Don Markham passed away on Feb. 24 in the early morning hours. He was 85 years old. As a member of Merle Haggard’s band The Strangers, Markham contributed to the legendary “Bakersfield Sound.”
Markham first joined Haggard in 1972 as a saxophonist and trumpet player. Ironically, he first met Haggard as a member of Johnny Paycheck’s band, according to Bakersfield.com. In fact, Markham asked Haggard for a spot in the band after telling him he couldn’t work for Paycheck anymore.
Apparently, the band always fought. One day, Markham was actually driving the bus when he pulled up next to Haggard’s bus in New Mexico. He asked him for a job, and that was it.
The Strangers backed Haggard for most of his career, and they even released a few records themselves. As a member of The Strangers, Markham helped shape a certain country music style coming out of California. First originating in the 1950s, the Bakersfield Sound featured elements not usually involved in traditional country music.
While the Nashville Sound carried a slick, orchestral pop production, artists from Bakersfield felt more akin to rock n’ roll. They played with electric guitars and drum sets. And of course, Markham’s groovy horn sounds. Other big artists to come from the Bakersfield era include Buck Owens and Jean Shepard.
Songs that featured key Markham moments include “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink” and “It’s All In The Movies.”
While Markham formed a big part of The Strangers, he also earned Haggard’s trust as one of his closest friends. Markham remained with Haggard until 2013, when health issues forced him off the road. But he still made a point to visit.