Story Behind the Song: ‘Okie From Muskogee’ by Merle Haggard
Mainly regarded as a protest song, protesting the protesters, "Okie From Muskogee" has more of a story behind it. Yes, it was aimed at the people protesting the Vietnam war in the late 1960's.
Merle Haggard became very disheartened watching people protest against poor troops who were fighting for our freedom. Haggard says, "When I was in prison, I knew what it was like to have freedom taken away. Freedom is everything."
Besides it's status of being the inspiration for his biggest career hit, Muskogee, Oklahoma is very important to Merle Haggard and dear to his heart. Merle's father was from there before moving the family to California.
Merle never lived in Muskogee. He was born three years after the family moved out west. But he was fully aware that his father worked hard on the farm back in Oklahoma and was proud to be an Okie, explaining the line in the song.
But the real story of the song coming about was when Merle was on tour with his band. They saw a sign along the interstate that read, "Muskogee 19 miles." One of the band members commented that the citizens of that little town probably didn't smoke marijuana.
It started out as a joke in the bus. A joke that lasted about three seconds. Merle and drummer Roy Burris fed off that line and in about 20 minutes the song was wrote.
The song went to number one November 15, 1969 and spent four weeks at the top. It got a lot of attention, even from politicians. President Richard Nixon sent Haggard a letter congratulating him for the song.
By 1970, the song was certified as a million seller and was named the country music single of the year.