Mama Tried (album)

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Mama Tried
Studio album by Merle Haggard
Released October 3, 1968
Recorded February, March, June 1968, Capitol Recording Studios, Hollywood, CA
Genre Country
Length 31:57
Label Capitol ST-2972
Producer Ken Nelson
Merle Haggard chronology
The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde
Mama Tried
Pride in What I Am

Mama Tried is the seventh studio album by American country music singer and songwriter Merle Haggard, released on Capitol Records in 1968. It reached number 4 on Billboard's country albums chart. The title song was one of Haggard's biggest hit singles and won the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999.


Haggard had scored four number one hits in the previous two years with prison songs or crime-related themes, including "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive" (1966), "Branded Man" (1967), "Sing Me Back Home" (1967), and "The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde" (1968), and the singer continued his domination of the country charts with the self-penned "Mama Tried," a song in which the narrator laments the pain and suffering he caused his mother by going to prison "despite all my Sunday learnin'..." Along with "Sing Me Back Home" and "Okie from Muskogee," it is probably the song most closely identified with Haggard. The story was partly autobiographical, and the fact that Haggard had actually spent two years in San Quentin gives the song an authenticity that makes the lyric sound all the more heartfelt.[1][2] "Mama Tried" hit #1 in August of 1968 and stayed there for a month.[3] It would also be featured that fall in the Dick Clark production The Killers Three, a film in which Haggard ironically plays a lawman.[4]

Although it isn't necessarily a concept album, Mama Tried is dominated with prison songs, including the Porter Wagoner hit "Green, Green Grass of Home," Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," and the Mel Tillis original "I Could Have Gone Right," where Haggard once again pleads his mother's forgiveness. Haggard also recorded the Dolly Parton composition "In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)" several months before Parton cut it herself. As detailed in the liner notes to the 1994 Haggard retrospective Down Every Road, "It was Bonnie (Owens) who brought the song to Merle's attention when the two of them did a short tour with Dolly and Porter Wagoner. Relaxing on Merle's bus one day, the guys were up front playing poker while Dolly and Bonnie hung out in back. 'She sang to me all night long,' Bonnie says, 'songs that she'd written..."[5] As he had on his previous LP The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde, Haggard also included songs written by Dallas Frazier and Leon Payne.

The album cover is one of Haggard's most memorable, showing him dressed in a prison uniform sadly strumming a guitar.


Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars [8]
Pitchfork Media (8.8/10) [9]
Rolling Stone (positive) [10]

Mama Tried continued Haggard's artistic and commercial hot streak, reaching number 4 on Billboard's country albums chart. In the original Rolling Stone review, Andy Wickham wrote, "His songs romanticize the hardships and tragedies of America's transient proletarian and his success is resultant of his inherent ability to relate to his audience a commonplace experience with precisely the right emotional pitch...Merle Haggard looks the part and sounds the part because he is the part. He's great."[10] In 2013, Haggard biographer David Cantwell observed that "Mama Tried" had "the potential to reach beyond the country audience that went unrealized, at least in Merle's version, and the whole album has pop ambition unusual for a late-Sixties country release."[11] Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic wrote: "While 'Mama Tried' stands out among Haggard's original material, 'I'll Always Know' and 'You'll Never Love Me Now' are both solid songs."[8] The song "Mama Tried" won the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999.

Track listing[edit]

  1. "Mama Tried" (Merle Haggard) – 2:12
  2. "Green, Green Grass of Home" (Curly Putman) – 3:14
  3. "Little Ole Wine Drinker Me" (Dick Jennings, Hank Mills) – 2:38
  4. "In the Good Old Days"(Dolly Parton) – 2:45
  5. "I Could Have Gone Right" (Mel Tillis) – 2:33
  6. "I'll Always Know" (Haggard) – 2:22
  7. "The Sunny Side of My Life" (Haggard) – 2:11
  8. "Teach Me to Forget" (Leon Payne) – 2:24
  9. "Folsom Prison Blues" (Johnny Cash) – 3:15
  10. "Run 'Em Off" (Troy Martin, Onie Wheeler) – 2:47
  11. "You'll Never Love Me Now" (Haggard) – 2:51
  12. "Too Many Bridges to Cross Over" (Dallas Frazier) – 2:45


Chart positions[edit]

Year Chart Position
1969 Billboard Country albums 4


  1. ^ Janovitz, Bill. "Mama Tried > Song review". Allmusic. Retrieved March 19, 2015. 
  2. ^ Collis, Ace (1996). The Stories Behind Country Music's All-Time Greatest: 100 Songs. Berkley Publishing Group. p. 198-200. ISBN 1-57297-072-3. 
  3. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 146. 
  4. ^ IMDB entry for The Killers Three
  5. ^ Down Every Road 1962–1994 compilation album. Liner notes by Daniel Cooper
  6. ^ Allmusic entry for Mama Tried/I'm a Lonesome Fugitive reissue.
  7. ^ Allmusic entry for Mama Tried/Pride in What I Am reissue.
  8. ^ a b Erlewine, Steven Thomas. "Mama Tried > Review". Allmusic. Retrieved March 19, 2015. 
  9. ^ Pitchfork Media review
  10. ^ a b Wickham, Andy (1 March 1969). "Records". Rolling Stone. San Francisco: Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. Retrieved 18 December 2014. 
  11. ^ Cantwell, David (2013). Merle Haggard: The Running Kind. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-71771-8.