the Fifties, Sam Phillips would have turned him into a rock & roll star, one of the best.”

He was looking forward to hitting the road despite reeling from a two-week hospital stay for double pneumonia. “They gave me some steroids one time and I got up and I was giving judo lessons,” he joked. “I can’t stand up with weight. My wife is taking care of me. I’ve lost a lot of weight. I’m going to appear different on stage, well, I’m still on top of things. I’m doing a lot of writing and I’m just proud to be alive and hope that people realize that. I really sincerely thank everybody for the prayers.”

1:11 p.m. Sturgill Simpson had just been featured with Merle Haggard in Garden & Gun Magazine in an interview that took place on Merle’s property in Northern California. Sturgill and Merle were considered good friends.

1:06 p.m. Oak Ridge Boys:

Oh no!!! Merle passed away this morning… This is devastating news…“Jesus”¦ Sweet Jesus”¦You love me just as I am”¦ Jesus”¦ Sweet Jesus”¦ I’ve been washed in the Blood of the Lamb!” Merle Haggard #RIPHAG

1:02 p.m. After being diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008, Merle Haggard was misinformed that he only had a short time to live. He would eventually beat the disease and be around around another eight years. From the Fox News obituary:

The gruff, baritone-voiced singer became known for his classic tunes about drifters, convicts and blue collar workers, including “Workin’ Man Blues.” But he said back in 2014 that after writing some 700 songs, it’s hard to find a subject he hasn’t written about yet.

Haggard had lung surgery after a cancer diagnosis in 2008, and he said an early, but incorrect, diagnosis had him thinking he had only a short time to live.

The star told the Associated Press in 2014 of the earlier misdiagnosis, “It was sort of a disappointment. I was ready to go.”

12:55 p.m. Merle Haggard’s manager, Frank Mull, has CONFIRMED to The Associated Press that Merle Haggard died died in Palo Cedro, California of pneumonia.

12:52 p.m. Dallas Morning News writer Chuck Carlton: “By dying on his 79th birthday, the great Merle Haggard leaves us like the subject of a Merle Haggard song. RIP.”

12:46 p.m. Country music’s newspaper The Tennessean has posted its obituary for Merle Haggard written by Juli Thanki:

Merle Haggard 1937-2016

Merle Haggard, the working man’s poet, an architect of the Bakersfield Sound, and an artist who influenced country music like few others, died Wednesday in California. He was 79 years old.

Over the course of his half-century career, Mr. Haggard recorded 40 No. 1 country singles, and wrote some of the genre’s most revered classics, which have been recorded by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, The Byrds, Vince Gill, The Grateful Dead, and countless others.

Mr. Haggard’s life, which took him from a San Quentin prison cell to the Country Music Hall of Fame, was a truly American success story. “In some ways, his life sounds like fiction, but if it were fiction, no one would believe it,” said Harris on the night of his Hall of Fame induction.

His last solo album, “Working in Tennessee,” was released in 2011, and in 2015, he released two more collaborative albums: one with legendary country/bluegrass singer Mac Wiseman, and “Django and Jimmie,” with Willie Nelson. The latter featured the two legends meditating on their mortality with songs like “Live This Long” and “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash,” but they still made room for humor with the record’s lead single, “It’s All Going to Pot.”

Mr. Haggard is survived by his wife, Theresa, whom he married in 1993, and his children: Dana, Marty, Kelli, Noel, Ben and Jenessa.

Funeral arrangements are not available at this time.

12:42 p.m.TMZ.com is also confirming the death of Merle Haggard.

He’d been battling back from the illness and even scheduled a string of concert dates with his pal Willie Nelson. They released an album, “Django and Jimmie” last year.

But last week Haggard canceled his shows for the month of April due to his continuing efforts to recover. His manager tells us Merle was weary from battling pneumonia for so long … and had even predicted to friends he would die on his birthday.

12:35 p.m Bakersfield.com has confirmed the death of Merle Haggard.

Haggard attended Standard School in Oildale, Mountain View School in Lamont, and, very briefly, Bakersfield High School. He spent time in juvenile hall for truancy, and the experience probably did more harm than good…

Back in Bakersfield, Haggard landed a fill-in job at the Lucky Spot, playing with fiddler Jelly Sanders and others on the Tuesday and Wednesday nights when Johnny Barnett’s house band was off. It was there that he met Charles “Fuzzy” Owen and Lewis Talley, cousins from Arkansas who worked at the Lucky Spot as fill-in musicians and fancied themselves recording executives-in-training.

12:30 p.m. – Charlie Daniels tweeted out at roughly 10:20 a.m. Central that Merle Haggard had died. This was the first confirmation of the news. “Country music has suffered one of the greatest losses it will ever experience,” Charlie Daniels said. “Rest in peace Merle Haggard.”