Merle Haggard

[ Music ]

Merle Haggard

The Running Kind

By David Cantwell

Focusing on the most prolific decades in the career of this complex, often contradictory artist, David Cantwell explores the life, times, and enduring impact of Merle Haggard’s singularly American music.

"My favorite is David Cantwell’s book Merle Haggard—The Running Kind.”
—Greil Marcus

September 2013


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5 x 8 | 294 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-71771-8

Merle Haggard has enjoyed artistic and professional triumphs few can match. He’s charted more than a hundred country hits, including thirty-eight number ones. He’s released dozens of studio albums and another half dozen or more live ones, performed upwards of ten thousand concerts, been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and seen his songs performed by artists as diverse as Lynryd Skynyrd, Elvis Costello, Tammy Wynette, Willie Nelson, the Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan. In 2011 he was feted as a Kennedy Center Honoree. But until now, no one has taken an in-depth look at his career and body of work.

In Merle Haggard: The Running Kind, David Cantwell takes us on a revelatory journey through Haggard’s music and the life and times out of which it came. Covering the entire breadth of his career, Cantwell focuses especially on the 1960s and 1970s, when Haggard created some of his best-known and most influential music, which helped invent the America we live in today. Listening closely to a masterpiece-crowded catalogue (including songs such as “Okie from Muskogee,” “Sing Me Back Home,” “Mama Tried,” “Working Man Blues,” “Kern River,” “White Line Fever,” “Today I Started Loving You Again,” and “If We Make It through December,” among many more), Cantwell explores the fascinating contradictions—most of all, the desire for freedom in the face of limits set by the world or self-imposed—that define not only Haggard’s music and public persona but the very heart of American culture.


Introduction: "Silver Wings," Kansas City, Missouri, September 14, 2001

  1. "Hungry Eyes," 1969
  2. The Roots of His Raising
  3. Mama Tried," 1968
  4. Toward the Bad He Kept on Turnin'
  5. He Loves Them So: A Playlist of Early Influences
  6. "Leonard," 1981
  7. The Bakersfield Sound and Fury
  8. Someone Told His Story in a Song
  9. "I Started Loving You Again," 1968
  10. The Legend of Bonnie and Him
  11. "Sing Me Back Home," 1967
  12. He's Living in the Good Old Days
  13. He Likes Living Right and Being Free
  14. "Irma Jackson," 1969
  15. His Fightin' Side
  16. He'd Rather Be Gone
  17. "It's Not Love (But It's Not Bad)," 1972
  18. He Wishes He Was Santa Claus
  19. He Takes a Lot of Pride in What He Is (Hint: He's a White Boy)
  20. "A Working Man Can't Get Nowhere Today," 1977
  21. His Country Girl with Hot Pants On
  22. He's Always on a Mountain When He Falls
  23. "Rainbow Stew," 1981
  24. He Wishes a Buck Was Still Silver (Not Really) and Likes the Taste of Yesterday's Wine (Really)
  25. "Kern River," 1985
  26. He's Going Where the Lonely Go
  27. "Me and Crippled Soldiers," 1990
  28. The Hag versus the Man in Black
  29. If He Could Only Fly: Merle Haggard in the Twenty-first Century

Cuba, Missouri, July 15, 2010

Selected Discography



Music critic and longtime Haggard fan, Cantwell is coauthor of the acclaimed Heartaches by the Number: Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles, and his work has appeared in the Oxford American, Salon, and No Depression, among other publications.


"My favorite is David Cantwell’s book Merle Haggard—The Running Kind.”
—Greil Marcus

"An incisive, critical analysis of one of the most complicated and misunderstood artists in country music...Both the Haggard fanatic and the casual country music fan will find their appreciation enriched."
Kirkus Reviews

Since ‘Okie from Muskogee’ was released in 1969 and made Haggard a lightning rod, he’s been perhaps the most-written-about artist in country music history. Yet all that writing has been in periodicals. …Now here is a book that takes a serious look at Haggard’s place in American culture and art, and that is no small thing. … This book is long overdue and will hopefully open up a dialogue on an artist who provides plenty of fodder.”
—John Morthland, music writer and former editor at Rolling Stone, Creem, and Country Music

"Cantwell (coauthor, Heartaches by the Number: Country Music's 500 Greatest Singles) provides fans with a serious analysis of the music from the original "Okie from Muskogee"….Particularly interesting is Cantwell's discussion of the seeming contradictions in the artist's work: his endorsement of both politically conservative and liberal viewpoints at different periods in his career."
—Brett Rohlwing, Milwaukee Public Library, Library Journal

“…a revelatory journey through Merle Haggard’s music and the life and times out of which it came…”
Publishers Weekly

"Pick it up and you’ll start loving Merle again, today."
—Barry Mazor, Engine 145

“Cantwell's deep understanding of not only Merle's music but its proper place in music history is evident from the first pages.”
—Scott Cox, Bakersfield Californian

“I have problems with biographies...I have problems with book-length music criticism….Cantwell avoids all of these problems, while doing both biography and music criticism.”
—Dave Heaton, Popmatters

"The Running Kind is one of those critical/biographical works that you will want to read again, so prepare yourself to succumb to its charms. It’s worth it.”
—Jedd Baudoin, Popmatters

Cantwell, Merle Haggard: The Running Kind

David Cantwell talks about Haggard's roots, influences, music, and style.
Series: The University of Texas Press Podcasts

Author: | Date: Monday, 23 September 2013 | Duration: 17:08

Focusing on the most prolific decades in the career of this complex, often contradictory icon of country music, David Cantwell explores the creation of many of Merle Haggard’s greatest hits and the life and times that inspired them. Check out Cantwell's Spotify playlist linked below and listen along to 'Merle Haggard: The Running Kind.'

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