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Back Stories: Sing Me Back Home

Updated: Apr 29

Few songs are more heart wrenching, and downright sad than "Sing Me Back Home". It's no secret that Merle Haggard had a troubled life previous to becoming one of the biggest stars in country music. By the time Merle was thirteen years of age, he was put away in Juvenile Detention Centers where he would escape just to be picked up, and locked up again.

By the time Merle was 18, he was sent to the maximum security prison San Quentin to serve 15 years. He was not allowed out of his cell in the evening due to his reputation as an escapist. They were right because Merle was already on to a plot some inmates had to break out of the prison.

But his cell mate talked him out of it. He said Merle shouldn't jeopardize his future. He believed in Merle's talent. He sat the attempt out, but his cellmate James "Rabbit" Kendrick,

did not. Rabbit ended up killing a police officer, and was captured, and a year after Merle's release, he was executed.

While at San Quentin, Merle also met Caryl Chessman "The Red Light Bandit". Caryl was not your ordinary convict. His IQ was rumored to be over 130. Chessman, one could say was a celebrity.

He had penned a total of three books, which in turn helped to fund his defense. Famous artists were vocal about the unfairness of Chessman's trial. Pope John, Shirley MacLaine, and even Marlon Brando publicly supported Chessman. His story is very interesting.

Caryl Chessman | Mar. 21, 1960

Like Merle, he had been a petty criminal for most of his young life. Originally motivated by hunger, and a way to feed his mother. He had conducted a series of petty robberies as the Red Light Bandit by posing as law enforcement, and then stealing small sums of money. In two instances he kidnapped two women which was deemed a capital offense due to the Lindberg Baby kidnapping..

He had 17 reprieves, and spent 11 years on death row until he was finally executed in the gas chamber. His last reprieve came in too late. As the story goes, Merle met Caryl when he was sent to isolation for getting drunk. Yes, Merle found a way to make beer in jail..

Merle was still in prison when Caryl was executed, and may have seen him take his last walk. He certainly saw all the preparations that went on to gas the inmate. That was one of the experiences that made Merle turn his life around. Merle also shared that a nun by the name of Sister Mary would come to San Quentin with a minstrel group. She would let Merle play her guitar through the bars of his prison cell.

Merle took his direct experience with Chessman, Rabbit, and even Sister Mary, and wrote "Sing Me Back Home". The album was released in 1968, and included the Lefty Frizzell penned tune "Mom &. Dad Waltz". The album became Merle's second consecutive No. 1.

The Song's Legacy

The song of the same name was released in November 1967. It was Merle Haggard's third No. 1 single. It charted for 17 weeks.

The song is No.1 on Billboard's "Merle’s 20 Best Songs"

It was also included in Rolling Stone's Saddest Country Songs of All Time.

"Sing Me Back Home-The Music of Merle Haggard" was an all-star concert event taping at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. It took place on Thursday, April 6, 2017 in honor of what would have been Merle’s 80th birthday and the one-year anniversary of his passing.

You can still buy the two CD tribute which includes thirty artists such as Hank Jr, Jamey Johnson, and Loretta Lynn singing their favorite Merle song.

As of 2019, the song has been commercially released 62 times. Among the many that have recorded the song include Johnny Cash,

Conway Twitty, and George Jones.


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