In the fall and winter of 1969, Merle Haggard’s controversial country tune “Okie from Muskogee” was racing up the country music charts, angering some people and delighting others (’twas ever thus!). But even folks who didn’t agree with the politics of the song (like me) have to admit it has a great hook and a classic opening verse that resonated with a very large segment of people during that time of strife and a divided America: “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee/ We don’t take our trips on LSD/ We don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street/ We like livin’ right, and bein’ free.” Truth be told, a lot of hippies even dug the tune, believing it was sung ironically (it wasn’t). And Hag was already so respected as one of the greatest modern country singers and songwriters, a lot of people gave him a pass on that song. I think it’s telling that even the very left-leaning Smothers Brothers invited Haggard to sing the song on their hit TV show in 1969.
The song was already a smash single by the time it appeared on a live album titled Okie from Muskogee at the end of December 1969. It had been recorded a few months earlier at the Civic Center in Muskogee, Oklahoma. This video captures Haggard and his band The Strangers (including the great Roy Nichols on electric guitar) around that time, playing for a “hometown” crowd that clearly loved hearing that song’s message. —Blair Jackson