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The Running Kind

The Running Kind
Listening to Merle Haggard

New and expanded biography of one of country music’s most celebrated singer-songwriters

Series: American Music Series

May 2022
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320 pages | 6.125 x 9.25 |

Merle Haggard enjoyed numerous artistic and professional triumphs, including more than a hundred country hits (thirty-eight at number one), dozens of studio and live album releases, upwards of ten thousand concerts, induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and songs covered by artists as diverse as Lynryd Skynyrd, Elvis Costello, Tammy Wynette, Willie Nelson, the Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan.

In The Running Kind, a new edition that expands on his earlier analysis and covers Haggard's death and afterlife as an icon of both old school and modern country music, 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: songs that helped invent the America we live in today. Listening closely to a masterpiece-crowded catalogue (including “Okie from Muskogee,” “Sing Me Back Home,” “Mama Tried,” and “Working Man Blues,” 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. They Won’t Let His Secret Go Untold
  • 13. He’s Living in the Good Old Days: Countrypolitan, Country Soul, Country Rock
  • 14. “Workin’ Man Blues,” 1969
  • 15. He Likes Living Right and Being Free
  • 16. “Irma Jackson,” 1969
  • 17. His Fightin’ Side
  • 18. He’d Rather Be Gone
  • 19. “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad),” 1972
  • 20. He Wishes He Was Santa Claus
  • 21. Merle Loves Dolly
  • 22. Songs He’ll Always Sing
  • 23. He Takes a Lot of Pride in What He Is (Hint: He’s a White Boy)
  • 24. “A Working Man Can’t Get Nowhere Today,” 1977
  • 25. His Country Girl with Hot Pants On
  • 26. He’s Always on a Mountain When He Falls
  • 27. “Rainbow Stew,” 1981
  • 28. He Wishes a Buck Was Still Silver (Not Really) and Likes the Taste of Yesterday’s Wine (Really)
  • 29. “Kern River,” 1985
  • 30. He’s Going Where the Lonely Go
  • 31. “Me and Crippled Soldiers,” 1990
  • 32. The Hag versus the Man in Black
  • 33. He’ll Never Be Gone? Merle Haggard in the Twenty-First Century
  • 34. “If I Could Only Fly,” 2001
  • Epilogue. Cuba, Missouri: July 15, 2010
  • Acknowledgments
  • Selected Discography
  • Selected Bibliography
  • Index

David Cantwell is the author of Heartaches by the Number: Country Music's 500 Greatest Singles and the first edition of this book, Merle Haggard: The Running Kind (2013). His journalism appears in the New Yorker, Salon, Rolling Stone Country, the Oxford American, and No Depression.


"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."

"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."

"The Running Kind is the definitive book on Merle Haggard, illuminating the art of country songwriting through the work of one poet with a guitar who both challenged and emboldened aspects of the patriarchy while complicating our understanding of patriotism."
—Alice Randall

"A clear, unflinchingly critical, reading of the songs—in Cantwell’s pages they are creative acts, not real, disguised, or fake autobiography—and one that lets the songs go anywhere: from a subtle yet flesh-and-blood class analysis, to an argument against the authenticity argument, to a focus on precisely how a song feels its way into its own skin, its own body (making you always want more…)"
—Greil Marcus

"In the 2013 iteration of this pioneering book, David Cantwell astutely outlined Merle Haggard's life while giving the artistic legacy that his many albums comprise the detailed attention that legacy deserved. In this expanded revision, he rethinks the story to argue that Haggard wasn't merely a great American singer and songwriter. He was a great American artist--period."
—Robert Christgau

"One of the best music books I've read in a long time."
—Dave Marsh