Okie from Muskogee (song)

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"Okie from Muskogee"
Merle Okie.jpg
Single by Merle Haggard and The Strangers
from the album Okie from Muskogee
B-side"If I Had Left It Up to You"
ReleasedSeptember 29, 1969
Format7"
RecordedJuly 17, 1969 (studio version)
GenreCountry
Length2:42 (studio version)
3:29 (live version)
LabelCapitol 2626
Songwriter(s)Roy Edward Burris
Merle Haggard
Producer(s)Fuzzy Owen
Merle Haggard and The Strangers singles chronology
"Workin' Man Blues"
(1969)
"Okie from Muskogee"
(1969)
"The Fightin' Side of Me"
(1970)
"Workin' Man Blues"
(1969)
"Okie from Muskogee"
(1969)
"The Fightin' Side of Me"
(1970)

"Okie from Muskogee" is a song recorded by American country music artist Merle Haggard and The Strangers, which Haggard co-wrote with drummer Roy Edward Burris. "Okie" is a slang name for someone from Oklahoma, and Muskogee is the 11th largest city in the state. The song was released in September 1969 as first single and title track from the album Okie from Muskogee, and was one of the most famous songs of Haggard's career.

Background[edit]

Haggard told The Boot that he wrote the song after he became disheartened watching Vietnam War protests and incorporated that emotion and viewpoint into song. Haggard says, "When I was in prison, I knew what it was like to have freedom taken away. Freedom is everything. During Vietnam, there were all kinds of protests. Here were these [servicemen] going over there and dying for a cause—we don't even know what it was really all about. And here are these young kids, that were free, bitching about it. There's something wrong with that and with [disparaging] those poor guys." He states that he wrote the song to support the troops. "We were in a wonderful time in America, and music was in a wonderful place. America was at its peak, and what the hell did these kids have to complain about? These soldiers were giving up their freedom and lives to make sure others could stay free. I wrote the song to support those soldiers."

It's important to mention in this interview he then calls the song a "character study" and that his 1969 self was the character. Haggard said: "It was the photograph that I took of the way things looked through the eyes of a fool... and most of America was under the same assumptions I was. As it’s stayed around now for 40 years, I sing the song now with a different attitude onstage. ... I’ve become educated. I play it now with a different projection. It’s a different song now. I’m different now."[1]

Critic Kurt Wolff wrote that Haggard always considered what became a redneck anthem to be a spoof, and that today fans—even the hippies that are derided in the lyrics—have taken a liking to the song and find humor in some of the lyrics.[2] Cover versions of the song were recorded by such countercultural acts as the Grateful Dead, The Beach Boys, Phil Ochs, The Flaming Lips, The String Cheese Incident, and Hank Williams III backed by seminal stoner metal band The Melvins, all of which are and/or were avid users of marijuana, LSD, and other psychedelic plants and chemicals.

Written by Haggard and Roy Edward Burris (drummer for Haggard's backing band, and The Strangers) during the height of the Vietnam War, "Okie from Muskogee" grew from the two trading one-liners about small-town life,[3] where conservative values were the norm and outsiders with ideals contrary to those ways were unwelcome. Here, the singer reflects on how proud he is to hail from Middle America, where its residents were patriotic, and didn't smoke marijuana, take LSD, wear beads and sandals, burn draft cards or challenge authority.[4]

While it can be viewed as a satire of small-town America and its reaction to the antiwar protests and counterculture seen in America's larger cities, Allmusic writer Bill Janovitz writes that the song also "convincingly (gives) voice to a proud, strait-laced truck-driver type.... (I)n the end, he identifies with the narrator. He does not position the protagonist as angry, reactionary, or judgmental; it is more that the guy, a self-confessed 'square,' is confused by such changes and with a chuckle comes to the conclusion that he and his ilk have the right sort of life for themselves."

Session personnel were James Burton, Roy Nichols and Jerry Reed on guitar; Chuck Berghofer on bass and Ron Tutt on drums.

Chart performance and popularity[edit]

"Okie from Muskogee" immediately broke in popularity when released in late September 1969. By November 15, it reached No. 1 on the Billboard magazine Hot Country Singles chart, where it remained for four weeks.[5] It also became a minor pop hit as well, reaching number 41 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

The version of "Okie from Muskogee" that reached No. 1 was the studio recording. After the song became widely popular, a live concert recording was issued and although that version never charted, it became very popular as well. The live version's distinguishing characteristics include an enthusiastic crowd and Merle responding with his own quips at the end of at least two verses. The most popular live version, and the only live version released as a single, was recorded during a 1970 Haggard concert in Philadelphia that became the live album The Fightin' Side of Me. The song was included on a couple of Haggard's other live albums from the era, notably "Okie From Muskogee", released in 1969 and "I Love Dixie Blues", released in 1973. However, these recordings are not the live version the general public is familiar with.

"Okie from Muskogee"—along with the album, Okie From Muskogee—was named the Country Music Association Single and Album of the Year in 1970.[6]

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1969) Peak
position
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[7] 1
US Adult Contemporary (Billboard)[8] 41
Canadian RPM Country Tracks 3

Parodies and cover versions[edit]

The song was the subject of parody versions by The Youngbloods as "Hippie From Olema", by David Peel and The Lower East Side Band as "Hippie From New York City",[9] by Patrick Sky, as "NOsha from Kenosha" by Howie Dewin, and most notably by Chinga Chavin as "Asshole from El Paso"; the latter in particular uses Haggard's melody but substitutes more extreme lyrics. Kinky Friedman later covered "Asshole from El Paso" and the song subsequently became more associated with Friedman than with Chavin. The Grateful Dead has played the song live with The Beach Boys.[10] Phil Ochs performed the song as included in a 1970 album recorded live at Carnegie Hall. In New Zealand, comedian Jon Gadsby recorded a local version as a satire, called "Scourer from Mataura" (a scourer being a worker in a wool processing plant).

Straight cover versions of the song were recorded by the Melvins on their album The Crybaby with Hank Williams III providing vocals, Tommy Cash in 1970, and Jeannie C. Riley's cover from the early 1970s.

The Beach Boys covered the song and placed on their 2011 album Live & Alternative songs. The group's cover can also be seen on the 1985 biographical musical film, The Beach Boys: An American Band.

John Denver performed a live version of the song, with backing vocals provided by Taffy Nivert. In his version, Denver added an extra verse, in which the Okie wants to join the Ku Klux Clan, burn the Hippies and slap them in the face.

The David Nelson Band has performed a song called "Humboldt County Hippie" at various performances. The song lyrics parallel and are a parody of Haggard's song.[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Dunham, Nancy (11 October 2010). "Merle Haggard, 'Okie from Muskogee' - Story Behind the Lyrics". The Boot. Retrieved 13 October 2010.
  2. ^ Wolff, Kurt, "Country Music: The Rough Guide," Rough Guides Ltd., London; Penguin Putnam, New York, distributor. p. 424 (ISBN 1-85828-534-8)
  3. ^ Janovitz.
  4. ^ Malone, Bill, "Country Music U.S.A," 2nd rev. ed. (University of Texas Press, Austin, 2002), p.371.
  5. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 146.
  6. ^ Merle Haggard, Country Music Association Awards Database.
  7. ^ "Merle Haggard Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  8. ^ "Merle Haggard Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard.
  9. ^ "Hippie from New York City". YouTube. 2010-12-18. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  10. ^ [1] Internet Archive Grateful Dead Live at Fillmore East on 1971-04-27
  11. ^ https://archive.org/details/dnb2005-11-05.flac16