Merle Haggard Didn't Like Johnny Cash At First: "He Was Kind Of Corny"
(Photo by David Redfern/Redferns)

Merle Haggard Didn't Like Johnny Cash At First: "He Was Kind Of Corny"

Merle Haggard is a real outlaw. Considering how many try to invoke the essence of that style of country, it's refreshing that he never puts on an act. He speaks and sings from experience. This gives Merle's records a sense of tangibility and urgency that often goes missing in different interpretations of outlaw country. Everyone else catches themselves in urban legend.

Given his lengthy rap sheet, Merle knows very well whether or not someone is a phony. When Johnny Cash comes by San Quentin Prison for a New Years Day concert, Haggard has his suspicions.

Merle Haggard Changes His Tune After Seeing Johnny Cash Play at San Quentin Prison

Merle Haggard holds every right to be skeptical of Johnny Cash when he doesn't know any better. It's hard to shake the idea that a celebrity will do anything other than dress up nice for the cameras and leave. Moreover, the busy schedules of famous people causes a lot of interactions to be merely transactional rather than meaningful. Merle puts it best in a 2014 interview. "I thought Johnny Cash was kind of corny," he says bluntly. "I didn't care for him until after he came. There were 5,000 men in there that didn't care if he lived or died and he was a tall, slim country boy with a corny band. He shouldn't do that good."

However, Johnny Cash's true nature changes Haggard's perception of the singer. In reality, Johnny is just like one of the boys. "He had the right attitude. He chewed gum, looked arrogant and flipped the bird to the guards - he did everything the prisoners wanted to do," Merle explains in another interview. "He was a mean mother from the South who was there because he loved us... it set a fire under me that hadn't been there before."

Ever since, Merle Haggard was a fan of Johnny Cash. Frankly, seeing yourself in a big music star surely lights a fire under anyone.