He died of pneumonia on his 79th birthday

Merle Haggard has died aged 79.

BBC News reports that Haggard died of pneumonia on his 79th birthday.

Haggard, who battled lung cancer in 2008, had recently cancelled a number of April tour dates due to illness but hoped to resume performing in May.

Click here to read Uncut’s archive interview with Merle Haggard

He was born in California in 1937. Speaking to Uncut in 2015, Haggard said, “Music was really big in our lives. My father was a real good singer and he sang at church. My mother played the organ at church. Then radio was in its heyday when I was growing up. There was a lot of great music of all kinds.”

He told us he began writing when he was “seven or eight years old.

“My brother took in a guitar,” he explained. “He was running a filling station and he took in a guitar and give a guy a couple of dollars worth of gas when I was about ten. He brought it over my house and set it there in the closet, and it stayed there for a while. My mother, I think, actually got it out and showed me a couple of chords my dad had showed her.”

Haggard’s career became synonymous with the Bakersfield Sound in the 70s; his many hits included “Mama Tried”, “The Fugitive” and “Okie From Muskogee”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iYY2FQHFwE

“It’s a song that people use to express pride,” he told Uncut. “I’m proud to be, in other worlds whoever you are you’re proud to be who you are. It’s one of the selling points of the song that is has that. It has more than one message, it really does. Do I think its message has become stronger down their years? That’s a good question. It’s never had a bad period. I think they audience have always accepted it for their own reasons and for different reasons as time evolved. It’s one of the songs people ask me about the most. I’ve just received 4 awards. I’ve had 20 songs that have been played one million times in America. ‘Workin’ Man’s Blues‘ gets a lot of attention.’Today I Started Loving You Again‘. And ‘Mama Tried‘, people have tattooed that on their body. It’s amazing how seriously they take that song. You know, prison is not the only method of failure and not the only way to fail. They’re more available, I think. We live in a terrible world. Our future could be awful bleak. I grew up in a tough time, but it’s tougher now.”

His final album was last year’s Django And Jimmie – a tribute to jazz guitarists Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers recorded with fellow ‘outlaw’ Willie Nelson.

The May 2016 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our cover story on PJ Harvey’s new album, Brian Wilson, The National’s all-star Grateful Dead tribute, Jack White and T Bone Burnett’s American Epic, Cate Le Bon, Donovan, Jean-Michel Jarre, Cheap Trick, Graham Nash, Heartworn Highways, Sturgill Simpson and more plus 40 pages of reviews and our free 15-track CD

Uncut: the spiritual home of great rock music.