It’s wild how one tiny moment, can change somebody’s legacy and image forever.
Everybody knows that Merle Haggard practically spent his whole child to young adult life, living a life of crime.
From reform schools as a kid, to prison as a teen due to several petty crimes, the man was having a hard time walking the straight and narrow.
However, it all changed for him on this date back in 1958, as he was transferred to San Quentin Prison after he attempted to break out of the Bakersfield Jail, according to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The man had been in prison since 1957, after he attempted to rob a local Bakersfield roadhouse, and according to him, San Quentin was the only joint that could hold him.
But once he was booked into San Quentin, his antics didn’t necessarily stop there.
According to All Music Guide to Country: The Definitive Guide to Country Music, he began to run a gambling and brewing racket with his cellmate, and was even forced to go to solitary confinement for a week after getting caught drunk.
Haggard and his fellow inmate, James “Rabbit” Kendrick, were planning another attempted escape at San Quentin.
However, another fellow inmate convinced Haggard not to do it, and after “Rabbit’s” failed escape that resulted in him shooting a police officer and being sentenced to death row, Haggard realized he needed to change his ways, as he cleaned up his act and even received his high school equivalency diploma.
That’s when things really took a turn, after he attended Johnny Cash’s performance at San Quentin on New Year’s Day in 1960 (it’s often misreported as 1959).
Cash’s incredible live performance inspired Haggard to finally clean up his act, take music seriously, and pursue a career in country music.
He was on parole in 1960, and signed with Tally Records shortly after…
And the rest is history.