Merle Haggard Delivers Powerful Heartfelt Performance Of “Mama Tried” For His Mama As She Sits Front Row

Merle Haggard country music

Merle Haggard, man.

The country music legend is known for being a cornerstone of the “Bakersfield Sound” as well as country music in general. Known as a bit of a country music outlaw, a reputation accompanied by his days in San Quentin Prison, however here, we have a much more heartfelt moment from The Hag.

Merle Haggard was locked up in Bakersfield, CA, on counts of burglary, and was transferred to San Quentin after a failed escape attempt 1958. It was in San Quentin that he fell in love with country music, after hearing a prison performance from the Man In Black himself, Mr. Johnny Cash.

His days in San Quentin were the inspiration for a lot of his songs, including the song we all know and love, “Mama Tried.”

The lyrics in “Mama Tried” describe the hardships that Merle’s mother went through while trying to raise him and his siblings, and how his childhood in poverty led him to a life of crime.

“And I turned twenty-one in prison doing life without parole.
No one could steer me right, but Mama tried, Mama tried
Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading I denied
That leaves only me to blame ’cause Mama tried…”

This song landed Merle his fifth number one song on The Billboard Hot Country Singles charts in 1968, and ultimately won the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999. It was even selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry due to its “cultural, historic, or artistic significance” on March 23, 2016, only 14 days before Haggard’s death.

With all of the notoriety “Mama Tried” brought to Haggard, he couldn’t forget the one person who influenced this song the most: Mama Haggard herself.

Here we see a tenderhearted moment between a mother and her son, as Merle sings “Mama Tried” to the “mama that tried” her hardest. With his mom sitting in the front row, bursting with emotion as her son performs a song in her honor, you can only imagine how special this performance was for ol’ Merle.

Enjoy.

Eric Church Shares Incredible True Story Of How Merle Haggard Barely Remembered Recording “Pancho And Lefty” With Willie Nelson

Back in 2021, Eric Church was on Zane Lowe’s “At Home” podcast to discuss some of his favorite music of all time, and he told the crazy story of how Merle and Willie ended up recording the song in the first place.

Of course, Eric is a huge fan of The Hag, dedicating an entire song on his first album Sinners Like Me, “Pledge Allegiance To The Hag”, to the greatness and legend that is Merle Haggard.

He even told Zane:

“I believe Merle Haggard is the greatest country singer, of his songs, of all time.”

Which is due in large part to Merle’s authenticity…

“You know why you believe him? It’s true. Everything he did. That’s him. Merle dying was a really hard day for me, because Merle is the quintessential country music singer.

At least of my generation, of my life. His interpretation of songs, the interpretation not his own songs, but other people’s songs.

I mean the ‘Yesterday’s Wine’ record between George Jones and Merle Haggard is the most fun record I’ve ever heard. You can tell they’re completely blitzed out of their mind and it’s awesome. It’s awesome.”

And Eric has the greatest example you’ll ever hear about the legend that is Merle Haggard:

“I heard Willie tell a story one time. This will put it in perspective of that era…

So ‘Pancho and Lefty’ is a big Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson song. They’re partyin’, they’re at Willie’s studio, they’re at Willie’s house and they’re goin’ hard one night.

And Willie convinces Merle to record this Townes Van Zandt song called ‘Pancho and Lefty’.”

Seems like the perfect time to record a hit country song if you ask me:

“Merle hears it, Merle loves it, Merle goes in and does that last verse, which I think is a classic last verse of any Merle Haggard performance. Well, Merle goes to his bus, which is parked at Willie’s studio, he passes out.

He gets up the next morning and walks in and goes ‘Hey Willie, what did we do last night? We recorded, what was that thing?’

Willie says, ‘We recorded the song called ‘Pancho and Lefty’ Townes Van Zandt wrote.’ Merle goes, ‘I don’t think I was in the right frame of mind to do that. I wanna re-record it.’

And Willie goes, ‘Hoss, that’s already out of here on its way to New York. It’ll be on the radio next week.’”

Willie knew there was going to be some next-day regret from their wild night of drinking and sent the mix off before Merle even woke up… and these are exactly the kinds of stories that make country music what it is.

A lot of the time, the best music is raw and natural, not over polished and perfectly edited for the radio:

“And I thought, that is the purity of music right there. Merle couldn’t even fix it, it was gone. It’s classic. It sounds fantastic.”

I love hearing stuff like that, and it’s so cool to see Eric impart his wisdom of the genre on all of us.

Listen to Merle tell the story himself:

A beer bottle on a dock

STAY ENTERTAINED

A RIFF ON WHAT COUNTRY IS REALLY ABOUT

A beer bottle on a dock