The summer of 1969 was big for Merle Haggard, who was starting to enjoy the first successes of his career in country music. He was playing honky-tonk bars up and down Central California, and had recorded nine studio albums in five years—four of which had hit No. 1 on the country music charts.
That year, he made the first major purchase of his career, buying a new five-bedroom, ranch-style home just a few doors down from the Bakersfield Country Club in Bakersfield, CA. It was a big move up for the 32-year-old, who grew up in a converted boxcar in the impoverished neighborhood of Oildale, committing a string of increasingly serious crimes as a young man.
“Talk about culture shock,” Haggard’s daughter Kelli Haggard Patterson recently told the Bakersfield Californian. “From Oildale to Bakersfield Country Club. We literally moved to the other side of the tracks.”
Now on the market for $359,000, the 3,600-square-foot house was a welcome respite for the Haggard family, who were able to live under the same roof for the first time. Merle moved into the house with his second wife, country musician Bonnie Owens, and brought along his four children from his first marriage, Dana, Marty, Kelli, and Noel, and his mother, Flossie.
“We were very impressed with it,” Haggard Patterson recalled. She was 7 when the family moved in. “It had a [second-floor] laundry chute and I remember trying to put our [youngest] brother Noel into it. It had a huge driveway, and we almost killed ourselves on our bikes riding down it. Of course everything is bigger when you’re a kid.”
It was in this house that Haggard penned his first true hit, “Okie From Muskogee,” an anthem for politically conservative people like him who couldn’t understand the hippies protesting the Vietnam War across the country.
As for the home, it embodies California, cookie-cutter luxury from the 1960s, with a stone facade and long, low design that attempted to pack as much living area as possible on the first floor. Much of the interior remains largely original—wood paneling, popcorn ceilings, and all.
In 1973, Haggard and his family posed in front of the home’s stone fireplace for the cover of his 18th studio album, “Merle Haggard’s Christmas Present.”
The home’s formal dining room is enveloped in warm wood paneling, with a pass-through to the kitchen. Outside, there’s a covered patio running the length of the house, and a free-form, in-ground pool as well as a pool house.
Haggard continued to crank out albums at a furious pace, releasing one, two, and sometimes more albums per year until the late 1980s. He was an active musician until his death in 2016 at the age of 79.
His attitude toward the counterculture considerably softened with age. In 2010 he told American Songwriter magazine that he sang “Okie From Muskogee” seriously in 1969, but ironically later in his life.
“It was the photograph that I took of the way things looked through the eyes of a fool,” he told the magazine. “I was just as dumb as a rock at about that time, and most of America was under the same assumptions I was. … I’ve learned the truth since I wrote that song. I play it now with a different projection. It’s a different song now. I’m different now. I still believed in America then. I don’t know that I do [believe] now.”
Horns of a Dilemma: Part Two, National Security Dimensions of Global Food Insecurity